Ospreys snare historic victory
May 29, 2010
Tommy Bowe pounced for the Ospreys' first try
© PA Photos
The Ospreys have won the Magners League after defeating Leinster 17-12 in the inaugural Grand Final at the RDS in Dublin on Saturday.
Irish international Tommy Bowe and fullback Lee Byrne scored tries for the visitors as they ended Leinster's long unbeaten home run in the league, which dates back to September 2008, and sealed a record third Celtic title.
Leinster's Ireland fly-half Jonathan Sexton kicked all of their points in a game that was played at a frantic pace, with the Ospreys holding out through a nerve-shredding late barrage from the 2009 Heineken Cup champions.
Defeat ended head coach Michael Cheika's tenure with the Irish province on a low note, but the Australian, who will join Stade Francais next season, can reflect on five years in which he transformed his charges from nearly-men into the real deal. This could also prove to be a seminal victory for the Ospreys, who again fell at the first knockout hurdle in the Heineken Cup this season and have been tarred with the 'underachievers' brush for too long given their admirable playing stocks.
Again their full complement of international stars was on display and they were able to provide another fillip for Wales prior to tough Tests against the Springboks and All Blacks, following in the footsteps of Cardiff Blues, who themselves made history last weekend by ending Wales' long wait for a European title.
Biggar was denied the first try of the game after only two minutes by a forward pass from Bowe while attempting a difficult offload and Leinster soon got in on the act when Isa Nacewa opened up the defence for Shane Horgan only to be called back by referee Chris White for another handling error.
Mistakes littered the early exchanges, with Nacewa missing his touch on a mark before the Ospreys' Lions duo of Byrne and Mike Phillips hacked clearances out on the full. The Ospreys enjoyed the first real spell of pressure following a snappy Shane Williams break but after multiple phases their efforts were undone by an error, this time a Jerry Collins knock on. Biggar missed a regulation shot at goal immediately after and landed Phillips with a hospital pass from a quick lineout as effort and endeavour continued to outweigh precision.
There was nothing sloppy about the opening score though and fittingly it was Ireland's darling Bowe who rounded it off for the visitors. Biggar showed patience with ball in hand in midfield, judging his pass to Andrew Bishop perfectly. The centre picked a nice line through the defence and when confronted by Rob Kearney, fired the easiest of offloads to the onrushing Bowe.
Biggar converted but the Ospreys conceded three points to Sexton and Leinster soon after when Byrne was pinged for a high tackle. Their fortunes did not improve as Alun-Wyn Jones and Collins conspired to bomb a golden scoring chance, with Nacewa able to pull off a brilliant last ditch tackle on the former All Black metres from the line.
Another moment of brilliance from their backline ensured that their dominance was not wasted though. This time the architect was centre James Hook, who latched on to Biggar's ambitious miss-pass before finding an inch-perfect inside ball for Byrne to race past Nacewa and the covering Heaslip to score. His fly-half added the extras for a 14-3 lead at the interval.
The first score of the second half went to Sexton after a rash ruck infringement from Jones but Biggar was able to restore the visitors' 11-point cushion with a simple kick when Leinster strayed offside. The crowd rallied behind their side but the Ospreys continued to dictate territory through Biggar and the siege-gun boot of Byrne.
Biggar showed a lack of big game temperament by passing the buck to Hook for a drop-goal attempt, which skidded out of play, and Sexton took another bite out of the lead to reward excellent continuity and phase play from his side deep in Ospreys territory. Leinster continued to up the performance as the half went on and despite several big hitters, namely Ian Gough and the retiring Filo Tiatia, coming off the Ospreys bench the gap closed further with Sexton's fourth penalty.
Mistakes began to creep into the visitors' game as the final minutes came around and roared on Leinster came back with renewed assaults. Another silly penalty conceded by the visitors gave Sexton the chance to bring his side within two, and a drop-goal, but for once his radar failed him as the ball slid past the post.
Leinster frantically attacked in the closing stages but the Ospreys stood firm on their 22 until Tiatia was able to secure the game's vital turnover. They ground out the final few seconds to good effect and despite losing the final lineout were rewarded by the shrill whistle of the referee following a knock on. The capacity crowd went home disappointed, as did Cheika and retiring Irish legend Mal O'Kelly, but the joy was plain to see on the faces of the Ospreys and their small band of travelling fans.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.