The Ospreys ended their Heineken Cup campaign on a positive note, as tries from Nikki Walker and Alun Wyn Jones helped them to a win over Pool 3 winners Toulon, stretching their unbeaten Liberty Stadium tournament record to 16 matches.
Having trailed 14-3 early on, the Ospreys came back strongly, with a strong second half showing enough to see them home.
The Ospreys showed positive intent from the off, and Dan Biggar put them in front with just five minutes on the clock after Toulon were penalised for going off their feet in front of the posts.
Toulon struck straight back, Geoffrey Messina breaking through some ineffective Ospreys tackling in midfield before feeding Scotlland full back Rory Lamont who was able to ignore an overlap on his outside to score in the corner. England’s Jonny Wilksinson made no mistake with a difficult kick from close to the touchline.
The game was being played at a frenetic pace, with both teams looking to move the ball, but Toulon were playing with more accuracy, and they duly scored their second try in the 20th minute. Wilkinson’s penalty took his team to within metres of the Ospreys line, and from the lineout the ball was moved infield until scrum half Matt Henjak was able to squeeze his way over to ground it, leaving Wilkinson with the simplest of conversions.
The Ospreys enjoyed a spell of good possession and territory, Lee Byrne making an impact coming into the line and James Hook also carrying well, but they had to settle for three points from the boot of Biggar after Toulon were guilty of interfering with the ball on the ground.
Wilkinson had the chance to stretch Toulon’s lead after an Ospreys tackler failed to roll away, but his effort from 55m fell short.
A well worked move from a scrum at halfway almost saw the Ospreys create their first try, Walker punching a hole in the Toulon line before trying to free Richard Fussell 10m out, but he was unable to gather cleanly as Benjamin Lapeyre tackled, forcing the knock-on.
Just a minute later, an instinctive run from Fussell, slipping his way past three tackles, saw the Ospreys move deep into opposition territory, and when Thomas Sourice strayed offside at the ruck, Biggar was able to chalk up another three points.
The last act of the first 40 saw Biggar strike the upright with a penalty from the 10m line after Toulon went off their feet at the ruck.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 9 TOULON 14
A Wilkinson penalty five minutes after the restart, after James Hook failed to retreat behind Walker as the wing chased his own clearing kick, saw Toulon take their lead back up to eight points.
A penalty kick to touch from Biggar then took the Ospreys up into Toulon territory, and from the resulting lineout the Ospreys moved the ball left, than back to the right before Biggar’s grubber gave Hook something to chase but he was beaten to the ball by the Toulon cover.
The resulting scrum five saw the Ospreys really turn the screw on the Toulon pack, and after it had gone down on three occasions, referee Wayne Barnes awarded a penalty the Ospreys way. Unsurprisingly, Alun Wyn Jones opted to reset the scrum, but on this occasion the ball was worked from the back very quickly, Justin Tipuric, then Walker, were held up short, before Biggar’s long miss pass found Byrne on the touchline. He popped it back inside to Fussell who went over, but according to the TMO he failed to ground it, Wilkinson doing jus enough to prevent the score.
Mr Barnes had been playing advantage to the Ospreys however, and he called it back in front of the posts, and with Biggar exiting at this point, Hook claimed a simple three points.
With an hour up, the Ospreys were sensing that they could get something from this game, and with the crowd behind them, were making deep inroads into the Toulon half, Alun Wyn Jones, Ryan Jones, Hibbard, Craig Mitchell, Hook, and the returning Shane Williams gaining ground. Their patience was finally rewarded when a Williams looping run after receiving the ball from Mike Phillips at a ruck created space for Walker and there was no stopping the big Scot from close range, Hook’s conversion giving the Ospreys the lead for the first time with 17 to play.
Hook’s attempted kick to the corner from halfway was half charged down by a Toulon player, but the fortuitous bounce fell to Alun Wyn Jones. He moved it on quickly to Hook, and as he looked to supply a try scoring pass on the 22 to Ashley Beck a Toulon hand intercepted, the referee judging it an accidental knock-on and awarding an Ospreys scrum despite the appeals of the majority in the Liberty Stadium crowd.
The game was breaking up and had become very open, but as had been the case for most of the second half, it was being played almost entirely in the Toulon half, and another Hook penalty in the 70th minute made it 22-17.
Kris Chesney was then pinged for tackling Alun Wyn Jones without the ball, allowing Hook to put the ball back up close to the Toulon line, from where the Ospreys were able to recycle patiently before the skipper forced his way over the line to score, Hook’s conversion rounding off the scoring to put the final gloss on the win.