Two first half tries capitalising on Ospreys errors were the difference as Aviva Premiership leaders Northampton Saints came out on top at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday evening.
In a game of few chances, the visitors grabbed the only two tries of the game, Calum Clark scoring after a Rhys Webb kick had been charged down on the Ospreys line and George North racing clear after Luther Burrell’s halfway line tackle on Justin Tipuric forced a knock-on.
It was a disappointing outcome for the hosts who matched their opponents in most facets of the game with plenty of positives to take from the game despite the loss.
The opening exchanges were physical and combative, as you would expect, both sides showing positive intent. The opening points went to the Ospreys nine minutes in from the boot of Biggar, the penalty coming after Rhys Webb had capitalized on a fortuitous ricochet after his original kick was half charged down, Justin Tipuric with a stunning line-break to put his team on the front foot.
A frenetic couple of minutes then saw Dan Evans scything through the Saints defence, making some 50 metres before chipping ahead for Aisea Natoga to chase. He was beaten to the ball close to the Saints line by George North, who freed George Pisi to run it back, the centre reaching halfway before being pulled down by Tipuric, the Ospreys winning the turnover.
When play eventually came to a halt, Biggar’s pass down the blindside drifting forward, there were players strewn across the field after an incredible passage of action.
Northampton went ahead on 15 minutes and it was a disappointing try to concede from an Ospreys viewpoint. Awarded a scrum five on their own line, the Ospreys pack was in trouble, Tyler Ardron doing a tidying up job at the back of a retreating eight. Webb’s attempted clearance was charged down, leaving Clark the task of reading the bounce and dropping over the line onto the ball.
Stephen Myler converted, then just a couple of minutes later Biggar slotted over his second kick to make the score 6-7 to the visitors after the Saints tackler was penalised for not releasing the player.
A barnstorming run through the middle from the unlikely form of Sam Dickinson, after the Ospreys had conceded a turnover in the Saints half, eventually led to a penalty against Rynier Bernardo on the floor allowing Myler to take his team four clear.
Controversy reigned after the half hour mark when the Saints were reduced to 14 men following a yellow card to George Pisi for a dangerous tackle on Biggar under the posts as he looked to get his backs moving. Replays showed the tackle was clearly dangerous and out of control, but when the centre was shown a yellow, the vociferous home crowd made their feelings known as they were expecting a red.
After treatment Biggar picked himself to slot over his third successful penalty kick.
As the Ospreys looked to make the most of their extra man, keeping the ball alive and spreading play across the park as much as possible, they then suffered the cruelest of blows as North pounced on a Tipuric knock-on on halfway, scooping the ball up off the floor and haring forward through acres of empty field to score, Myler converting, to give the half-time score a very flattering look for the visitors.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 9 NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 17
The second half continued in the same fashion as the first had been played out, both teams going at it hammer and tongs.
Saints pressure 10 minutes after the restart almost led to a third try for the visitors as first Alex Waller stretched for the line after a driving maul, only to dab down a metre short, before the ball was spun wide where North was bundled into touch by Aisea Natoga and Josh Matavesi as he looked to power his way over.
The Ospreys were working hard to try and find a way back into the game as the clock ticked into the final quarter but were unable to break through the green line of Saints defenders in midfield, while the crowd were becoming increasingly frustrated with some of the officiating.
In a bizarre turn of events, Myler was handed the chance to stretch the lead after Tipuric had offended, only to see his 40m kick come back off the left stick. However, as the ball bounced around the ball ricocheted forward off Ashley beck's s leg before being picked up by James King, who was in an offside position, allowing the Saints 10 a simpler kick right under the posts and he duly added three points.
If Saints thought that was that, the Ospreys had other ideas and the final minutes saw the hosts finally getting some momentum and territory, going through multiples phases as Ardron, Hanno Dirksen and Dmitri Arhip were all held up within touching distance of the line. However, there was to be no late drama as the visitors held firm to end the Ospreys’ lingering hopes.