Ospreys: Champions' title defence stutters on West Coast
THE Ospreys' Pro12 title defence suffered a setback last night as they slumped to a first league defeat since November with a 22-10 loss in Connacht.
Although they remain in the play-off places, the reigning champions lost ground on league leaders Ulster and second-placed Glasgow, who demolished the Dragons 60-3 at Rodney Parade.
The Ospreys stay fourth in the table but, with the fifth-placed Scarlets hosting Munster in sixth today, their play-off berth is under grave threat.
This was a second successive testing away trip for the Ospreys, who had handed Ulster their first home Pro12 defeat of the season the previous weekend.
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And while the 16-12 victory at Ravenhill was an act of heroism, last night's performance was one of limp disappointment.
Steve Tandy's side did not even earn a bonus point as a virtuoso kicking performance from Dan Parks denied them that comfort.
One of the few notes of encouragement — for the Ospreys and Wales — was that Alun Wyn Jones made his first start since October's reverse fixture with Connacht.
That encounter at the Liberty Stadium ended in a 26-9 win for the Ospreys, but it was a very different tale in Galway.
Connacht took only 30 seconds to score their first try against the Scarlets last weekend and, although they were not so quick off the mark here, Eric Elwood's men took an early lead thanks to a Dan Parks penalty.
It was the Ospreys, however, who played with the greater fluency in the opening exchanges and they scored the game's first try after 12 minutes.
Half-backs Kahn Fotuali'i and Matthew Morgan orchestrated attacks with pace and invention, while forwards Morgan Allen and Joe Bearman ripped through Connacht tacklers.
The Ospreys were then awarded a penalty with the hosts' defence scrabbling in their own 22 and, before they could reorganise, Fotuali'i took a quick penalty and squeezed over from close range.
Morgan converted, but Connacht hit back just five minutes later as they rumbled forward with a series of punchy carries which ended with a try for openside flanker Willie Faloon.
It was a breathless first 20 minutes, though the intensity and quality faltered in a disjointed second quarter.
The dislocation was most evident at the scrum, where the Ospreys conceded three penalties, one of which was converted by Parks to give Connacht a 13-7 interval lead.
The second half began in a similarly fragmented manner, with Parks's third penalty stretching Connacht's advantage to nine points.
It was the home side who controlled possession and territory after the interval, with the Ospreys falling way short of the standards they had set early on.
Tandy's men rediscovered some of that purpose with a late rally, and a Morgan penalty saw them cut their deficit to six points with ten minutes left.
But their forays to the Connacht line were halted by a knock-on from Scott Baldwin and, within moments, the hosts were back in the Ospreys' half.
The visitors' demise was typified by a collision between two of their own players, Tom Habberfield and Richard Fussell, as they contested a high ball, knocking it on in the process.
Their fate was then sealed by Parks, who kicked a penalty and a drop-goal to give Connacht an unassailable 22-10 lead, before James King sealed a miserable evening for the Ospreys by picking up a stoppage-time yellow card for tackling an opponent in the air.