Northampton Saints 27 Ospreys 16
Dan Biggar scored all the Ospreys points at Franklin’s Gardens, but it wasn’t enough to prevent the region falling to a second Heineken Cup defeat from as many games.
His haul included a try, a conversion, and three penalties, but the Ospreys paid the price for a sluggish start that saw them go in at the break trailing by 11 points – the same deficit as there was at the final whistle.
Northampton got off to the perfect start, the forwards claiming Stephen Myler’s kick-off inside the Ospreys 22, and winning a penalty inside 80 seconds, allowing the Saints’ 10 to give his team an early lead.
The hosts were on top in the early exchanges, and Eli Walker had to be alert in the 10th minute to scamper back and ground a bouncing ball from Myler’s grubber after Andrew Bishop had knocked on in the tackle trying to run it out from his 22.
With a put-in at the resulting scrum, the Saints took full advantage, grabbing the first try of the afternoon, and it could have been any simpler. Number eight Samu Manoa picked up at the back of a strong set-piece and there was no challenge on him as he sauntered over through non existent defence to score, Myler adding the extras.
The Ospreys were struggling to get any kind of foothold in the contest, but a minute before the quarter-point of the match they finally got on the scoreboard through a long-range Dan Biggar penalty after Salesi Ma’afu went off his feet at the ruck.
Just three minutes later the Ospreys were back within four points thanks to Biggar’s boot, once again, after the Saints scrum was penalised, another long range effort splitting the uprights, this time from inches inside the visitors half.
Just as it looked as they were starting to build some momentum the visitors found themselves back under the posts after the second Saints try. Northampton took advantage of some quality lineout ball to pound on the Ospreys line, their physical game drawing in defenders to create a huge overlap out on the left, and when it was moved wide second row Christian Day went over in the corner. Myler added the conversion, a difficult kick from the touchline, to take the score to 17-6 on 28 minutes.
As half-time approached the Ospreys twice found themselves up in the Saints 22, Biggar from a penalty to the corner, and a well worked counter-attack, but were unable to fashion anything to worry the opposition defence. At the other end, Saints Northampton again threatened, pulling the Ospreys right and left before the little dink behind the cover, Jeff Hassler getting back to touchdown for the drop out.
The game was becoming increasingly open, and after Saints skipper Dylan Hartley broke the line close to the 22 he suffered a rush of blood to the head that saw him attempting, and failing, to dink it through. Richard Fussell gathered and fed Hassler, who raced into the open field in front of him. His chip over Jamie Elliott threatened to bounce kindly, allowing the Canadian a clear run to the line, but unfortunately it squirmed into touch just 8m out.
Ospreys pressure from the resulting lineout provided a final opportunity of the half, but they were unable to take advantage of what was a very messy scrum, allowing Saints to clear to touch to bring the first 40 to a close.
HALF-TIME: NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 17 OSPREYS 6
The Ospreys needed a good start to the second half, and straight from Biggar’s restart they camped themselves inside the Saints 22. Their pressure resulted in an attacking scrum five, quick ball from Joe Bearman seeing Hassler trying to power his way through. He was stopped just short, as was Alun Wyn Jones, but there was no stopping Biggar from close range, the TMO confirming the score, which was converted by the same player to bring his team back to within four points.
Courtney Lawes stole the ball at an Ospreys lineout on their 10m line and as Saints looked to attack from halfway Ashley Beck was harshly penalised for a high tackle as the player looked to have lost his footing and was going down. Thankfully, Myler’s radar was off and his kick from 40m out pulled inches to the left of the posts.
It was on a knife-edge, and the game swung from one end to another in dramatic fashion on 55 minutes. A well-worked line-out move from the Ospreys saw Ashley Beck driven into the Saints before it was recycled to the left. Tom Habberfield looked to keep it moving at the next ruck, only to pass into the hands of a grateful Saints player. The hosts worked it wide quickly, creating space for the clearance kick allowing George North to chase.
Although Biggar was alert to the danger and got back to clear to touch, the respite was only temporary. From the resulting lineout, the Saints maul powered towards the line where it was eventually brought down, by legal means. From the ruck though Saints moved it quickly to Ben Foden who was free on the left to score their third try. Myler converted, and the score was 24-13.
With the clock ticking past the hour a Saints offence at the scrum allowed Biggar to take the Ospreys, and his own personal tally, up to 16 points.
Northampton came back at the Ospreys, looking to take the game away from them with a fourth try but desperate defence managed to keep the Saints pack out in the corner as they ran out of space.
Sustained pressure eventually resulted in a penalty for not rolling away, allowing Myler to take his team his team 11 clear once again with the same amount of minutes left on the clock.
The Ospreys refused to throw the towel in and put together a prolonged spell of pressure as they tried to claw their way back into the contest but the Saints line was able to prevent them getting into the 22, eventually winning the penalty as the visitors began to get frustrated.
The final minutes saw the Ospreys playing a man short after Biggar was yellow carded for killing the ball after some great defensive work to deny North the chance to grab the bonus point try, but the visitors were able to hold firm to prevent any further scoring.