The impression is that the EDF Energy Cup is the least favourite chocolate in the box. The clubs like the sponsor's money and the fact that the Anglo-Welsh competition offers the quickest route, to the winners, to a place in next season's Heineken Cup, but they also see it as an opportunity, in a crowded calendar, to rest the crème de la crème. The Ospreys, who hammered Gloucester at the Liberty Stadium last week, appeared to have approached yesterday's engagement as an afterthought. Appearances can be deceptive.
Lyn Jones, the Welsh region's coach who has already come under scrutiny this season, fielded the full metal jacket against Gloucester and the reward was a bonus point. For round two against West Country opposition he omitted 11 of his stars, including Gavin Henson, Ryan Jones and Justin Marshall. The question in the Principality was what the hell were the Ospreys playing at?
Jones explained that he wanted to utilise his squad to the full, and that during the autumn internationals the team that played yesterday would have to gel again. He added that last week, while Henson and Co were with Wales, he had to prepare for this match with the shadow XV. Not everybody was convinced. Henson and Ryan Jones, who have been out for long spells, need as much match time as they can get while Marshall, of course, is a New Zealander.
In the event, Jones and the Ospreys had the last laugh, as indeed did the sponsor. Despite the fact that the match was televised by the BBC and the production was full of understudies, the Recreation Ground was packed and the spectators could hardly have complained at a lack of entertainment.
The Ospreys' remarkable victory by two goals, a try, a penalty and three drop goals to a goal, a try and four penalties has virtually assured them - they have Bristol at home to come - of a place in the semi-finals at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, where Lyn Jones may or may not go for the galaxy option.
Whatever, you have to admire his confidence, almost as much as the performance of his team. After establishing a substantial lead they could easily have blown it. Or more accurately, Dave Pearson could have blown it for them. The referee penalised the Ospreys mercilessly - the count was 22-8 in Bath's favour - yet the birds of prey somehow beat the trap and stole the bait. It was a most admirable victory.
In the fourth minute, Bath - there was no Olly Barkley or Chris Malone - converted their first penalty through the unfamiliar boot of their scrum-half and captain, Nick Walshe. By the 16th minute the Ospreys showed how dangerous they could be when they spurned a kick at goal, set up a series of driving mauls and Shaun Connor outflanked the defence with a long pass to the left wing Jonathan Vaughton.
Bath's response was another penalty from Walshe but in the 21st minute the Ospreys crossed again for a lead that was severely threatened but never overtaken. Connor put up a high kick, David Bory could not catch it under pressure and Steve Tandy tapped it to James Hook. The centre, formerly a semi-pro with Neath, shrugged off a couple of tackles, including that of the last line of defence, Nick Abendanon, to touch down. From then on, the young Bath full-back was more anon than anything else and would surely have been replaced had they had anybody suitable on the bench.
When Bath missed a long line-out Connor punished them with a drop goal and added a penalty to make it 18-6. Jason Spice was shown a yellow card for putting his foot into a ruck - he's a Kiwi, so it was second nature - as Bath were attacking and Walshe kicked the resultant penalty but missed with another just before half-time. No sooner had Spice returned than the Ospreys lost their lock Ian Evans to the sin-bin for pushing at a line-out and with the margin down to six points, Bath were scenting a try. Up popped Andrew Millward, the cube-shaped prop, to deliver a pass to Stefan Terblanche and the Ospreys' South African full-back scored a sensational try from 80 metres down the right touchline, sidestepping Abendanon in the process.
That made it 25-12. Enter Tom Cheeseman with two tries in two minutes, the second a spectacular effort after Jonny Faamatuainu had run out of defence. The Ospreys know all about Cheeseman - he is a graduate of their academy. Despite the absence of so many Welsh internationals, Gareth Jenkins, the Wales coach, was here and young Cheeseman made a lasting impression. The Ospreys' lead was slashed to a single point but they ended Bath's interest in this cup, wringing the last drops from Terblanche and Hook. Three drop goals from three different players? Put your feet up, Henson.
Bath: N Abendanon; I Davey, T Cheeseman, J Maddock, D Bory (M Stephenson, 40); M Perry (M Mangeolles, 76), N Walshe (capt); D Flatman (D Barnes, 53), D Ward (L Mears, 40), D Bell, D Smith (P Short, 49), D Grewcock, A Beattie, C Goodman (J Faamatuainu, 54), J Scaysbrook.
Ospreys: S Terblanche; R Mustoe, T Selley (S Parker, 64), J Hook, J Vaughton; S Connor, J Spice; P James (capt), B Williams (H Bennett, 60), A Millward (C Griffiths, 64), L Bateman (M Powell, 76), I Evans, L Beech (A Jones, 47), J Thomas, S Tandy.
Referee: D Pearson (Northumberland).Reuse content