Ospreys piled the pressure on defending champions Connacht with a resounding 32-11 victory in their PRO12 clash on Saturday night.
With 10 minutes left Connacht were still in the game, only trailing 13-11 and trying to prevent their second defeat in as many games. But Ospreys pulled away in the last nine minutes, scoring three tries in six minutes for an impressive victory.
Ospreys captain Rhys Webb grabbed the only try of the first half, with Sam Davies adding a further five points with the boot as Ospreys went 10-3 up. But a yellow card for Tyler Ardron allowed Connacht back into the game, with Eoin McKeon putting his side a point ahead.
Ardron went from zero to hero with a try that put Ospreys back into a significant lead, before Webb and Hassler rounded off a superb night for the Welsh side to seal a 32-11 win. Coming off the back of a defeat in Round One to Glasgow, Connacht threatened to equal Ospreys as only the second reigning champions to fall to successive opening defeats. They didn't start this one well, going in behind at the break.
Ospreys took a three point lead three minutes in through Davies, the kicker capitalising after a Connacht foul in the ruck. The visitors were the stronger in the early minutes as Connacht were forced to defend strongly to hold up a strong attack led by Jeff Hassler. The hosts drew level though through Jack Carty, sending a penalty through after an advantage was brought back. That proved to only be a momentary break from the Ospreys pressure, as the first try of the game came for the visitors.
A scrum five metres out saw the ball pop out into the welcoming arms of Webb, who dived over for a five-point lead and taking himself past 150 points in Ospreys colours. Davies added the extras, with Webb's men taking a 10-3 lead into the second half. Connacht narrowed the deficit to four points early in the second half, another Carty penalty easily angled through from in front of the posts. Ospreys were dealt a blow when Ardron was shown a yellow for a high challenge.
That opened more space for the reigning Pro12 champions, who had failed to impress prior. And they took advantage immediately. McKeon was the beneficiary of the man advantage, finding space and soaring over the line following a neat spell of pressure. Carty sent the conversion narrowly wide from an acute position, with the sides separated by a single point. Davies snatched the lead back though with another penalty, putting the visitors 13-11 to the good.
In hindsight, Ospreys navigated the 10 minute loss of Ardron nicely, maintaining their lead by the time he had returned. And although Ardron might have put his side up against it, he more than made up for that to seal the game.
The Canadian secured the second Ospreys try of the night, coming after a long spell metres from the hosts try line. He eventually flung himself over after a spot finally appeared, with the conversion from Davies missing its target. But although the deficit wasn't huge, Ospreys made a real statement with two more tries in the final minutes turning this into a real statement to the rest of the league.
A Ben John foray forward drew men towards him, allowing him to offload to Webb for the captains second try of the night. Davies converted, and he was back aiming at the sticks barely a minute later. Hassler, who had impressed all night, finished off a speedy Dan Evans break forward, and Davies' two more points finished the scoring at 32-11.
Pens: Carty 2
Tries: Ardron, Webb, Hassler
Cons: Davies 3
Pens: Davies 2
Connacht: 15 Tiernan O'Halloran, 14 Niyi Adeolokun, 13 Eoin Griffin, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Matt Healy, 10 Jack Carty, 9 Kieran Marmion, 8 John Muldoon (c), 7 James Connolly, 6 Eoin McKeon, 5 Danny Qualter, 4 Ultan Dillane, 3 Finlay Bealham, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Ronan Loughney
Replacements: 16 Dave Heffernan, 17 Dominic Robertson-McCoy, 18 JP Cooney, 19 Lewis Stevenson, 20 Rory Moloney, 21 Caolin Blade, 22 Shane O'Leary, 23 Danie Poolman
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ben John, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Eli Walker, 10 Sam Davies, 9 Rhys Webb (c), 8 Tyler Ardron, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 Olly Cracknell, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Sam Parry, 1 Nicky Smith
Replacements: 16 Scott Baldwin, 17 Paul James, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 James King, 21 Dan Baker, 22 Tom Habberfield, 23 Dafydd Howells
Referee: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
Assistant Referees: Claudio Blessano (Italy), Leo Colgan
TMO: Alan Falzone (Italy)