The Ospreys may have lost in south west France but a young team left the field at Stade Ernest Wallon with their heads held high after a battling performance against European aristocrats Toulouse.
On an afternoon where six of the region’s team made their Heineken Cup debut, the Ospreys found themselves up against it from the first whistle, but their never say die attitude would have pleased the substantial travelling support who got behind the cause from first whistle to last.
The team were led into a cauldron of noise by skipper Kahn Fotuali’I, his halfback partner Dan Biggar getting the game underway.
The first scrum of the match, just a minute or so in, offered the visitors some encouragement as new tight head Campbell Johnstone made an early impact against Gurtho Steenkamp.
However it was Toulouse who had the chance to open the scoring on five minutes after hands in the ruck but Luke McAlister pulled his effort to the left of the posts.
With the home fans making a din their team took the game to their opponents, keeping the ball alive and Louis Picamoles showing up well, the number eight making a couple of strong carries before the ball was spilt on the five metre line.
The French did grab the lead nine minutes in, centre Florian Fritz taking advantage of a loose ball in midfield to collect and dart through a gap in the Ospreys defence, stepping around Ian Gough and going through to score under the posts. McAlister’s conversion made it 7-0.
Toulouse were enjoying a monopoly on territory and possession, and as the game passed the quarter of an hour mark they grabbed their second try, a score that quite literally had a helping hand from the Ospreys.
A Toulouse throw on their right didn’t go to plan, allowing an Osprey hand to firmly plant the ball back on their side but the only player alert was the French side’s skipper Yannick Nyanga who collected and raced clear to score in the corner despite the attention of Eli Walker, the TMO taking only a cursory glance at the replay to confirm the score. McAlister’s conversion attempt was off target, leaving the lead at 12 points.
A high tackle on Yoann Huget from Andrew Bishop in midfield angered the home fans but referee Alain Rolland saw fit to leave it as just the penalty to Toulouse.
Having had to ensure considerable pressure the Ospreys were finally able to enjoy some territory, Fotuali’i’s boot putting them up to the Toulouse line. The French tried to run it out, playing themselves into trouble, but were unable to clear, allowing the Ospreys to run it back from halfway. With an extra man out wide the ball was moved swiftly through the hands only for Eli Walker to lose his footing as the tryline beckoned and he was bundled into touch just a couple of metres out.
A scrum in front of the Toulouse posts gave the Ospreys a platform to attack from, but for the second time in minutes they failed to take advantage of a man out wide. Play was brought back for an Ospreys penalty due to an offside, the visitors opted for the lineout and Joe Bearman’s great take allowed Ryan Jones to surge forward for the line only to get turned in the tackle and lose the ball.
However the Ospreys were able to maintain their pressure from the resulting lineout, Justin Tipuric being driven forward powerfully, and with a penalty awarded their way 10m out the quick thinking Fotuali’i tapped and went, scoring behind the posts. Biggar’s conversion brought the Ospreys back to within five points just seven minutes from the break.
It almost got better for the Ospreys a couple of minutes later, a forward inspired break seeing Ryan Jones, Ian Gough and Scott Baldwin all combining well before Richard Fussell spun it wide to Ashley Beck who did well to force his way through the first tackle only to get stripped of the ball by the last defender as he looked to dive over.
A Toulouse knock-on at the resulting lineout result gave the Ospreys another attacking opportunity as the clock reached 40 but try as they might they were unable to force their way over. They went in trailing by five but mightily heartened by an impressive second quarter.
HALF-TIME: TOULOUSE 12 OSPREYS 7
As was the case in the first half Toulouse took control of the game straight from the kick-off, camping out in Ospreys territory and hammering on the line. However, terrific defence from the visitors kept the French at bay, eventually resulting in penalty that allowed Biggar to clear to the 10m line.
Back came Toulouse, McAlister’s kick almost releasing Nyanga, only for the bounce to prevent a certain try on the left, before Ryan Jones was turned over inside the 22, allowing the hosts to spread it to the right where they had a one man overlap, only for Beck to hit Yann David with a try saving tackle, forcing the knock-on to allow the Ospreys the put-in at the scrum.
Toulouse were looking to turn the screw and won the penalty as the two packs went down, opting to reset. As the Ospreys retreated, it was Fotuali’I who was penalised for offside as he looked to deal with Picamoles at the back.
Before they could pack down again the Ospreys lost Ryan Jones to the bloodbin, Sam Lewis coming on, but the replacement could do nothing to prevent the score that came immediately, the solid scrum providing the platform for Toulouse to move it wide and Vincent Clerc held off the challenge of Walker to score in the corner, after 15 minutes of constant pressure. McAlister’s conversion came back off the upright, leaving Toulouse with a 10 point lead on 56 minutes.
A crunching hit by Walker halted Maxime Medard’s progress after jinking run by the fullback had seen him jink through several challenges as he looked to grab the bonus point score.
With an hour on the clock it was all Toulouse, the young Ospreys team unable to get out of their half, and the pressure told once again when Toulouse grabbed their fourth touchdown. The hosts were entrenched on the line and when it was recycled, the unlikely shape of Census Johnson was hugging the touchline, crashing over from close range after receiving from Picamoles. With McAlister having left the field, Jean-Marc Doussain took the conversion but he failed to find the target, leaving the Ospreys trailing by 15.
In fairness to the Ospreys, who by now had sent on youngsters Lloyd Peers and Matthew Morgan, were refusing to lie down but it was a struggle to get any momentum going on the rare occasions when they did get ball in hand.
Toulouse helped themselves to a fifth try, Huget rounding off a flowing move that again went unconverted, before a late rally brought a well deserved Ospreys try. The visitors probed to the left and then moved it right again, before prop Ryan Bevington exchanged passes with Tipuric before going over in the corner.
Matthew Morgan converted, but it was Toulouse who had the final say when Doussain slotted over a penalty with the final kick of the game.