An early try from Tommy Bowe and a piece of individual brilliance from Shane Williams in the second half helped the Ospreys to their first win in the 2010/11 Heineken Cup.
In a tense game against the current Aviva Premiership leaders, the Ospreys were forced to see out the closing minutes a man short after a Jerry Collins yellow card, but were able to comfortably hold off the Irish challenge to prevent them from even securing a losing bonus point as they moved to the top of the Pool C table.
It was important that the Ospreys got off to a good start and that is exactly what happened, with the hosts taking the lead in only the fourth minute.
The move started with a solid Ospreys scrum near the left hand touchline, Dan Biggar moving the ball to James Hook whose initial burst took him clear of Dan Bowden’s tackle. He unselfishly fed Bowe close to the touchline for the easiest of run-ins, before Biggar failed with the conversion.
London Irish responded well and got their first posts after an Ospreys player was caught going off his feet at the ruck, allowing Ryan Lamb to slot the penalty over from just outside the 22.
The England Saxons fly-half was then able to put his side ahead with his second successful penalty after referee Peter Fitzgibbon caught just about the entire Ospreys back line offside in front of kicker Biggar.
Minutes later it was the Ospreys 10’s turn, slotting over from just inside his own half after London Irish were guilty of the same offside offence.
Lamb should have helped Irish regain the lead in the 20th minute after Biggar was pinged for talking out of turn to the referee, but the England Saxon hooked a horrendous effort that had neither the direction nor the length to trouble the touch judges behind the post.
It was a tight, physical affair but a spark of magic from Shane Williams almost earned the Ospreys a second try. He was acting as scrum half at a ruck, and after looking to see what options he had, he went through an almost non existent gap to break free on halfway, jinking and turning his way forward until his progress was halted just a couple of metres short by Kieran Roche.
Ospreys’ tails were up and they were playing some good rugby. With the referee playing scrum advantage near halfway, Biggar spotted space behind the Irish defence and chipped it through, the chase forcing Topsy Ojo to take the ball back over his own line to ground it. The Ospreys pack was dominant, and Mr Fitzgibbon was forced to reset the scrum four times before finally awarding a penalty to the hosts. It went down again on two more occasions, and again the penalty was awarded.
With a penalty try seemingly imminent, on this occasion the Ospreys opted to take the kick at goal, Biggar duly slotting over to take the score up to 11-6 in his team’s favour. He added a further three points just three minutes later after Bob Casey was guilty of going off his feet at the ruck.
With half time approaching, Lamb then had a relatively straightforward attempt to reduce the deficit from a central position but again he was off target, and just 30 seconds later Biggar made no mistake from a similar position to round off a good first 40 for his team.
HALF TIME: LONDON IRISH 17 OSPREYS 6
Right from the restart the Ospreys were on the offensive, Andrew Bishop’s barnstorming run taking him from half way to the 22, before Jerry Collins took it up. Once he was halted the ball was eventually recycled, the Ospreys working the ball wide where there was an overlap on the right. Lee Byrne looked to feed Richard Hibbard, only for Sailosi Tagicakibau to intercept and race the length of the pitch to score despite the best efforts of James Hook, the centre hanging onto the winger’s shirt as he was dragged over the line. Lamb then converted a difficult conversion to bring his team to within four points.
Immediately after the Irish score there was an enforced change after Biggar picked up a knock, Nikki Walker entering the fray and Bowe, Bishop and Hook all moving in one position.
A high tackle on Mike Phillips by Chris Hala’ufia sparked a fiery exchange, the referee having to call the two captains together to issue a warning over discipline.
Having threatened earlier, the magician that is Shane Williams conjoured up a marvellous individual try in the 54th minute to mark his 50th Heineken Cup appearance. Collecting the ball in his own half and with very little on for him, he chipped over the onrushing Seilala Mapusua and gathered the bouncing ball before accelerating away from Paul Hodgson and Lamb to score in the corner, despite the best efforts of Ojo, Hook adding the extras to make it 24-13.
Hook was then able to extend his team’s lead with a penalty from halfway after Ojo was guilty of not releasing the ball when tackled, before Lamb returned the compliment just a minute or so later.
Chris Malone, on for Lamb, then had a chance to reduce the deficit after a penalty was awarded against Huw Bennett, but although it was from a central position, it lacked the length and dropped short.
Collins saw yellow with eight minutes to go after going over the top at a ruck, and instead of taking the points to move closer to a losing bonus, they opted to go for the lineout, only for Malone’s dreadful kick to fail to reach the touchline.
As Irish became more desperate with the clock ticking down, they tried to throw the ball around to find a way through but this played into the Ospreys hands and the men in black were able to keep their opponents penned deep into their own territory thanks to forceful and aggressive defence that left Irish with nowhere to go.