European Champions Cup: Northampton 32-43 Ospreys
|European Rugby Champions Cup|
|Northampton (3) 32|
|Tries: Hartley, Groom, Horne, Tuala, Mallinder Cons: Mallinder, Tuala Pen: Myler|
|Ospreys (17) 43|
|Tries: Evans 2, Habberfield, Hassler 2, Fonotia Cons: S Davies 5 Pen: S Davies|
Ospreys held on to secure their first victory of the season in the Champions Cup despite a late flurry of tries from fellow strugglers Northampton.
Both sides desperately needed a win and Ospreys were utterly dominant as they led 43-8 with 20 minutes left.
Saints scored four quick tries through Nic Groom, Rob Horne, Ahsee Tuala and Harry Mallinder but fell just short.
Ospreys then had Hanno Dirksen sent off for a dangerous tackle in a chaotic finish at Franklin's Gardens.
This was Northampton's fourth consecutive defeat in all competitions and with just a single point in the Champions Cup, their European hopes are all but extinguished.
Both Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder and Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy were under pressure to get their seasons back on track and earn some credibility in Europe.
Ospreys came into the game on the back of three heavy losses in the Pro14 while five straight league defeats for Saints saw them plummet to 10th in the Premiership table.
The home side exerted all the early pressure, but were dealt a cruel blow when they lost two fly-halves in the first 20 minutes.
Piers Francis left the field with a head injury and his replacement Stephen Myler limped off with a calf injury shortly after - and their bad fortune continued as they eventually used four different players in the number 10 position.
Myler opened the scoring from the tee for Saints but Ospreys were in total control thereafter and scored 17 unanswered points in the remainder of the first half.
Tries from full-back Dan Evans, on his 100th appearance for the Welsh region, and scrum-half Rob Habberfield, gave the visitors a commanding half-time lead.
And they continued to run wild after the interval as two from Hassler, a second from Evans and one from Kieron Fonotia put the visitors 43-8 in front, with Dylan Hartley's try the only reply from Saints.
But from 60 minutes the match descended into chaos and as Saints captain Hartley left the field, his side mustered a spirited final 20 minutes to come close to an historic comeback.
Tries on 64, 67, 69 and 72 minutes closed the gap to 11 points but Mallinder was unable to covert his own try after being sin-binned for a scuffle following his score, which also saw Rob McCusker handed a yellow.
Ospreys finished the game with 13 men as Dirksen saw red for a ferocious hit on Juan Pablo Estelles, but held on to keep their European ambitions alive.
The Welsh side have eight points and are now just one behind second-placed Clermont, who play Saracens on Sunday.
|CHAMPIONS CUP POOL 2|
Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder said: "It is unlucky to lose your two first-choice fly-halves at the start of a big European match but generally our game wasn't good enough.
"I was really pleased with the spirit in the last 20 minutes because we showed there is a good team in there somewhere, but the first 60 minutes showed a team clearly lacking in confidence.
"We saw signs of the Saints of old in the last 20 minutes, but we're not seeing it enough."
Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy said: "We'll definitely be focusing on the last 20 minutes in training.
"For the first 60 minutes, we were pretty special, coming away from home against a team like Northampton. We silenced the crowd, controlled the game and we thought it was dead and buried.
"The game got a bit crazy but it's good to come away from Franklin's Gardens with a bonus-point win."
Northampton: Mallinder; Tuala, Horne, Burrell, Foden; Francis, Groom; van Wyk, Hartley (capt), Ford-Robinson, Ribbans, Day, Lawes, Ludlam, Harrison.
Replacements: Haywood, Ma'afu, Hill, Paterson, Gibson, Reinach, Myler, Estelles.
Ospreys: Evans; Dirksen, Fonotia, Watkin, Hassler; S Davies, Habberfield; Smith, Baldwin, Arhip, B Davies, Wyn Jones (capt), Lydiate, Cracknell, King.
Replacements: Otten, Jenkins, Fia, Beard, McCusker, Morgan-Williams, Hook, John.
Referee: Alexandre Ruiz (Fra).