A courageous Ospreys fightback was not enough to earn the Welsh side a much-needed Champions Cup victory over Racing Metro at the Liberty Stadium.
The home side’s chances of advancing from Pool Five to the knockout stages were dented as they were made to play for a slow start, and they are likely to need a win in the return fixture in Le Mans to have any hope.
At one stage they had trailed 16-3 as the visitors pack took full advantage of an injury-hit home eight. Francois van der Merwe scored Racing’s try, while fly-half Johan Goosen slotted the conversion, three penalties and a drop goal.
Wales fly-half Dan Biggar booted 14 points for the hosts, including the conversion of Josh Matavesi’s try which tied the scores late on. Racing are top of the pool, level on 10 points with Northampton, while the Ospreys are three points adrift.
With Nicky Smith, Aaron Jarvis, Duncan Jones, Joe Bearman and Dan Baker all injured, and Alun Wyn Jones, Rhys Webb and Biggar nursing the after-effects of Wales’ bruising autumn, the Ospreys were under the cosh early on.
Racing’s formidable forward muscle yielded two penalties which Goosen knocked over and, after Biggar had replied with a three-pointer of his own, they claimed the opening try.
There was little resistance down the left-hand side of the Ospreys defence and Van der Merwe carried three attempted tacklers over the line with him.
It could have been worse for the Ospreys had Alexandre Dumoulin taken a scoring pass from Marc Andreu after the French winger had cut through the home defence.
As it was, they turned round 10 points down thanks to Biggar’s second penalty.
It marked a change in momentum as Webb came to life with some quick ball to operate with, and as the tempo rose so did the penalty count in the Ospreys favour. Two Biggar penalties, after one uncharacteristic miss, closed the gap to four points, although Goosen replied with a drop goal eight minutes from time.
But the Ospreys roared back. Justin Tipuric broke the line and Webb pounced on his offload to put Matavesi in. Biggar converted and the scores were level.
There was still time for Goosen to have a penalty to turn the tide back in Racing’s favour, but he was off target from just shy of halfway.
Ospreys skipper Jones said: “We needed to win today, if we are honest. A draw is the lesser of two evils. A loss or a draw, we are obviously going to take the draw but we will need a win out there.”
Biggar added: “But for one rushed kick at goal we could have pinched a victory. I’ve got to apologise for that to my team-mates.”
Ospreys: D Evans; T Grabham (H Dirksen, 64), A Beck, J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb; M Thomas (G Thomas, 64), S Baldwin (S Parry 74), D Arhip (D Suter 74), L Peers (R Bernardo 41), AW Jones (capt), J King, J Tipuric (S Lewis 77), T Ardron.
Racing Metro: B Lapeyre; A Planté, C Laulala, A Dumoulin, M Andreu (Y Audrin, 70); J Goosen, M Phillips (M Machenaud, 64); B Arous (J Brugnaut, 47), D Szarzewski (capt, V Lacombe, 64), L Ducalcon (W Desmaison, 75), J Kruger (L Charteris, 60), F Van der Merwe, W Lauret (C Gerondeau, 79), E Le Roux, A Claassen.
Referee: JP Doyle (England).
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