Ospreys 22 Stade Français 22: Jones lets Stade halt Ospreys comeback

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The Independent Online

It felt more like a defeat than a draw. The fat lady would not chirp for the Ospreys, who are now clinging to their Heineken Cup dreams by a thread after an injury-time penalty robbed them of a remarkable victory.

James Hook looked to have completed a breath-taking comeback for the Ospreys, converting Nikki Walker's try as well as five penalties, his team having trailed Stade Français 19-6 with 20 minutes remaining. Yet the Liberty Stadium is proving the place to be for pure drama in this competition, and this pulsating tie had one final turn to reveal.

Ryan Jones tarnished an otherwise outstanding display by conceding an 85th-minute penalty on the halfway line which the replacement fly-half Lionel Beauxis kicked to snatch a draw. That looks certain to be enough to send Stadeinto the quarter-finals and leaves the Ospreys needing a bonus-point win at Sale next Saturday if they are to have any chance of progressing as one of the best runners-up.

The Ospreys coach, Lyn Jones, said: "It was quite a roller-coaster of emotions throughout the game, but we are bitterly disappointed with the outcome.

"Twenty-one points is the best we can look for and in the past that has been enough to get into the quarter-finals. But I'm not one to talk rubbish to my players. I'm realistic and I know just how hard it is going to be just to win at Sale, let alone get a bonus point. I don't think that is something we can talk about."

That the Ospreys shared the spoils, let alone came as close to winning as they did, was a minor miracle. For an hour the expectation looked to have got the better of them. The Parisians were coolness personified, despite their lurid pink jerseys, and the game looked all but over. However, the loss of the influential Stade fly-half David Skrela, following a clash of heads with Gavin Henson, and a yellow card for the Stade lock Boela du Plooy on 61 minutes sparked a fightback.

Lyn Jones said: "We didn't play particularly well in the first half, we gave them too many points and it proved just too much to claw back. We rallied in the second half; perhaps they tried to close the game out too early, but we brought tempo to our game and our top players found some urgency. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be."

Jones must have feared fate was conspiring against him after the opening quarter. The Ospreys started without the Wales centre Sonny Parker, who is likely to miss the Six Nations with a groin problem, and the Test back-rower Jonathan Thomas, who failed a fitness test on a shoulder injury. They then lost his replacement, the former All Black Filo Tiatia, inside two minutes thanks to a torn calf.

Skill and fortune played equal parts in the try scored by Stade's supremely talented full-back Juan-Martin Hernandez. The scrum-half Agustin Pichot's sublime reverse pass to Skrela ignited the attack, though Christophe Dominici's pass inside to Du Plooy, who kicked ahead for Hernandez to score, looked distinctly forward.

At 19-6 behind, the Welsh team were finally galvanised into action as the likes of Ryan Jones, Alun Wyn Jones and Steve Tandy ran riot. Having spent the first 40 minutes twiddling their thumbs, Hook, Henson and Shane Williams finally had the ammunition they craved and after Walker went under the posts to level the scores, Hook kicked a long-range penalty to gain a 22-19 lead.

Yet, having come back to the brink of a remarkable victory, the Ospreys lost their heads in injury time. The scrum-half Jason Spice was shown a yellow card for needlessly obstructing Pichot before Ryan Jones gave away the crucial penalty for tampering with a ruck. Beauxis had missed with a drop goal from distance but he was on the mark from the halfway line.

The miscreant said: "I gave away the penalty, I just didn't think he would make it from there. But he did and I had to say sorry in the dressing room afterwards."

It was an error of judgement that may prove costly.

Ospreys: Try Walker; Conversion Hook; Penalties Hook 5. Stade Français: Try Hernandez; Conversion Skrela; Penalties Skrela 2, Beauxis 2; Drop goal Skrela.

Ospreys: L Byrne (S Terblanche, 37); N Walker, A Bishop, G Henson (S Connor, 45-58), S Williams; J Hook, J Marshall (J Spice, 77); D Jones (capt; P James, 77), B Williams, A Jones, B Cockbain, AW Jones, F Tiatia (A Lloyd, 2; M Powell, 52), S Tandy, R Jones.

Stade Français: J-M Hernandez; J Saubade, G Messina (Mirco Bergamasco, 56), B Liebenberg, C Dominici; D Skrela (L Beauxis, 45-58), A Pichot; R Roncero, M Blin (D Szarzewski, 59), S Marconnet, D Auradou (capt; M James, 70), B du Plooy, A Burban (R Martin, 66), P Rabadan, S Parisse.

Referee: C White (England).

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