The Ospreys came agonisingly close to one of the great European Cup upsets but had to settle for two points on a night of high drama at Allianz Park on Saturday night.
- Ospreys go close to ending back-to-back champions Saracens two-year unbeaten tournament record
- Lydiate and Tipuric both withdraw before kick-off as Mercer and Cross come in
- Evans scores two first half tries before a second half yellow card
- Watkin scores before Cross marks his debut with the fourth try at the death
- Ospreys leave Allianz Park with two bonus points following heroic effort in adversity
Dan Evans scored two tries to leapfrog Ashley Beck and Lee Byrne into seventh place on the all-time Ospreys list with 28, while Owen Watkin and debutant Sam Cross also scored.
An eventful evening for Evans also saw him sinbinned and a penalty try awarded to Saracens after his attempted interception was ruled deliberate.
It was a team performance packed full of courage and heroics as the Ospreys made light of numerous injury setbacks that began before the teams has even kicked off.
Having already made one late change when the team sheets were handed in an hour before kick-off, Dan Lydiate withdrawing due to a back problem, replaced by Guy Mercer, there was a further blow just minutes before the whistle, Justin Tipuric injuring his thigh during the warm-up. That meant an Ospreys debut for last summer’s GB 7s Olympic silver medallist Cross, who has been training with the Ospreys since the summer.
That all meant that the Ospreys were also forced to include prop Gareth Thomas on the bench as back row cover.
After some initial probing from both sides it was the hosts who created the first opening seven minutes in, quick hands moving the ball left to right, Duncan Taylor and Liam Williams combining to free Chris Wyles who was held up on the line by the Ospreys defensive effort.
However, from the resulting scrum the American winger couldn’t fail to score, finishing off a move that saw Saracens enjoying a huge overlap on the left, Farrell converting from close to the touchline.
That drew an instant response from the Ospreys who were level within two minutes, a scrum on the left providing an attacking platform for Cory Allen who carried strongly into the 22 before offloading to the supporting Evans who raced over to score. Referee Marius Mitrea asked the TMO to check but the score was good and Biggar duly added the extras.
Eight minutes later the home crowd were stunned into silence when Evans when under the posts for his, and the Ospreys, second of the night following a great team try.
It was started by James King, carrying from the back of a scrum in the Saracens 22, and forwards and backs linked up through multiple phases before Biggar supplied the scoring pass for his full-back, before adding the extras from in front of the sticks.
Biggar extended the lead with a three pointer after Juan Figallo was penalised at the breakdown, his 40m kick taking the Ospreys 10 points clear with 27 minutes on the clock.
Only a heroic defensive effort saw the visitors line remain intact just after the half hour mark, Liam Williams sparking the Sarries attack as he ran back a clearance kick deep into the Ospreys half.
First it was Duncan Taylor who was stopped on the line before the combined efforts of Evans and Jeff Hassler prevented Williams from getting the ball away when Saracens had a man over on the left.
Eventually Saracens thought they had scored, Calum Clark stretching to ground from close range but replays showed that he was short, thanks to the efforts of Nicky Smith.
Play was taken back for an offside though and Farrell duly slotted over the three points.
It looked as though the Ospreys would go in at the break holding a seven point lead but Saracens dashed those hopes with the clock showing time.
Alex Goode did exceptionally well collecting Tom Habberfield’s kick and running back at the Ospreys, Williams carried strongly and after George Kruis was held up on the line it was spun wide where, eventually, Schalk Brits went over to score.
Farrell’s conversion was the last play of an absorbing first 40 and the teams headed down the tunnel all-square.
HALF-TIME: SARACENS 17-17 OSPREYS
Hassler had left the field shortly before half-time for a HIA, replaced by Sam Davies, and the change was made permanent at the break.
However, another reshuffle failed to knock the Ospreys out of their stride and they should have had try number three five minutes into the second half.
Turning down three kickable points they went to the corner and, with a second advantage in their favour it was swung out to the left where Biggar’s pass was gratefully accepted by Evans on the wing who was left with a straight forward run in but inexplicably dropped the ball under no pressure.
Play was taken back to right under the posts though and Biggar slotted an easy three points to give his team the lead once again.
With James King off the field being stiched up and Lloyd Ashley on the field in his place, Cory Allen then limped out of the game to be replaced by Brendon Leonard which meant Habberfield switched to the wing.
A frantic period of play then saw both teams coughing up possession and play racing back and forth before Saracens were able to lay siege on the Ospreys line.
Again, it was heroic defence to keep the European champions at bay but the pressure had to tell eventually and what looked to be a key moment came when Evans’ attempted intercept out on the right went to ground and the officials came together to confirm a deliberate knock-on to prevent the score from Williams.
The penalty try was awarded and the Ospreys try scorer was shown a yellow card.
Saracens were looking to take full advantage of the extra man and moved the ball right to left from a lineout where they had an extra man out wide in Wyles.
It looked a certain score but an excellent tackle from Habberfield not only halted the winger’s progress, it eventually resulted in an Ospreys penalty on their own line, allowing Biggar to clear.
The Ospreys were back under their own posts minutes later though, Williams with the bonus point try in the corner after haring up the right wing to score in the corner. The angle proved too much for Farrell but his team now led 29-20 with 18 minutes remaining.
Evans returned to the action three minutes later with his team defending against a scrum on their line after Kieron Fonotia was forced to touch down behind his own line after winning the footrace for a Farrell kick through.
The Ospreys were able to clear, then made another change, James Hook on for Fonotia after the centre had received treatment following his defensive intervention.
What followed was breath taking as the Ospreys went the length of the field for try number three. It was a move started inside their 22 by Adam Beard, the big second row carrying to halfway. Habberfield took it up past the 10m line and then good hand and angles saw the ball reach Watkin and the young centre burst through to score under the posts.
Biggar’s conversion meant the deficit was now just two points with a little over 10 to play.
A see-saw contest swung back the other way as Nick Tompkins finished off from close range following Saracens pressure at the scrum.
Farrell’s conversion meant that Saracens were now nine clear with six minutes remaining but the Ospreys refused to throw in the towel and came storming back to score a fourth try with two minutes to play.
As play surged upfield it was Sam Davies who did exceptionally well to collect a bouncing ball and feed Cross, now on the wing with Habberfield having been forced off, showed an impressive turn of speed to race through and score, Biggar with the conversion that meant not only were the Ospreys holding on to two match points, they were a penalty or drop goal away from the most improbable of wins.
The Ospreys did try to run the ball back from their own line as they looked for the winning score but as Saracens looked to kill the game they took the pragmatic approach and put the ball out of play, settling for the two points.