EDINBURGH SECOND BEST IN SWANSEA
Neathswansea Ospreys: 31 (24) Edinburgh Rugby: 22 (15)
You'd think that a match producing seven tries would be a bit of a thriller. In fact, this evening's Guinness PRO12 encounter at the Liberty Stadium was a bit of a damp squib in the end. In front of a sparse home crowd, the Ospreys never really hit the heights, but nonetheless managed to take a grip of this match after recovering from Will Helu's early try.
The Welsh side had the bonus wrapped up early in the second period and never really looked threatened from then on in. While possession and territory had been pretty even in the first period, the second saw Ospreys dominate both. Edinburgh's discipline let them down badly. They coughed up 13 penalties and two second half cards in close succession, leaving them chasing the game in the fourth quarter short handed.
Both Edinburgh cards were deserved. One felt, though, that both Beck and Smith were fortunate to have escaped a card themselves earlier on in the second period, having tipped The King Blairhorn beyond vertical and dropped him to the floor in a double tackle that went wrong. Applying the letter of the law would have seen one of them in teh bin. Meanwhile, local observers were not exactly wild when The King scored Edinburgh's second try after Hoyland had run into Evans as the latter was looking to field a high ball. Whatever the rights and wrongs may have been, one felt that a bit less waving of arms by the men in black and a bit more graft in tracking back might have been a more productive response.
There was a fair bit of niggle up front, but rugby is a confrontational sport and that's part of the game. One Man Wrecking Ball Jamie Ritchie is no respecter of reputations and he certainly let the illustrious Tipuric know he was there all night. He wasn't averse to having a go at the legendary Alan Wyn Jones either. This is one young pup who does not take a backward step.
Yet it was in attack that Ritchie's first notable contribution came. After the impressive Davies had knocked over a penalty, Toolis blocked the young five eighth's clearance attempt, the ball was moved left and Blairhorn committed two tacklers with a step inside and a perfectly weighted pass to Ritchie. The openside committed three defenders and put the supporting Helu cantering along the wing for a good try on eight minutes. 5-3 Edinburgh, but the lead was not to last long.
Tipuric knocked ball off the back of an Osprey lineout to Kiwi half back Leonard, who gave to Davies. A fantastic line of running saw Howells clean through to canter over from the 22. You should not concede off first phase, but it was a beautifully worked score nonetheless. While Manu looked to have been taken out by a blocking runner, referee Phillips adjudged the pick to be legal and the home side were 10-5 up on 13 minutes.
A feature of the evening, at least until the statutory late flurry of replacements, was the Ospreys' domination of scrummage. Both Dell and McCallum were under severe pressure most of the evening and a massive Osprey shove off an attacking scrummage saw Baker score on 18 minutes.
Blairhorn narrowed the gap on 27 minutes with his try after Hoyland and Evans had collided, The King cruising over from some distance. But Ospreys scored their third shortly afterwards, Tongan import Fia smashing over from short range to leave the score at the break 24-15 with Weir's penaty goal on the stroke of half-time.
Edinburgh were still in it, but another home try would start to take this one away from them. And it duly came on 45 minutes, the latest Welsh wunderkind Keelan Giles scoring a cracker in the corner, Man of the Match AWJ the provider with fantastic hands for a little guy, let along a second row. When Gilchrist was carded on 54 minutes for the latest in a series of Edinburgh offences, having been warned by the referee, it felt like the game was up.
While the Gunners managed to hold out during the power play without conceding any points, Dell was carded for a scrum offence on 68 minutes and there was definitely no way back. Bill Mata did score the visitors' third from short range on 78 minutes and there was still time left to engineer a penalty or drop attempt for the losing bonus. But the Embramen lost the ball in contact and left with nothing.
Another disappointment, then, and for all the prestidigitations of the Brylcreme boys in the Ospreys' back division - and there was plenty of good stuff - it was the home pack who dominated this match and delviered a well-deserved vistory. A corollary of that is that the Gunners' pack did not impose themselves in tight or loose and can have fe complaints about the loss.
I'm beginning to think that it might be better for the Embramen now to focus on the Challenge Cup instead of the PRO12 as their potential route to Champions Cup rugby next season.