Stripped bare in the back-row department and still feeling the effects of a brick-hard contest with Munster, an unbalanced London Irish knew they were in for a tough old time of it at the Liberty Stadium last night.
There was no shortage of energy – the Exiles' ultra-committed band of Pacific islanders ensured that much – but they could not quite find a way of dealing with the Welsh glitterati. Or rather, they could not deal with Shane Williams, who glitters wherever he goes.
Not for the first time in Heineken Cup rugby – nor, perhaps, for the 101st – the little wing was sensational. There were two exhilarating sightings of him, one in each half, and taken together, they raised the match above the mire of the bog-standard, into which it might easily have sunk without trace.
The opening period had its moments, but with the Irish referee Peter Fitzgibbon choosing to premiere the world's first sonata for solo whistle – a work composed in many movements, all of them marked pedantic – they were few and far between. James Hook, looking every inch the heir apparent to Brian O'Driscoll as the British and Irish Lions outside centre, unveiled one of his party pieces after three minutes to give Tommy Bowe a clear run to the line, but from there on in, the argument centred on the respective accuracy of the two kickers, Dan Biggar and Ryan Lamb.
Biggar had much the better of it, nailing one penalty from his own half before hitting the mark with three successful shots in the last 10 minutes of the half. The first followed a long but scruffy spell of Ospreys ascendancy that featured half a dozen re-set scrums, a scrambling touchdown from Mike Phillips that was disallowed by Fitzgibbon and a brief scrap between the two sets of tight forwards.
The next came from some transparent Exiles indiscipline at a ruck – any one of three could have been penalised for going off their feet – and the last from an excellent tackle by Ryan Jones on Topsy Ojo as the full-back attempted a trademark run from deep. When James Buckland went over the top, Biggar dished out the punishment.
By far the most memorable intervention came, entirely predictably, from Williams. Ambling across field from the scrum-half position, he suddenly hung a left turn, accelerated past a completely overmatched Clarke Dermody, outstripped the Ospreys midfield and leapt clean over Ojo's attempted tackle before being dragged to earth seven metres out. The good work came to nothing, but it was pure box-office all the same.
The little mesmeriser had something even better up his sleeve, but he did not produce it until the visitors, 11 points adrift at the interval, cut the deficit with an interception try from Sailosi Tagicakibau a minute after the restart. Cue Williams. A lovingly judged chip from a spot deep in his own half made him an even-money shot to beat Lamb to the bounce, and having completed this initial task, he gathered the ball one-handed, breezed away from a clutch of tacklers and crossed the line well ahead of a befuddled Ojo.
Hook converted from the touchline and added a booming penalty from near halfway to take Ospreys over the hills and far away. Sadly for their supporters, they spent the rest of the evening running down the clock, losing Jerry Collins to the sin bin and conceding a third penalty to Lamb in the process. How the crowd would have loved a more ambitious approach involving the man wearing the No 11 short.
Ospreys: Tries Bowe, Williams; Conversion Hook; Penalties Biggar 4, Hook. London Irish: Try Tagicakibau; Conversion Lamb; Penalties Lamb 3.
Ospreys: L Byrne; T Bowe, J Hook, A Bishop, S Williams; D Biggar (N Walker, 44), M Phillips; P James (R Bevington, 69), R Hibbard (H Bennett, 60), A Jones (C Mitchell 85), R Jones (I Gough, 81), A W Jones (capt), J Collins, M Holah (J Tipuric, 60), J Thomas.
London Irish: T Ojo; J Joseph (E Seveali'i, 75), S Mapusua, D Bowden, S Tagicakibau; R Lamb (C Malone, 71), P Hodgson (D Allinson, 82); C Dermody (capt), J Buckland (D Paice, 63), F Rautenbach (A Corbisiero, 54), N Kennedy, R Casey (M Garvey, 63), K Roche, C Hala'ufia (G Johnson, 71), G Stowers.
Referee: P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).