The Ospreys scored seven tries as they raced to a comprehensive win over Russia at the Liberty Stadium this afternoon.
They wound up their preparations for the new Rabodirect PRO12 season with a dominant attacking performance that got the fans out of their seat with excitement, but gave the coaches plenty to think about.
Hanno Dirksen grabbed an early brace of tries, while Tom Isaacs, Kristian Phillips, Ashley Beck, Andrew Bishop and Matthew Morgan also crossed the line.
The Ospreys opened their account in spectacular style in only the second minute, launching an attack from within their own 22. Rhys Webb carried well, Isaacs continued the good work before supplying the scoring pass to Dirksen who had a simple canter over to score, Biggar off target with the conversion attempt.
With the early score on the board the Ospreys were looking to play an adventurous game but poor handling on more than one occasion saw their progress come to a halt.
Konstantin Rachkov then had the opportunity to get Russia’s first points with a penalty in a central position on the 10m line but he was off target.
More adventurous play from the hosts, resplendent in their new white and steel blue strip, saw Webb and Dirksen combine to take the ball from deep inside their own half into Russia territory, and when the visiting players were pinged for going off their feet at the ruck Biggar was able to extend the lead with a straightforward penalty in the 9th minute.
Russia weren’t just hear to make up the numbers though and they impressed with some of their work, swift passing and good handling seeing them make progress on several occasions, with Rachkov putting in some testing up and unders.
They got their reward in the 24th minute, a quickly taken tap penalty seeing scrum half Alexander Shakirov run at the heart of the Ospreys defence. The Russian’s were held up on the line, but prop Ivan Prishchpenko was eventually able to force his way over from close range. Rachkov added the extras to bring his side back to within a point.
Dirksen then had to be alert, covering in defence to come across field and win the race to ground the ball after Vasily Artemyev looked to chip and chase from halfway.
Some good work from Webb saw him carry the ball 30m upfield from a lineout, new signing Joe Bearman offering him good support before hounded down by three defenders on the 22. When it was recycled, Beck put through a clever grubber for Dirksen to chase to the corner, only for the bounce to beat him as it spun into touch.
The second Ospreys try did come just 60 second later, the spell of concerted pressure finally telling as Dirksen, coming infield in search of the ball, was able to barge his way through a number of challenges and as he was eventually felled by Shakirov he was able to stretch out and ground it to score, Biggar converting.
A gigantic shove from the Ospreys pack at a scrum just inside their own half saw them rumble forward some 15m, Bearman showing good footwork to controll the ball well at the base, and when the inevitable penalty was awarded, Webb tapped and went through a gap. Fussell carried well before Beck’s grubber to the corner. Andrey Kuzin looked to gather but knocked on, and from the resulting scrum the Ospreys again looked to turn the screw. Bearman picked up at the base and drove for the line only to be held up short. It was recycled quickly though, and Isaacs was able to step inside Mikhail Babaev to score, Biggar’s kick rounding off the first half.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 22 RUSSIA 7
The impressive Webb had an early chance to extend the lead, chasing his own charge down in the opening seconds of the second half, only to knock on a metre short.
At the resulting scrum on the Russian line the Ospreys pack destroyed their opponents, Tom Smith stealing the ball as the set-piece crumbled. It was quickly worked out wide to the right hand flank where Phillips was able to squeeze in at the corner flag. Biggar was left with a difficult conversion attempt which he just failed to slot over.
Russia hit straight back though, slack defending allowing Artem Fatakhov to break the line. Artemyev was supporting on his shoulder and when he received it 10m out there was no stopping the wing, Rachkov again converting.
The Ospreys duly got their fifth try just short of the hour following a powerful line-out drive from the forwards that saw the pack rumble to just a couple of metres away from the line. Webb took his time to organise his backs, before some neat interpassing allowed Beck to cross under the posts, leaving Morgan with a simple conversion.
The inevitable procession of second half replacements led to the game becoming more fragmented but it was the Ospreys who continued to have the upper hand, their dominance of the set-piece the telling factor.
Bishop, on for Beck, got the next score following excellent work at the lineout by James Goode to provide quick ball which was moved through the hands at pace, Bishop bursting through the defence to grab the try, Morgan taking the score to 41-14.
Russia hit back with a try in the corner from Denis Simplikevich after Rachkov had spotted a gap and drifted passed Morgan on the outside before sending a long pass out wide, referee James Jones awarding the try in the corner after consulting with his touch judge, a decision which didn’t go down well with the home fans who felt he was in touch.
The Ospreys went straight up the other end, grabbing their seventh try of the afternoon. Sam Lewis read the bouncing ball well as Russia looked to clear the lines, gathering it and going forward at pace before feeding Morgan on his outside who sidestepped the covering defender to score. Unfortunately, he was unable to convert his own try.
More Russia pressure followed in the closing minutes and Artemyev was almost able to carve an opening with the final player but Simplkevich was unable to gather the pass, knocking on with the line beckoning, before the referee’s whistle brought an entertaining afternoon’s rugby to a close.