GLASGOW Warriors had hoped to secure a home semi-final against the Ospreys last night, but, after an error-strewn game, they still have it all to do when they face Ulster at Scotstoun next week.
Scorers: Ospreys: Tries: John, Webb; Con: Biggar; Pens: Evans, Biggar (2). Glasgow: Tries: Fusaro. Con: Weir; Pen: Weir.
In reality, they did not deserve the points in a match dominated by the elements. It had been raining most of the afternoon and though the hybrid pitch at the Liberty Stadium – the same type as was fitted at BT Murrayfield last summer – coped with the water, it left the surface wet and greasy. Enough, in other words, to make the ball slippy and running slightly difficult.
On the other hand, there was barely a breath of wind – ideal conditions for the kickers – and with Dan Biggar leading the way in the Guinness Pro12 scoring statistics, home fans expected a significant haul from their stand-off.
Glasgow – who lost top spot to the Ospreyes with this result – received an early warning that it was not all going to be about the boot when lock Tyler Adron crashed through in midfield to set up a dangerous early attack. It was, perhaps, an indication of the damp conditions, though, that handling mistakes by both teams took play back to midfield.
Glasgow suffered an early blow when Tim Swinson, the lock, was forced off with a damaged ankle, but Leone Nakarawa, his replacement, was soon in the action, winning a penalty when he was fouled in a line-out.
Duncan Weir, making his first start at stand-off since December, missed the kick, but his side kept up the pressure thanks to a strong kick and chase from Tommy Seymour, and the scrum soon earned him a second chance. He made no mistake this time.
It was not much of a lead, especially when the Ospreys managed to work the ball over the line, only to be denied a score after a series of television replays.
It had started with the forwards driving at the Scots line to suck in the defence. Ben John, the centre, almost made it through on his own, but Biggar, following up, found space to make the line. It was superb defence from Niko Matawalu and Stuart Hogg to roll him onto his back as he tried to ground the ball and, despite help from Justin Tipuric, the flanker, the officials could see no sign he had ever managed to get it down.
The let-off did not last long. Glasgow were penalised at the resulting scrum and, with Biggar briefly off to check he had not been concussed trying to score, full-back Dan Evans levelled the scores.
Glasgow probably felt they should have finished the half with their noses in front, Hogg missing a shot at goal from inside his own half and then chipping the ball through the defence, only for it to bounce awkwardly for Matawalu, who could not get to it before it went dead.
Warriors had a half-chance when Nakarawa was sent clear, needing only to draw the cover and put Seymour in for the score, but the lock tried to go it alone and the chance was lost.
Instead, it was the Ospreys who nearly snatched the lead, only for Biggar to miss a relatively routine shot at goal with the final kick of the half.
He made amends shortly after the break with a routine penalty, but, as the rain arrived again, it was the Welsh side’s ability to keep the ball alive that really opened the gap as their handling, for once, defied the conditions and Eli Walker cut an angle on the outside to wrongfoot the Scots defence.
Hogg got back to take him down, but it was a simple offload to Ben John, in support, to create the opening try. Biggar missed the conversion, but, in such a low-scoring game, an eight-point lead looked as though it might be enough. It was soon even better for the home side as Rhys Webb, second in the league’s try-scoring table, spotted a gap in a line-out to burst through on a fine solo run, chip over the top of Matawalu and win the race for the ball.
Glasgow made a fight of it, and got back into the game when they manufactured a rolling maul in the opposition 22 and worked Chris Fusaro over the line for a try. With Weir’s conversion, they were back to within eight points, but it never looked like enough.
They had a lucky escape when referee George Clancy incurred the crowd’s fury by ruling in Glasgow’s favour as Matawalu stopped Josh Matavesi scoring – the home faithful were convinced the tackle was early – but they were still the team under pressure and a scrum penalty slotted by Biggar was just reward as the home side ran down the clock.
Ospreys: D Evans; J Hassler, B John, J Matavesi, E Walker; D Biggar, R Webb; N Smith, S Baldwin, A Jarvis, T Ardron, A Wyn Jones (C), J King, J Tipuric, D Baker. Replacements: S Parry for Baldwin 70, Thomas for Smith, D Arhip, for Jarvis 41, D Lydiate for King 60, S Davies for Biggar, for Hassler 30.
Glasgow: S Hogg; T Seymour, R Vernon, P Horne, N Matawalu; D Weir, H Pyrgos; R Grant, P MacArthur, J Welsh, T Swinson, J Gray, R Harley, C Fusaro, J Strauss (c). Replacements: F Brown for MacArthur 48-71, G Reid for Grant 59, E Murray for Welsh 59, L Nakarawa for Swinson 6, R Wilson for Strauss 51, L Jones for Matawalu 69, F Lyle for Horne 74.