Northampton Saints almost mounted a remarkable second-half comeback against the Ospreys, but left themselves just too much to do as the Welsh region won 43-32 at Franklin’s Gardens.
Nic Groom, Ahsee Tuala, Rob Horne, and Harry Mallinder all went over for the hosts as they looked to overhaul a big deficit in the second half.
However a rocky period just after half-time ultimately cost them, with their late surge not quite enough to haul in the Swansea outfit.
Penalties came thick and fast in the opening 20 minutes, and Saints were unlucky to see both starting No.10 Piers Francis and then his replacement Stephen Myler forced off through early injuries.
That was after Myler had put the hosts 3-0 up with a penalty as Ospreys were caught offside, and winger Jeff Hassler was sent to the sin-bin soon after as the penalty count mounted and he put in an illegal tackle on Tuala.
Going down to 14 seemed to galvanise the Welsh region however, with Sam Davies first knocking over a penalty before Dan Evans opened the scoring – and with Saints having to reshuffle their midfield after Myler’s departure, Tom Habberfield then finished well to send his side 17-3 up at the interval.
A feisty second-half opened up with a charge from halfway from Welsh international Alun-Wyn Jones, but while his try was chalked off for an earlier knock on, Saints did not heed that warning and Hassler finished off a well-worked try down the left for Ospreys.
Owen Watkin’s score secured a bonus-point for the Welsh side, but Northampton showed some fighting spirit as skipper Dylan Hartley notched their first try of the evening from a fierce driving maul.
Man-of-the-match Evans and Hassler turned the screw however for the Ospreys, before a revival of sorts began for Northampton.
First Groom got his name on the scoresheet, dotting down in the corner after Haywood peeled from the maul, before Saints quickly had a third try when Horne and Teimana Harrison – who was excellent all evening at No.8 – combined and the former stretched for the post.
Ospreys looked shellshocked after conceding two quick tries, and it soon got even better for the Saints as Tuala secured at least a bonus point with Mallinder at the centre of a fantastic team effort that cut through the Ospreys back line.
Mallinder then made it three tries in five minutes with a phenomenal 60-metre dash to leave only an 11-point gap – but both sides were reduced to 14 men when Mallinder and Rob McCusker saw yellow for their part in a brawl following the score.
Ospreys were then reduced to 13 men as Hanno Dirksen’s high tackle on JP Estelles saw him red carded, but despite their numerical advantage, Saints’ momentum was not enough for them to claw back the deficit in the final five minutes.
Up next for Jim Mallinder’s men is a return trip to Swansea next weekend.
SAINTS Mallinder; Tuala, Horne, Burrell, Foden; Francis, Groom; van Wyk, Hartley (capt), Ford-Robinson, Ribbans, Day, Lawes, Ludlam, Harrison
SUBS Haywood, Ma’afu, Hill, Paterson, Gibson, Reinach, Myler, Estelles
OSPREYS Evans; Dirksen, Fonotia, Watkin, Hassler; Davies, Habberfield; Smith, Baldwin, Arhip, Davies, Jones (capt), Lydiate, Cracknell, King
SUBS Otten, Jenkins, Fia, Beard, McCusker, Morgan-Williams, Hook, John
17’ SAINTS Penalty, Myler 3-0
21’ OSPREYS Penalty, Davies 3-3
29’ OSPREYS Try Evans, Conversion Davies 3-10
39’ OSPREYS Try Habberfield, Conversion Davies 3-17
HALF TIME Saints 3-17 Ospreys
47’ OSPREYS Try Hassler, Conversion Davies 3-24
50’ OSPREYS Try Fonotia, Conversion Davies 3-31
53’ SAINTS Try Hartley 8-31
56’ OSPREYS Try Evans, Conversion Davies 8-38
61’ OSPREYS Try Hassler 8-43
64’ SAINTS Try Groom 13-43
67’ SAINTS Try Horne, Conversion Mallinder 20-43
69’ SAINTS Try Tuala, Conversion Mallinder 27-43
72’ SAINTS Try Mallinder 32-43
FULL TIME Saints 32-43 Ospreys