Connacht knocked Ospreys out of the running for the Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup with a season-closing 26-19 bonus-point win at the Sportsground.
A free-scoring 48-minute first half ended with Connacht seven points clear, thanks to tries from Shane Delahunt, Bundee Aki, Ultan Dillane and Peter Sullivan.
Ospreys recovered from captain Rhys Webb’s sin-binning to cross three times – twice through hooker Sam Parry – and their impressive scrum also landed Connacht prop Dominic Robertson-McCoy in the bin.
However, there were no further scores after the break as Ospreys fell out of title contention and Connacht, so disappointed by last week’s error-strewn display at Benetton, ended their campaign on a positive note.
It was also a satisfying night’s work from Ireland centre Aki who, in advance of the British & Irish Lions tour, caught the eye with his try, strong carrying and a turnover penalty.
Ben O’Donnell’s surge from deep almost led to a stunning early try from Connacht, player-of-the-match Caolin Blade going close before Webb saw yellow for a deliberate knock-on.
The westerners immediately took advantage, hooker Delahunt piling over from an eighth-minute lineout maul. Jack Carty converted for good measure.
Ospreys snapped back with a strong forwards drive setting up flanker Morgan Morris to score, but a sliding Aki soon grounded Blade’s brilliantly-weighted kick to make it 14-5.
Thriving from quick ball, Cian Prendergast was next to break the line and Connacht duly capitalised, Delahunt driving hard before Dillane muscled in under the posts.
The maul paid dividends again for Ospreys in the 24th minute, as hooker Parry crashed over. Stephen Myler’s conversion left it 21-12.
Circumstances meant we had to play the vast majority of our games behind closed doors this season, but we still felt the love of our fans.
Whether you’re near or far, thank you for your passion and support this season.
We 𝑪𝒂𝒏’𝒕 𝒘𝒂𝒊𝒕 to see and hear you back. pic.twitter.com/5Mm159rsDd
— Connacht Rugby (@connachtrugby) June 4, 2021
Connacht replied with their bonus-point effort, a long bouncing pass from Carty putting winger Sullivan diving past Webb in the right corner.
However, Ospreys got on top as the interval approached. They forced penalties at scrum time, eventually scoring through the powerful Parry after Robertson-McCoy’s departure.
During a much tighter third quarter, the best chance saw Ospreys’ teenage centre Joe Hawkins miss out on an excellent individual try due to a double movement.
Carty pushed a kickable 56th-minute penalty wide – with winger O’Donnell starring in the build-up – but then came to his side’s rescue to thwart Luke Morgan from a hacked kick downfield.
Connacht’s dogged defence maintained their lead late on, replacement Kieran Marmion earning a turnover penalty after his earlier high tackle had almost put him in the bin.