Heineken Cup: Ospreys 9-19 Leinster
THREE Dan Biggar penalties were not enough to prevent the Ospreys from falling to a damaging defeat at the hands of Leinster in the Heineken Cup opener at the Liberty.
In a pool of this quality a home setback on the first weekend was the last thing the Welsh region would have wanted.
They had gone into the game with a proud record that had seen them lose just one of 22 previous European games in Swansea, but after falling behind in the first half, they didn't really looking like winning this one.
Man-of-the-match Sean O'Brien crossed for Leinster's try, with Jimmy Gopperth adding the conversion and nailing four penalties.
The Ospreys found the going tough at the breakdown and were short of invention behind. They made an abundance of mistakes, displayed poor ball retention and their decision-making left much to be desired.
They could have no complaints about the result. Leinster made fewer errors and took the chances that came their way.
By contrast the Welsh region were sloppy and short of ideas. They created two reasonable opportunities but failed to take either, lacking a cutting edge and being unable to match their opponents' precision.
It leaves Steve Tandy's team with a must-win game at Northampton next weekend. Come unstuck there and it will be goodnight in the Heineken Cup for another season, perhaps for ever, given the uncertainty that exists over the competition.
For Leinster, O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip were immense in the back row, while Gopperth controlled matters expertly from fly-half.
It was 13-6 to the Dubliners at the break, with the Irish province having hit back strongly after Biggar kicked the Ospreys ahead with two early penalties.
The tide turned after two incidents close to the touchline on the far side of the field.
First, Richard Hibbard, who otherwise had a strong first half, went for the line himself only to be halted with two men outside him; then the Welsh side opted for a scrum five metres out instead of going for goal at a penalty.
Wayne Barnes blew for an offence against them at the subsequent set-piece, and Leinster began to build pressure of their own.
They scored a try on 28 minutes after Jamie Heaslip ripped possession from the Ospreys during a home attack near halfway, the visitors surging forward at pace before spreading the ball left where O'Brien was able to crash over.
The Ospreys' allowed their game to slip for the rest of the half, with Leinster on top at the breakdown through Heaslip and O'Brien, forcing the hosts back.
Fortunately for them, Justin Tipuric and James King tackled relentlessly, one or both of the pair frequently to the fore in halting Leinster moves. Biggar also put in a mountain of tackles.
Even so, Goppeth nailed his second penalty to put the Irish province in command heading into the break.
The Ospreys started the second half strongly and Biggar completed his penalty hat-trick, but that was as good as it got for the home team.
Leinster didn't do anything special: they didn't need to. They just had an awareness their opponents lacked, were clinical and invariably made good decisions.
Not so the Ospreys.
There was a chance to cut the lead to just a point but Tito Tebaldi ran a penalty that Biggar would have fancied his chances of kicking. It was a mistake and it turned out to be a costly one.
Another opportunity presented itself when Tipuric surged clear down the right before finding Jeff Hassler, but Leinster's cover held firm.
Home fans left early after Gopperth kicked his final penalty.
The Ospreys tried hard to salvage a losing bonus point, but Leinster wouldn't even allow them that. For the Irish province, job done. For the Ospreys, a night of woe.