By John O'Sullivan
Connacht fell to a narrow defeat to the Ospreys in a bruising Guinness PRO14 clash at the Sportsground.
Tries from Alex Wootton and Paul Boyle -- as well as two conversion and two penalties from Conor Fitzgerald -- was enough to earn the hosts a losing bonus point, but the Westerners couldn't quite eke out the victory, despite a physical performance.
The Welshmen, meanwhile, scored four tries of their own to earn both the win and a try bonus point.
From the early moments, both teams were keen to test each other's ability in the air. John Porch excelled here, making some big catches and bringing calm to the back-field.
The visitors put a lot of offensive pressure on the Connacht defence in the opening minutes and the home team -- with Tom Daly especially prominent in defence -- held firm until the 10th minute when the Ospreys pressure finally told. George North putting the finishing touches on a sweeping move and touched down in the right-hand corner. Stephen Myler's conversion was wide, but the away team found themselves 5-0 to the good.
The home team reacted well to conceding a try and mounted attacks of their own. Wootton almost crossed in the left-hand corner after an incisive move including Daly and Porch freed him up in the 22. The winger looked poised to score, but he was bundled into touch by a last-ditch tackle. Connacht didn't have to wait long for a score, though, as Fitzgerald slotted a penalty to open their scoring account for the day.
Buoyed by their score, the Westerners continued to up the pressure and it yielded a try on the half-hour mark. Aggressive line speed in defence from Connacht forced an Ospreys knock-on. The ball spilt just outside the 22 and Fitzgerald reacted first and picked it up before feeding Wootton a pass. The winger proceeded to run almost the entire length of the pitch to touch down for a try that Fitzgerald converted to give the hosts the lead for the first time, 10-5.
One try quickly became two as the home team began to move into the ascendancy in the scrum. Two scrum penalties in the Ospreys 22 saw them reduced to 14 men with Justin Tipuric sin-binned. From the third scrum, Kieran Marmion picked from the base and fed Boyle an against the grain pass. The number 8 then powered his way over the line -- forcing his way through some would-be tackles -- from close range. Fitzgerald slotted the conversion to see Connacht go into the break leading 17-5.
The Welshmen began the second period in a strong fashion and they registered their second try not long after the resumption. Mat Protherhoe collected North's offload in the 22 and skipped in under the posts for a try which Myler converted to bring the visitors to 17-12 on the scoreboard.
Confident, the Ospreys notched their second try of the half shortly after their first. Peeling the ball off the back of a rolling maul, Welsh international Rhys Webb ran over a try from just inside the 22. Myler once again added the extras to regain the lead for the Welshmen, 17-19.
The lead changed hands once again soon after in what was becoming a tit for tat affair. Fitzgerald -- whose game management and kicking were superb throughout -- bisected the posts with a sweetly struck penalty to make the scoreboard read: 20-19.
The Ospreys, though, sealed their win and bonus point with ten minutes remaining. Webb, once again, was the benefactor of a rolling maul and the scrum-half touched down at the base. Myler converted and the visitors held their lead 26-20 lead until the final whistle.
15: John Porch
14: Peter Sullivan
13: Tom Daly
12: Peter Robb
11: Alex Wootton
10: Conor Fitzgerald
9: Kieran Marmion
8: Paul Boyle
7: Conor Oliver
6: Jarrad Butler ©
5: Gavin Thornbury
4: Ultan Dillane
3: Finlay Bealham
2: Dave Heffernan
1: Denis Buckley
Replacements: Shane Delahunt f0r Heffernan, Matthew Burke for Buckley, Conor Kenny for Bealham, Niall Murray for Dillane, Abraham Papali’i for Butler, Caolin Blade for Marmion, Bundee Aki for Robb, Matt Healy for Wootton.