Ospreys 34 Bristol 3: Hook the sublime rises above stinker

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The Independent Online

The Ospreys completed the semi-final draw with an emphatic victory over Guinness Premiership leaders Bristol at the Liberty Stadium last night. The Welsh region were rarely troubled, yet it took a moment of sublime creativity from the 21-year-old James Hook for the Ospreys finally to shrug Bristol from their coat-tails and book their place in the EDF Energy Cup semi-finals.

Such is the unsatisfactory format of this competition that this game had little of the anticipated blood and thunder, but rather the meanderings of two sides with very different objectives.

The Ospreys only required a point to progress, which they wrapped up with ease, while Bristol merely wanted to see the back of a cup campaign which was as good as over once they lost to Gloucester back in October. Bristol now have bigger fish to fry, with a three-point lead at the top of the Guinness Premiership.

In a battle between the reserves, it was the Ospreys who were always the more likely to emerge on top, with Lyn Jones able to call upon 10 internationals, including the former All Black Justin Marshall, while resting the majority of his Wales stars ahead of the Heineken Cup.

Hook took barely a minute to register his first points and Marshall touched down soon after following a monumental surge from the Ospreys scrum. Yet despite their dominance, the Ospreys made frustratingly hard work of shrugging off Bristol and finishing off the game.

It was not until a moment of magic from Hook that the victory was finally put to bed. Josh Taumalolo's missed tackle opened the door for the sublime skills of Hook. He stepped inside Sam Cox, beat Marko Stanojevic with the subtlest of dummy-passes before outpacing Craig Short to the line.

It was a moment to applaud from a player so young who has taken this competition by storm, and it proved the breaking of Bristol.

Just five minutes later, the Ospreys pack rumbled over, this time from a line-out that ended with Huw Bennett crashing over. The Scotland wing Nikki Walker combined power and pace to hold off a succession of tacklers to score in the corner and open a commanding 27-3 lead. Barry Williams stepped off the bench to complete the scoring.

Ospreys: L Byrne; N Walker (A Bishop, 64), T Selley, J Hook, J Vaughton; S Connor (G Henson, 53), J Marshall (M Roberts, 53); D Jones (capt), H Bennett (B Williams, 69), C Griffiths (A Millward, 67), L Bateman, AW Jones (B Cockbain, 53), F Tiatia (A Lloyd, 53), R Jones, S Tandy.

Bristol: L Arscott; M Stanojevic, S Cox, J Taumalolo (A Reay, 50), W Pozzebon; J Strange (G Griffiths, 69), B O'Riordan (G Nicholls, 65); A Clarke (M Irish, 50), D Blaney (S Nelson, 21), W Thompson, M Sambucetti (D Attwood, 60), S Hohneck, G Lewis, A To'oala, C Short (capt).

Referee: T Hayes (Wales).

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