Every game has its own pressures, but in the European environment, where you have just six games in which to prove your worth for the knockout stages, this Anglo-Welsh clash had particular importance, something acknowledged by director of rugby Jim Mallinder, who told SaintsTV: “We knew that if we lost today we’d be struggling in the pool; if you lose your first two then you have a massive uphill battle.
“We needed to get back on track.”
The result in Paris in Round 1 meant that the Saints had to win to maintain their ambitions of progression from the group. This was especially so given that the Ospreys had been comfortable winners over Treviso in their opening fixture, their seventh successive victory in the Rugby Champions Cup and Pro 12.
But - with the greatest respect to the Pro 12 leaders’ opponents thus far in 2014/15 - they had not come up against a side with the Saints’ calibre and experience, especially on their home turf.
It was a scenario reminiscent of the Aviva Premiership matches against Gloucester and Bath, and like those games the Saints imposed themselves immediately, pressing the visitors in all aspects of the game.
And it says much for the control that the Saints had that North’s first two tries could be seen as scant reward. Indeed it could have been more, but a Samu Manoa fumble saw Christian Day have a try ruled out, while Dylan Hartley’s dive was all for nothing as the TMO judged that Ben Foden’s final pass had drifted forward.
“The performance today was very good against a very good Ospreys side,” Mallinder said. “They’ve two cracking Welsh half-backs who have been playing outstandingly all season, but through the pressure we put on them with our defence, by competing at the breakdown, we stopped them playing. And we created opportunities and took them.”
Leading 20-3, it seemed only a matter of time before Saints would record their third and fourth tries. But while the first half had been filled with composure and confidence, the opening exchanges after the re-start saw a hesitancy from the Saints.
So often sport can seem so fickle, where a team is so on top in one half but has its rhythm disrupted by the break. Losing Luther Burrell to injury certainly did not help, and with James Wilson also having been withdrawn soon into the game Saints were left with Will Hooley (normally a fly half) partnering North (a winger) in the centres.
Indeed by the time North crossed for his hat trick effort the Ospreys should have been closer on the score board. However Dan Biggar, whose accuracy in front of the sticks is renowned, was having a rare off-day from the tee, missing three kicks from his first five, two in the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
He was punished 15 minutes into the half when North went over for his hat trick. The Lion was already going to be the subject of the Sunday headlines, but his eventual naming as man of the match was in the balance until his late fourth effort.
This was because there was plenty of competition, not least from Calum Clark, who decimated the Ospreys time and again at the breakdown, and Courtney Lawes, whose defensive work was excellent.
But the Welshman’s final try saw him take home the crystal. It was certainly a score worthy of several replays, with North winning a turnover, chipping and chasing before diving on the loose ball for a try that raised the roof of another packed Gardens.
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5mins SAINTS Pen Myler 3-0
10mins OSPR Pen Biggar 3-3
17mins SAINTS Try North Con Myler 10-3
31mins SAINTS Try North Con Myler 17-3
38mins SAINTS Pen Myler 20-3
40mins OSPR Miss pen Biggar
HALF-TIME SAINTS 20 OSPREYS 3
46mins OSPR Miss pen Biggar
48mins OSPR Pen Biggar 20-6
50mins OSPR Miss pen Biggar
55mins SAINTS Try North Con Myler 27-6
77mins SAINTS Try North Con Myler 34-6
FULL-TIME SAINTS 34 OSPREYS 6