FINAL SCORE: Clermont Auvergne 24-7 Ospreys
There was disappointment as French champions, Clermont Auvergne, ended Ospreys hopes of a place in the quarter-finals at Stade Marcel Michelin.
After a frenetic opening it was the home team who led 13-0 at the break but the Ospreys dug in and an Ashley Beck try, converted by Dan Biggar, gave them renewed hope going into the final quarter trailing by just six points.
However, Clermont were able to pull away from them at the death, their second try of the game in the final minute giving the scoreline a look that didn’t truly reflect how close the contest has been.
With the atmosphere typically red hot at kick-off the Ospreys faced the inevitable early onslaught from the hosts, who thought they had opened the scoring in the sixth minute.
It was Remy Grosso who went for the corner after Morgan Parra has opted to move the ball from the back of a maul that the Ospreys had managed to stop, but the TMO confirmed after a prolonged check that Lloyd Ashley’s tackle had done enough to put the winger in touch before he managed to get the ball down. The Ospreys won a penalty from the resulting lineout and Dan Biggar was able to clear.
Clermont kept the pressure on, the Ospreys doing well to win turnover ball on their own line as the home pack tried to rumble over, before getting a scrum penalty five metres out.
Having survived the storm the Ospreys began to grow into the game, and as it moved into the second quarter were starting to win some possession and territory, much to the frustration of the French crowd.
That made it even more disappointing when Clermont were able to open the scoring in the 25th minute after Rhys Webb was penalised for an off the ball offence. Although the home team was unable to make any ground with the forwards, Parra spotted the space behind the defensive line. Nick Abendanon won the race to ground it, beating Beck to the ball, and Parra added the simplest of conversions.
The Clermont skipper then struck a sweet three pointer from 40m out after a high tackle, taking his team 10 points clear at the half hour.
The Ospreys defence did well to prevent a second try when Parra’s cross kick found Grosso on the left, Dan Evans and Hanno Dirksen getting across to stop him inches from the line, the cover then holding up the supporting player.
However, Parra was able to slot over another penalty two minutes before the break, from the left hand side, after the Ospreys were penalised at the scrum.
There was still time for the Ospreys to go again and after Webb had half charged down a Parra clearance, an offside gave Biggar his first sight of the posts but the kick, the last of the half, was always off target,
HALF-TIME: CLERMONT 13-0 OSPREYS
The heavens opened over as the sides were welcomed back onto the field, the Ospreys knowing they needed to score first in the second half.
They came close within four minutes, Dirksen running back Parra’s missed touchfinder, and the backs and forwards combining well to take the ball towards the line, Ashley Beck sidestepping, Alun Wyn Jones breaking tackles. Just metres from the line Webb’s pass to Jeff Hassler went down and Clermont cleared.
It was now becoming end to end and very ragged, the game losing it’s shape with turnovers and unforced errors the story of the third quarter, but with 55 minutes played there was no change on the scoreboard, the Ospreys still trailing by 13.
Again the Ospreys came close when Justin Tipuric supplied quick lineout ball and Owen Watkin broke through with a powerful run, carrying all the way to the line where he was stopped agonisingly close. Somehow Clermont were able to win the turnover though and clear from behind their line.
The Ospreys brought up the hour in perfect fashion, eventually making the break through via Beck, the centre v sliding over in the corner after Olly Cracknell, Biggar and Baldwin had linked up, the hooker’s long pass to the left releasing his centre.
Biggar converted from the touchline and the scoreboard read 13-7 with 20 minutes to play.
Parra took the hosts nine clear going into the final 10 minutes, a long range effort from halfway after Arhip was pinged on the wrong side. The Clermont captain, man of the match, then departed but his replacement, Greg Laidlaw, was able to stretch the lead to 12 points.
As the clock ticked down the Ospreys continued to search for the next score but with it becoming increasingly stretched they lost possession on halfway, allowing Clermont to counter attack and it was Luke McAllister who went over for his side’s second try with less than a minute to play, the score unconverted.
The Ospreys bow out of the Champions Cup, with Clermont top of Pool 2 after an enthralling campaign of ups and downs that saw them going toe to toe with last season’s two finalists.