Man of the match Dan Biggar kicked 16 points as the Ospreys had to dig in to secure a narrow win that moves them to the top of the RaboDirect PRO12 with a 100 per cent record of five wins from five.
It was a far from perfect performance, but the spirit, endeavour and resolve shown throughout will no doubt have pleased the coaches as they look to fashion a team that the region can be proud of.
The Ospreys settled quickly and got the first score of the night through a Barry Davies try in the 6th minute. It came following some lovely running rugby from the hosts, Justin Tipuric gathering a loose ball close to halfway and quickly moving it on as the Ospreys worked it across field through numerous pairs of hands.
Andrew Bishop carried well, and after Tom Isaacs had made ground on the left, carrying it deep into Connacht’s 22, Davies was in support on his shoulder to take the pass and go over in the corner. Biggar added the conversion from the touchline to take him level with Gavin Henson as the Ospreys all-time top Celtic League points scorer on 582.
Connacht didn’t let the early setback bother them, and they should have got themselves on the scoreboard just five minutes later, a missed tackle in midfield allowing them to work an overlap on the Ospreys right, but with the try line beckoning Gavin Duffy’s wayward pass went behind Tiernan O’Halloran and straight into touch.
As expected given their fine start to the season, the Irish were proving difficult opponents, and try apart, the Ospreys were finding it hard to make any ground with ball in hand. However, a darting run from the base of a ruck by Rhys Webb eventually resulted a penalty against John Muldoon for offside, but Biggar’s effort from distance struck the upright and bounced back into play.
A big hit on Tom Smith in midfield by Mike Swift forced a knock on, allowing Connacht to break, and when the ball was chipped ahead to the corner for Duffy to chase, his kick on meant he seemed odds on to win the race to ground it, but excellent defensive work from Biggar saw the young fly-half getting to the ball first. Referee Stefano Penne had a brief chat with his assistant Wayne Davies, before confirming a dropout 22.
However, the Connacht pressure eventually paid off when the pressure finally told minutes later. With the referee playing an advantage as Connacht’s forwards tried to force their way over from close range, the ball was finally worked wide where Duffy was this time able to force his way over, Niall O’Connor’s kick levelling things.
With a half hour gone, a penalty against Connacht in the scrum allowed Biggar to slot over a straightforward penalty, taking him clear of Henson in the Celtic League points chart.
The Ospreys stretched their lead 5 minutes later, Biggar hoisting a huge up and under from a free-kick close to halfway for his forwards to chase. Justin Tipuric got up high to help it backwards somewhat fortuitously, Hanno Dirksen was in support, and there was no stopping him as he beat his man on the 22 and raced though to score, Biggar’s simple conversion taking them 10 points clear.
O’Connor struck straight back for Connacht with a penalty after Ian Evans was pinged for entering a ruck from the side, the last score of the first half.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 17 CONNACHT 10
Connacht enjoyed a bright start to the second period, a spell of pressure ending in a penalty against Ian Gough, allowing O’Connor to try for goal but he sliced it and it pulled wide of the far stick at the last moment.
Good work by Muldoon, stealing it as the Ospreys looked to drive Dirksen forward inside their own half, allowed Connacht to threaten again, working it wide for O’Halloran who looked to find his way through only to be forced into touch by Richard Fussell.
Positive rugby from the Ospreys then saw them launching an attack from their own half, Davies and Rhys Webb combining to release Fussell who carried 25m before being stopped in his tracks by what appeared to be a high tackle. However, the decision was scrum to Connacht for the knock-on, much to the annoyance of the home crowd.
After the resulting scrum popped up, the decision again went in favour of the visitors, with the added blow of a yellow shown to Gough for throwing a punch.
The visitors piled the pressure on as they looked to take advantage of their extra man, but great defensive work secured a turnover on the Ospreys 22, and when Muldoon tackled Davies without the ball as he chased his own up and under, Biggar was able to take his team two scores clear with a penalty from halfway.
Connacht again came back at the Ospreys, grabbing a well worked try in the corner from Duffy, his second of the night, latching onto a perfectly weighted cross kick from O’Connor to gather and ground in one movement. The conversion attempt went astray, leaving it 20-15 to the Ospreys with 20 to play.
Former Osprey Matthew Jarvis entered the fray, and after another dust-up at the scrum, he tried his luck from inside his own half but his effort had neither the length or the direction.
Still the pressure came, Henry Fa’afili punching a hole in the Ospreys defensive line, before the ball was worked wide for Duffy, sniffing a hat-trick, but the combined efforts of Fussell and Tom Isaacs kept him at bay.
Having absorbed incredible pressure, despite being back up to 15, the Ospreys were able to work their way back upfield, and aggressive defence, chasing a Biggar kick, saw Connacht penalised for holding on, allowing Biggar’s reliable boot to stretch the lead back to eight with just over five to go.
Connacht came back again, but with no way through the Ospreys defence O’Connor opted to take the three points from a drop goal to move his side back to within a try as the clock ticked down.
Biggar’s performance had seen him awarded the man of the match honour, and with time almost up he was able to take the score to 26-18 with another penalty after a Connacht forward was guilty of killing the ball.
With the clock showing time, Connacht surged forward once again in search of a well deserved bonus point, which duly came via the boot of O’Connor with the last kick of the game after Ospreys hands had been spotted in the ruck.