Ospreys stay on course for title

Neath-Swansea 34 - Borders 10
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The Independent Online

The Neath-Swansea Ospreys have one hand on the Celtic League trophy after a clinical bonus-point victory last night.

The Neath-Swansea Ospreys have one hand on the Celtic League trophy after a clinical bonus-point victory last night.

It was top versus bottom and it looked like it as a brave but outclassed Borders side spent most of the first half standing under their posts watching Shaun Connor kicking goals. The Scottish players re-gathered in the second spell as mistakes crept into the Ospreys' game, at least.

With four matches left the Ospreys lead Munster by 12 points. The Irish province have two games in hand - including today's home match against Glasgow.

The Ospreys went into the match without seven Wales internationals - including the man of the moment, Gavin Henson - but welcomed Duncan Jones back to the bench after a broken thumb ruled the talented prop out of the opening two rounds of the Six Nations. The Ospreys coach Lyn Jones gave his promising 19-year-old centre Andrew Bishop a start, and his powerhouse defence was a highlight of the match.

The lock Andy Newman, the first man to play 50 games for the Ospreys, opened the scoring with a try near the posts after only five minutes. The back-rower James Bater found a gap a mile wide in an already fragile-looking Borders defence and he slipped a clever pass to the rampaging Newman.

Connor added the extra points and two close-range penalties before some good work from the scrum-half Richard Rees gave Bater the space to dive over in the corner. Connor, making light of Henson's absence from the No 10 shirt, slotted the conversion from the sideline to give the Ospreys a 20-0 lead in as many minutes.

The Borders stemmed the flow - more out of good fortune than good play - and even troubled the scorers when their centre Charlie Hore slotted a 40-metre penalty as Newman's 50th match ended with a knee injury and the Ospreys prop Paul James also limped off.

James' injury resulted in Jones taking the field to a huge ovation, similar to the cheer three minutes later when the flanker Richie Pugh showed his exceptional pace to out-sprint the covering defenders and score the Ospreys' third try. Connor did not miss a goal all night and his conversion gave the home side a 24-point lead at the break.

The Borders winger Stuart Moffat made a promising break as his side tried to get back into the game, but was tripped by his opposite number Richard Mustoe after putting in a well-weighted chip. Mustoe - just returning from a 12-week suspension for misuse of the boot - was lucky to stay on the field.

The Borders got the try they deserved when Hore found space 10 yards from the uprights, but the Ospreys were not to be denied a bonus point for four tries and the prop Andrew Millward obliged in the dying minutes after a rolling maul.

Neath-Swansea: S Terblanche; D Tiueti (A Durston, 74), A Bishop, E Seveali'i, R Mustoe; S Connor (M Jones, 79), R Rees (R Wells, 74); P James (D Jones, 37), B Williams (capt) (R Hibberd, 78), A Millward, A Newman (L Tait, 32), L Bateman, J Bater, A Lloyd, R Pugh (S Tandy, 80).

Borders: G Morton; S Moffat, C MacRae, C Hore, N Walker; A Warnock, J Weston (I Wilson, 73); T McGee (G Cross, 71), R Ford (G Kay, 76), B Douglas (capt), M Blair, C Stewart, J Dalziel, A Miller, W McEntee (K Brown, 48).

Referee: C Stanley (Ireland).