Ospreys fume as Clancy lets Biarritz off hook

Biarritz 29 Ospreys 28
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The Independent Online

The Ospreys believe they were deprived of a first Heineken Cup semi-final by the Irish referee George Clancy. The Welsh team, who fielded eight British Lions and two All Blacks, fought to the bitter end in San Sebastian. Trailing by one point, inside injury time, the Ospreys were on top in another European classic and on the attack, deep in Biarritz territory. Their scrum-half, Mike Phillips, saw his pass knocked-on by his opposite number, Dimitri Yachvili. The Ospreys' captain, Ryan Jones, later said: "He [Clancy] said it was a penalty but there was no time for it. It's not soccer and I don't want to criticise the referee but we all saw that it was a deliberate knock-on. I can only tell you what he said to me."

Clancy had his arm out, signalling advantage to the Ospreys, but the resulting phase saw no penalty awarded. The Ospreys went for a long-range drop-goal, through Dan Biggar. It fell short and Biarritz went into the semi-finals for the first time since 2006.

The Ospreys, who were well beaten in their quarter-finals against Saracens and Munster in 2008 and 2009, put in a gutsy display in northern Spain. Their head coach, Sean Holley, said: "I haven't seen the referee yet but I will certainly ask him [about his decision]. We did extremely well to get the ball back at the end and got ourselves in a great field position to take either a drop-goal or a penalty. That was our plan because we knew this game would go down to the wire.

"It's a tough call that has to be made at the end and you would have to ask [the referee]. We're not sure if it has gone our way or not but I was confident. I have had another look at the incident again and it looks like a penalty offence to me."

European Rugby Cup officials confirmed that Clancy would not comment.

Regardless of the last-gasp decision, this was a game that the Ospreys will regret for a long time to come. They trailed 16-15 at the interval, despite the fact that they had numerous opportunities to score as Biarritz struggled to stop James Hook and Lee Byrne.

Holley said: "We have to start believing and realising the potential of the side. We have great players but we are a bloody good team. We're not a team of individuals. We made a lot of opportunities in the first half. James Hook was outstanding and Mike Phillips really stepped up to the plate.

"We made a lot of breaks with some great attacking play and showed plenty of endeavour but we just lacked a clinical edge. It's extremely frustrating. The players do not need to be told that we need to start nailing those chances."

The Ospreys' director of coaching, Scott Johnson, was fit to watch from the stands, after a health scare a week earlier, as Damien Traille dropped a goal to put Biarritz ahead inside 29 seconds. The Ospreys then squandered several chances. Byrne, Hook and Andrew Bishop cut through the home defence with ease but their team's finishing was not in the same league as that that of Biarritz's Takudzwa Ngwenya.

In the 12th minute the American wing picked up the ball inside his 22 and set off on an unstoppable 80-metre run, embarrassing Phillips and Shane Williams by turning on the gas for a superb solo try. Yachvili converted it, but the Ospreys responded at the end of the first quarter with a rare try from Ryan Jones. The No 8 began and finished a flowing move which involved neat work from Byrne and Williams.

Biarritz then moved into a 16-7 lead, thanks to Yachvili's long-range penalty and Traille's second drop-goal. The Ospreys roared back with an excellent team try, finished by Byrne, before Biggar kicked a drop-goal and a penalty for the lead.

Biarritz bounced back again when their former England full-back, Iain Balshaw, pounced on Ngwenya's punt. Yachvili converted and Traille sealed a hat-trick of drop-goals either side of Biggar's second penalty. The replacement back Nikki Walker set up a grandstand finish with the Ospreys' third try, with six minutes left. Then came Clancy's debatable decision.

Biarritz I Balshaw (A Mignardi, 53); T Ngwenya, K Hunt, D Traille, I Bolakoro (JB Gobelet, 64); J Peyrelongue, D Yachvili; E Coetzee (F Barcella, 49), B August (R Terrain, 70), C Johnstone, J Thion (capt), M Carizza, W Lauret (F Alexandre, 64), F Faure, I Harinordoquy.

Ospreys L Byrne, T Bowe, A Bishop (N Walker, 63), J Hook, S Williams; D Biggar, M Phillips; P James, H Bennett (E Shervington, 75), A Jones, AW Jones (I Gough, 63), J Thomas, J Collins, R Jones (capt), M Holah (F Tiatia, 69-73).

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).