Ospreys 21 Castres 12
Dan Biggar kicked all the points for the Ospreys as they defeated reigning French champions Castres at the Liberty Stadium on Friday night.
The fly-half enjoyed a flawless evening, with seven from seven, to give the Ospreys a belated first win of the season in the Heineken Cup, extending the region’s proud record of having never lost to a French side at the Liberty Stadium.
There was a late reshuffle for the Ospreys, Ian Evans withdrawing for family reasons, which meant Tyler Ardron moved from the bench to the starting line-up, with Sam Williams coming into the replacements.
Castres took an early lead through the boot of Rory Kockott with just five minutes gone, from close to the left touchline, after an Ospreys offside at the ruck.
The early score sparked a positive response from the hosts, and awarded a free-kick at the scrum inside the Castres 22 they pressed on the line. Ryan Jones, twice, and Rhys Webb, carried well, before the penalty went the way of the Ospreys for an off-the-ball tackle, giving Dan Biggar a simple kick to level things.
Biggar then nudged his team in front with another straightforward kick in front of the sticks after Rodrigo Capo Ortgea was penalised for cynically killing it after a great break from Jeff Hassler had taken his team up from inside halfway to inside the Castres 22.
With quarter of an hour gone, Kockott then made it 6-each after the Ospreys were penalised for going off their feet at the breakdown.
The Ospreys retook the lead in the 24th minute, Biggar again successful after a period of concerted pressure, started by Sam Davies, running the ball back at Castres from inside his own half, was eventually halted illegally.
Castres were reduced to 14 men in the 27th minute, captain Remy Tales sinbinned for killing the ball as his team’s defence scrambled frantically to half the Ospreys progress after Rhys Webb had launched a counter attack from deep inside his own half after a French knock-on, Tom Isaacs in particular carrying strongly. Biggar’s boot took the Ospreys six clear from the resulting penalty.
Kockott then brought Castres back to within three points with a kick that sailed straight down the middle after the Ospreys’ front-row were penalised at a scrum.
It was an entertaining contest, and looking to take advantage of the extra man the hosts spurned what looked a kickable three points following great work on the ground from Justin Tipuric, going to the corner instead. However, Castres were able to steal at the lineout, allowing them to clear their lines with no further movement on the scoreboard before Tales returned to the field.
It proved a costly decision when just a couple of minutes later, with the last kick of the first half, Kockott was able to split the uprights to level things at the interval.
HALF-TIME: OSPREYS 12 CASTRES 12
Scores were level for just three minutes, Castres penalised at the scrum early in the second half, allowing Biggar to slot over his fifth kick of the night.
As the heavens opened in Biblical style, the Ospreys managed to steal the ball off Castres as the French looked to maul their way out of their own 22. The ball was spun wide where Hassler, unfortunately, was unable to force a way through close to the right touchline.
It was evenly poised, and as the hour approached, Hassler was again bundled into touch close to the line after the Ospreys had made the best of scrappy lineout ball to move it across the field.
They did eventually get the chance to extend their lead on the 60-minute mark after Anton Peikrishvili popped up at the scrum, an Ospreys nudge disrupting Castres at their own put-in. Biggar made no mistake, taking the score to 18-12.
Castres response was to pile pressure on the Ospreys in their 22 with a series of pick and drives. The hosts defence, so solid last week in France, was proving up to the task once again, holding firm and eventually winning a penalty in front of their own posts after Remi Lamerat was pinged for holding on after Justin Tipuric had cut him down with a scything low tackle.
With 10 minutes to go the Ospreys remained six points ahead of the French champions, and with the home scrum gaining ascendancy, Biggar was able to take them nine clear after Castres collapsed the setpiece.
As the visitors began to chase the game, it opened up as a contest with gaps appearing all over the field with play becoming stretched in the closing minutes, but there was to be no more scoring as the Ospreys held on to secure the win, denying Castres even the consolation of a losing bonus point.