The 1,000th game of the Heineken Cup was marked in suitably enterprising style as the Ospreys clung on for a tense win over Clermont Auvergne at Liberty Stadium yesterday.
The northern hemisphere's premier competition has embraced nine different countries in the pursuit of exciting ties like this – and these two heavyweights lived up to the billing on a landmark occasion.
The Ospreys led 22-3 at the interval following a devastating opening period of attacking flair, before Clermont hit back with 21 unanswered points to set up a memorable finish, with the hosts emerging as slender victors in a compelling six-try contest.
"We wanted to go out with an attacking intent against Clermont," Ospreys coach Sean Holley said. "We knew they were big, heavy and wanted to move them around. We achieved that in the first half and we were bullish at half-time, but sometimes you have to give the opposition credit.
"Clermont are a formidable side and I would say they have been the best side to come to the Liberty in the last two years. They have great depth, size and tactics, and we found them difficult to contend with. The players are disappointed that we let Clermont back into the game but they exposed us down the short-side and the scrum was a concern.
"We could have easily lost the game but we showed resolve at the end to get back in front and hold on. It was tight but we got over the line, albeit it's not good for the blood pressure. But we're in control of the group."
Holley's men flew out of the traps, keen to atone for throwing away an 18-point lead in the draw with Leicester at Welford Road a week earlier.
Utility back James Hook set the standard for a pulsating encounter with a deft drop goal after just 90 seconds, before Lions and Ireland wing Tommy Bowe pounced on a clever grubber kick from Nikki Walker for the opening try.
Such was the hosts' dominance in the early exchanges, Clermont did not enter the Ospreys 22 until the 21st minute. When they did, however, Australian fly-half Brock James used his experience to ensure the visitors capitalised with a well-executed drop goal.
Then, with one foot back in the match, Clermont undid their good work when the lock Thibaut Privat was yellow-carded by English official Wayne Barnes for a trip on Shane Williams. And the rampant Ospreys did not waste any time in maximising their numerical advantage. Former All Black Jerry Collins was held up short of the try-line but the home side exposed Clermont's lack of numbers, and a swift pass to the left of the posts by Alun-Wyn Jones allowed captain Ryan Jones to double their try count.
Man of the match Collins marred his display in a matter of moments when he was sin-binned for a shoulder charge on James before the hosts finished the half with a flurry. Dan Biggar's chip over the top was gathered by the lively Bowe who combined with Hook to allow full-back Barry Davies to saunter home.
The Ospreys were flying but Clermont turned the match with three quick strikes in 11 minutes through Benoît Baby, Thomas Domingo and Alexandre Lapandry. But the home side finally regained their composure when fly-half Biggar kicked a long-range penalty in the 63rd minute to seal victory.
The win may have come at an expensive cost, though, with the club and Wales as a whole worrying about the fitness of Mike Phillips. The scrum-half hobbled off in the 33rd minute with an ankle injury and left the ground on crutches. Phillips faces a scan today to discover the extent of the damage.
Wales coach Warren Gatland was watching in the stands and he will be concerned, with the opener of the autumn Tests against New Zealand less than three weeks away.
"Mike is having treatment on his ankle but we don't know if it is bone or ligament damage yet," Holley said. He will be reviewed by our physiotherapists in the first instance and then by the surgeons who will make a diagnosis."
Scorers: Ospreys: Tries Bowe, R Jones, B Davies; Conversions Biggar (2); Penalty Biggar; Drop goal Hook. Clermont Auvergne: Tries Baby, Domingo, Lapandry; Conversions James (3); Drop goal James.
Ospreys: B Davies; N Walker, T Bowe, J Hook, S Williams; D Biggar, M Phillips (J Nutbrown, 33; A Bishop, 73); D Jones (P James, 55), H Bennett (R Hibbard, 36), C Griffiths (C Mitchell, 55), A Jones, J Thomas (I Gough, 57), J Collins, R Jones (capt), M Holah (F Tiatia, 59).
Clermont Auvergne: A Rougerie (capt); B Baby, G Canale, S Bai, N Vonowale Nalaga; B James (B Russell, 75), K Senio; L Faure (T Domingo, 47), M Ledesma, M Scelzo (V Debaty, 54), J Cudmore, T Privat, J Bonnaire, E Vermeulen, A Lapandry (J Bardy, 65).
Referee: W Barnes (England).Reuse content