Perpignan hang on to down Ospreys
January 17, 2009
Perpignan hooker Guilhem Guirado takes on the Ospreys defence
© Getty Images
The Ospreys produced a spirited fightback to gain a bonus point from their narrow defeat in Perpignan, keeping alive their hopes of reaching the Heineken Cup quarter-finals. The visitors lost the game by two points to their French hosts, but with 23 minutes remaining the then dispirited Ospreys looked destined for absolutely nothing at 17-0 down.
Their joy at attaining that bonus point will, however, be tarnished by the loss of Wales full-back Lee Byrne with a leg injury midway through the first half. The home fans ensured the Ospreys took to the field to a cacophony of boos and catcalls and a chant of 'Tincu' from the crowd of 13,356, referencing the 18-week ban slapped on Perpignan's Romanian hooker for gouging during the reverse fixture in October.
Despite the crowd, it was the Ospreys who started much the stronger, dominating territory and possession for the opening quarter of an hour. A number of careless forward passes prevented them from taking a deserved lead and ollowing a very ambitious and miserable attempt at a drop goal from Byrne, Marty Holah gave away a penalty and against the run of play Steve Meyer hit a 45-metre goal to give Perpignan the lead. Five minutes later he added another.
Despite these reverses the Ospreys continued to look the better side but they still failed to take advantage, too often trying to force impossible passes instead of retaining possession and building up pressure.
Worse followed for the Ospreys when the home side went nine points ahead with Meyer kicking another penalty after 34 minutes following an off-the-ball incident involving James Hook. They lost the highly-influential Byrne with that leg injury two minutes later.
Another major blow for the Ospreys followed almost immediately when Alun-Wyn Jones lost a lineout in the Perpignan half. A strong counter-attack from the French side ended with Mike Phillips sent to the sin bin and Meyer kicking yet another goal to give Perpignan a 12-0 interval lead.
Henry Tuilagi, the Perpignan number eight, made two barnstorming runs at the beginning of the second half to create a sustained period of French pressure and, down to 14 men, the Ospreys hung on by the skin of their teeth until Phillips returned. The scrum-half's comeback did not initially restore Osprey fortunes however as Tuilagi drove over from close range after 52 minutes for the opening try of the game.
The Ospreys then showed good spirit and began to find a route back into the game, finally registering on the scoreboard. A weak kick from Perpignan wing Julien Candelon gifted possession to the visitors. Adam Jones caught the ball and fed Phillips, who stretched the defence with some powerful running before the ball was moved wide for Shane Williams to beat a defender and score. Hook was unsuccessful with the conversion.
That try inspired the Ospreys and in particular Phillips who appeared to be everywhere as the Welsh outfit gathered momentum. With 13 minutes to go Tommy Bowe made a break to send Jonny Vaughton over. Hook converted and five minutes from time the outside-half kicked a penalty to ensure that vital bonus point.
Ospreys coach Sean Holley was critical of his side's lack of killer instinct as they failed to chase down what could have been a vital win. "The boys are very tired. We had a good chance and we are down because we weren't clinical enough," he said.
Any celebrations at having attained a vital bonus-point were tempered by the injury to Byrne, which could have dire consequences for both the Ospreys and Wales, who are relying on him to fill their fullback jersey for their Six Nations opener against Scotland on February 8.
"He is still in the dressing room at present, he is on crutches as a precaution but it is too early to say the extent of the damage to his ankle," Ospreys assistant coach Jonathan Humphreys said. "It occurred when he and Mike Phillips collided when going for the same high ball due to a lot of noise from the crowd. It would have been impossible for either of them to hear the call."
Humphreys also criticised the side's profligacy, but maintained that they were not daunted by the home crowd. "It was a very daunting atmosphere but all the players were excited by it," he said. "We were within a hair's breadth of being 20 points up at half-time but the final pass kept going astray. It was very frustrating but, to a degree, we put it right in the second half.
"In the first half we had probably 30 possessions and turned over 20 of them. We chatted at half-time and there was no panic amongst the boys as we knew we were within an inch of putting it right. We aimed to keep it tight and hold the ball until Mike Phillips had returned from the sin bin but we gave them a try and that gave them too much of a head start."
Perpignan's Scotland international scrum-half Chris Cusiter maintained that his side deserved to win the game despite the Ospreys' late surge. "We deserved to win the game, after Henry Tuilagi scored we were in control," he said. "We made more of the possession and had taken advantage of it when they killed the ball by kicking the points. We didn't make enough of the period when Mike Phillips was off and full credit to the Ospreys for coming back strongly. It was a high level of intensity game and pretty fast in the first half."
Perpignan: Burger, Manas, Marty, Mermoz, Candelon, Meyer, Cusiter, Pulu, Guirado, Mas, Britz, Olibeau, Le Corvec, Chouly, Tuilagi.
Replacements: Hume for Meyer (66), Durand for Cusiter (66), Chobet for Pulu (47), Geli for Olibeau (76), Perez for Le Corvec (47). Not Used: Kairelis, Porical.
Ospreys: Byrne, Bowe, A. Bishop, Henson, Williams, Hook, M. Phillips, James, Hibbard, A. Jones, Gough, A. Jones, R. Jones, Holah, Tiatia.
Replacements: Vaughton for Byrne (37), Bennett for Hibbard (52). Not Used: Griffiths, Bateman, Smith, Nutbrown, Biggar.
Sin Bin: M. Phillips (38).
Man of the Match: G Guirado (Perpignan)
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ire)