Biarritz bagged themselves a home Heineken Cup semi-final after holding off a spirited Ospreys outfit 29-28 in Spain on Saturday.
Biarritz bagged themselves a home Heineken Cup semi-final after holding off a hugely-spirited Ospreys outfit 29-28 at Estadio Anoeta on Saturday.
A late try from replacement Nikki Walker had set up a deserved grandstand finish to events in Northern Spain but fly-half Dan Biggar's attempted winning drop-goal fell short of the uprights in a controversial finish that left the visitors reeling.
The reason for their likely heartbreak is that referee George Clancy adjudged a Biarritz hand to have only knocked-on an Osprey pass, which might have been construed as being a deliberate slap-down in many travelling supporters' eyes.
However, let's not hang on one decision as this was a contest that followed up last night superbly. Played under the sunshine on the perfect pitch of soccer team Real Sociedad, it made for quite a spectacle that was full of running despite the heat.
And there was no sense of unfamiliarity at this ground for the Biarrots, who beat Toulouse at the same venue only a few weeks back, which is a feat in itself.
They started well right from the kick-off, putting the Ospreys under immediate pressure that resulted in Damien Traille slotting over a drop-goal with barely 30 seconds on the clock. Was it to be a signal of intent that the French would gobble up any points when on offer?
Well at quarter-final time and being such old stagers as they are in this competition, it seemed the right avenue upon which to follow as the temperature was cranked in the black-shorted corner. But credit to the Welsh, they did show plenty of coolness to respond only three minutes later with an impressive breakout from Lee Byrne almost bringing a score for Shane Williams. Maybe the full-back's decision to chip to his wing instead of pass will be up for the video on Monday.
However, that passage did bring encouragement to the travelling army of support in the stands, and they didn't have to wait long for another chance to get to their feet. This time the shaky figure of former England international Iain Balshaw proved the visitors' catalyst when he spilled what looked like a simple grubber from Dan Biggar. Centre Andrew Bishop subsequently almost capitalised from the home ten-metre, but was eventually hauled down close to the whitewash by some good covering defence. It looked to be a possible shift in the momentum for the Ospreys.
But unfortunately it was not to be for the away coaching team, who were boosted by boss Scott Johnson's attendance after the Australian's recovery from illness. The reason being that it sparked the moment of the match, arriving in the shape of a familiar American winger. Bryan Habana may still have nightmares but he will be joined in sleepless nights by Shane Williams following Takudzwa Ngwenya running from his own 22 down the touchline to the Ospreys try-line. It was truly mesmeric.
At 10-0 down and with their lineout in a real mess, the Welsh desperately needed a foothold or anything besides on which to cling. And they got it thanks to their reliable counter-attack-ability – if there is such a word – picking them up from the hot canvas. Lovely handling and composure with ball in-hand from James Hook got them going and with Ryan Jones supporting like a back-row and captain should always do, the eight was the ultimate scorer.
But as is the wont of this Top 14 side of late, they effortlessly slipped back into their clinical stance when Yachvili slotted over a penalty on just after the quarter before Traille was on the money again with a drop, his second of three on the day.
The hosts were certainly on top in the heat – copious amounts of bottled water were waiting on the touchline when required – but one got the growing feeling that the Ospreys could threaten at any time. And that they did when the back-line combination of Biggar and James Hook combined to send over an at pace Byrne wide out. The extras were missed but the ten hit back with a drop right on half-time, showing maturity beyond his tender young years.
Upon the turnaround, Biggar then put his side ahead for the first and only time in the match with a penalty five minutes in, although it was the fly-half's off-the-ball tackle on Ngwenya just seconds later that allowed Yachvili to inch his side back ahead.
Biarritz then set about putting a little breathing space between themselves and their opponents as Yachvili's pass found Ngwenya, who again made inroads before kicking through for Balshaw – the full-back albeit injuring himself in the process of scoring.
The assured Yachvili converted and all of a sudden a two-point deficit had become an eight-point advantage. Biggar narrowed it with a penalty in the 51st minute before Traille completed his hat-trick just short of the hour.
Biggar then missed two attempts – a penalty followed by a drop-goal – to try and bridge the gap as the match entered its ten very frantic final minutes, but just as it looked as though the match had wilted, the Ospreys sprung back to life for the big finish the game had earned.
The fresh legs of Scottish winger Walker saw him cross but the big opportunity for Biggar after Mike Phillips had found him with the perfect pass was unsuccessful.
Man-of-the-match: Many stood out but the award goes to Damien Traille for using his Heineken Cup experience to the maximum with three very well-taken drop-goals!
Tries: Ngwenya, Balshaw
Con: Yachvili 2
Pen: Yachvili 2
Drop: Traille 3
Tries: R Jones, Byrne, Walker
Con: Biggar 2
Pen: Biggar 2
Biarritz: 15 Iain Balshaw, 14 Takudzwa Ngwenya, 13 Karmichael Hunt, 12 Damien Traille, 11 Ilikena Bolakoro, 10 Julien Peyrelongue, 9 Dimitri Yachvili, 8 Florian Faure, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 JÃ©rÃ´me Thion, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Benoit August, 1 Eduard Coetzee.
Replacements: 16 Romain Terrain, 17 Fabien Barcella, 18 RÃ©my Hugues, 19 Trevor Hall, 20 Fabien Alexandre, 21 Valentin Courrent, 22 Arnaud Mignardi, 23 Jean-Baptiste Gobelet.
Ospreys: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 James Hook, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Ryan Jones (capt), 7 Marty Holah, 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Jonathan Thomas, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Huw Bennett, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Ian Gough, 20 Filo Tiatia, 21 Jamie Nutbrown, 22 Sonny Parker, 23 Nikki Walker.
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Chris White (England), Dudley Philips (Ireland)
Television match official: Brian Fitzgerald (Ireland)