It was a case of so near yet so far for the Ospreys as they had to settle for a losing bonus point despite a courageous performance against French giants Racing Metro on Saturday evening.
Going into the game against the big spending Parisians with a lengthy injury list the odds were stacked against the Ospreys, but the young team showed plenty of pride and heart as they came within touching distance of a memorable win.
As was the case last weekend, Racing built up a considerable first half lead, but on this occasion the Ospreys were just unable to haul them back. Trailing 15-0 at the break, tries from Rhys Webb and Eli Walker brought them back to within a point going into the final 10 minutes, but they were unable to grab the crucial next score as the hosts clung on for the win.
The Ospreys had begun positively, two strong lineout drives from the men in black in the opening minutes giving the Racing defence something to think about, but with 10 minutes on the clock the visitors found themselves in trouble.
Brice Dulin launched a counter attack from the Racing half, Juan Imhoff carried before chasing his own chip through, only to be taken out at neck height by Webb, leaving referee Greg Garner no option than to show him yellow.
Johan Goosen made no mistake from the resulting penalty, putting Racing 3-0 up against the 14 men.
The visitors did a great job of playing out the 10 minutes that they were a man short, only to be almost undone in the dying seconds as Racing launched an attack up the left, sparked by Dimitri Szarzewski, and a try looked certain only for skipper Alun Wyn Jones to somehow get back to make a stunning hit on Wenceslas Lauret, who lost control of the ball over the line.
Restored to 15 the Ospreys found themselves camped on their own line after conceding a penalty at the resulting scrum. Unsurprisingly, the hosts opted for a reset, but they found more resistance this time as the visitors pack held firm. After resetting a couple of times, and failing to make any forward progress, Racing opted to move the ball out.
A few pick and drives took them within touching distance, Szarzewski was held up inches short and then, with defenders being sucked in, it was thrown out wide by Antonie Claassen to Imhoff who strolled over for the first try of the night, converted by Goosen.
It was crucial that the Ospreys responded well, but they found themselves back underneath their posts just two minutes later.
It had looked positive as they retained possession, working through the phases to go up to the Racing 22, but a Webb pass failed to find Scott Baldwin, going to ground and allowing the home team to claim possession.
In one sweeping move they were up the other end of the field, Teddy Thomas going over in the corner. This time, Goosen was off target with his conversion attempt, leaving the score at 15-0 with 29 minutes played.
As the interval approached the Ospreys looked to work a way back into the game, Dan Evans involved in the action twice, first just failing to collect a pass on the left and then carrying well through the middle and feeding Justin Tipuric, whose quick offload failed to find Ospreys hands.
HALF-TIME: RACING METRO 15 OSPREYS 0
Within 90 seconds of the restart Racing were reduced to 14 when Claassen was yellow carded for taking Dan Biggar out in the air at he looked to reclaim his own kick on halfway.
Looking to take advantage of the numerical advantage the Ospreys then spurned a kickable penalty after the scrum had gone down, only to fail to secure their own lineout five metres out.
The Ospreys were slowly starting to get on top, keeping the ball alive and moving the Racing defence across the field at every turn, without finding a way through.
Just as Racing were restored to 15 men, they found themselves a man short once again, scrum half Maxime Machenaud sent to the bin for a deliberate knock-on. The Ospreys took full advantage of the extra man, grabbing their first try almost immediately.
It was James King who secured lineout ball to give the Ospreys a platform to drive forward for the line, and it was Webb with a trademark show and go at the breakdown, going over under the posts. Biggar’s conversion took the score to 15-7 with almost half an hour still to play.
It was all Ospreys at this point, and again handed a kickable penalty they opted to go to the corner but failed to find any momentum with their drive, eventually being turned over on the Racing line.
An incredible passage of play saw the game swinging from end to end, possession and territory being turned over. Biggar’s chip and chase opened up the Racing defence but he was unable to find Webb or Jones in support, before Goosen launched a counter-attack that saw his team sweep upfield where Szarzewski was eventually hauled down a few metres short.
Racing were looking heavy legged and Goosen looked to try and take the game away from the Ospreys with a drop goal attempt from in front of the posts, but it was a tired looking effort that was well wide of the posts.
With 10 minutes to go some patient play from the Ospreys was rewarded with their second try of the game. It came from another penalty where they opted to go for the line-out, and after finding the forward progress halted it was spun wide where both Josh Matavesi and Hanno Dirksen were held up short.
Then, with the referee indicating a penalty advantage to the Ospreys, Ashley Beck put in an inch perfect cross kick for Walker to jink his way over the line. Biggar’s conversion meant that the visitors trailed by a single point with eight minutes left.
Predictably, Racing shut up shop in the final minutes, keeping it tight among the forwards and keeping hold of the ball as they inched upfield, and in the final seconds were rewarded with a penalty, allowing Goosen to slot over three points with the final kick of the game to round off a hard fought win for the French side.
For the Ospreys, they need to dust themselves down and prepare for two massive back to back home games at the Liberty Stadium in the Guinness PRO12, with Ulster and the Scarlets the visitors on the next two Saturday afternoons.