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Monday Morning Quarterback View - Double Delight!!

After a very successful festive period and a close loss against Leinster, the URC took a step back for the return of the Heineken Champions Cup and the visit of French champions, Montpellier to Swansea. The late 8pm kick off on a cold Saturday night hindered the chances of a big crowd but those that were in attendance certainly made the atmosphere crackle and superbly backed up the boys on the pitch. The Ospreys were without Kiwi powerhouse Ethan Roots but named a very strong bench with a 6:2 split.

With the Ospreys having won the previous fixture, this game was a must win for both teams as they looked to secure a place in the last 16 knock-out stage.

The game started with Montpellier on the front foot but some superb defence from the Ospreys kept them at bay. An early Montpellier penalty shot at goal was missed and the Ospreys suffered an early blow when Rhys Webb was forced off after just 10 minutes and Ruben Morgan-Williams replaced him. It was then the Ospreys turn to score when Cuthbert forced his way over the line from close range for the opening try. Cai Evans converted superbly from the touchline to make it 7-0 to the home team after 25 minutes.

Montpellier worked their way back into the Ospreys’ 22 and second row, Paul Willemse, crashed over from a metre to make it 7-5 after 27 minutes but the conversion sailed wide. Another Evans penalty 31 minutes, extended the Ospreys’ lead to 10-5 before a second Montpellier try by Willemse brought the scores level after 35 minutes, despite the protestation of Ospreys’ players about a double movement.

As the half was about to end, the Ospreys were in a strong attacking position and won successive penalties, the last of which was a successful shot at goal from Evans, 13-10 at the break.

The second half started with another Evans’ penalty, increasing their lead to 16-10 but back came Montpellier with a converted try by Chaureau, to take the lead 16-17 after 47 minutes.

With the Ospreys turning to their strong bench, the lead would change hands again, when a Justin Tipuric pass put Cuthbert into space and he finished with some aplomb, Evans converted again to make it 23-17.

The lead changed hands yet again with the 4th and bonus point Montpellier try after a simple missed tackled was finished off by Darmon. The conversion was successful to make it 23-24 after 61 minutes.

A speculative Montpellier kick trundled into the Ospreys dead-ball area but refused to take the extra roll that would have taken play back some 50 metres but as Owen Williams minored the ball, a goal-line drop-out was the result. Williams kicked the ball to the halfway line and Montpellier ran the ball back at the Ospreys defence, but the forwards could not control the ball and lost possession. Quickly the Ospreys looked to change the point of attack and the ball was passed to Tipuric, who put in a cross-field kick into space. The on-rushing Keelan Giles gathered the ball, whilst flirting with the touch-line and kicked the ball into even more space. The dynamic Tipuric was first to the loose ball and he slid over the line for the Ospreys’ third try. Evans converted again and now it was 30-24 after 65 minutes.

This game was back and forth as both teams hammered away at each other, and Montpellier then scored their fifth try after a lovely arching run from Louis Carbonel took them to the Ospreys’ try-line and Corbus Reinach scored from the resulting ruck. However, the conversion was wide, and the Ospreys now led 30-29 with just eight minutes left to play.

The Ospreys then won a turnover penalty through Morgan Morris and Williams put the kick into the Montpellier half. Maintaining possession, the Ospreys attacked the Montpellier line before Collins put in a deft little kick that forced a defensive 5 m lineout for the away team. As Montpellier tried to play out of defence, a superb Nicky Smith turnover won the Ospreys a penalty right in front of the posts. Passing up the easy three points on offer, the Ospreys went instead to the corner and Morris crashed over after strong carries from the pack. This was the 4th and crucial bonus point try. The conversion looked to be over from my seat, but it was not given and now the Ospreys led 35-29 with just one minute left on the clock. Could the Ospreys hold on and seal a much-needed win?

From the kick-off the Ospreys retained possession and looked to see out the remaining time but a clever strip forced a turnover and gave Montpellier one final chance to steal the win. They moved the ball into the Ospreys’ 22 but a superb turnover from the returning George North saw the Ospreys win a penalty that was tapped and kicked into touch to end the game.

This was an incredibly hard-fought victory as the lead changed hands several times but the strength off the bench was crucial for the Ospreys as they moved up to 4th in Pool B on 10 points. This means that the Ospreys have definitely qualified for a knockout stage but need to get something from the Leicester game next week to be certain of making the last 16 of the HCC.

It is hard to overstate the significance of this performance and result. It could be argued Montpellier were caught cold when the Ospreys turned them over in their back yard with the ferocity of their approach. This time they came fully loaded and with full intensity. Five tries against a decent Ospreys defence showed just how good they are, and what a great achievement it was to secure a bonus point win. The attack is now starting to look coherent and some of the passing was the most accurate we have seen this season, with two of our four tries being among the best seen for many years. Reuben Morgan Williams, for the second week in a row, had to go almost 80 minutes, and in both games he has risen to the occasion. Cai Evans again produced a quality kicking display, which given its contrast with the weak Montpellier goal kicking, turned out to be the vital difference between the two sides

This has been a brutal stretch of games and there is another short turnaround to next Friday's game at Welford Road. It looks like not only a win, but a clear 4 points difference in the match points will be needed to secure a home knockout tie. Both sides are carrying injuries and tired bodies, and we must hope for one final heroic effort from a squad that has turned its season around, before large numbers are lost to the Six Nations campaign.

The team looks focused and is getting good at the basics. The kick-off exiting, for so long an Achilles heel, could not be faulted on Saturday evening. Leicester will not have the sheer power of Montpellier, for whom second row Williamse was an immense physical carrier, and Camara and Mercer were athletic back row forwards from the top drawer They will, however, have home advantage and know that a home knockout tie is on the line. It will require another Herculean effort and the hope that the attrition rate of the past few weeks does not continue as the selection will need to have a strong bench available to come away with any kind of result. However, being in the mix for the Big Boys Cup is something we have not had for several years, and the Ospreys from a low seeding have achieved that. They now need one last big effort and luck with injuries and officiating from what will be an all French team of officials, to finish the job.

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