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James Hook’s right boot proved to be the most potent weapon at Liberty Stadium on New Year’s Eve as he kicked five penalties and converted Huw Bennett’s try to guide the Ospreys to a well-merited win over Cardiff Blues.
This Welsh regional derby never truly lived up to its billing, although there was enough action to keep the 16,509-strong crowd entertained.
James Hook’s kicking haul and Huw Bennett’s 53rd-minute try helped the Ospreys get back to winning ways and prevent the Blues from regaining the league’s top spot from Leinster.
Having won only one of the sides’ last five league clashes and sitting 13 points behind Leinster in the table, this was a vital victory for the Ospreys and they had to do it without Welsh international Gavin Henson, who failed a late fitness test on a hand injury.
There was a cagey beginning at Liberty Stadium, with neither team able to create a clear-cut try-scoring opportunity during a less than memorable first half.
The Blues enjoyed the majority of possession and territory in the opening stages but the Ospreys managed to build up a 9-0 lead by the 24th-minute.
Blues full-back Ben Blair was wayward to the right with an early penalty attempt from 50 metres out, before Hook opened his and the hosts’ account.
The Wales starlet opened the scoring in the 15th-minute, angling over a 46-metre penalty from the left, and three minutes late an incisive run from full-back Lee Byrne led to a ruck infringement from Martyn Williams, which allowed Hook to land his second successful kick.
Amidst some bone-crunching tackles, poor handling and little in the way of open play, match official Nigel Owens had a job on his hands to referee the breakdown area.
After Hook and Blair had exchanged quick-fire penalties, Owens lost patience with the number of breakdown offences and sent Ospreys flanker Marty Holah to the sin-bin.
That 32nd-minute yellow card gave Cardiff some much-needed impetus and a Gareth Thomas bust forward saw his side up into the hosts’ 22.
However, captain Xavier Rush spilt the ball forward off the next phase and the increasingly influential Hook found an excellent touch just over the halfway line.
Danger averted, the Ospreys saw out the opening half with a 9-3 lead and wasted little time in adding to it after the break.
A scrum offence from the Blues was punished by Hook’s fourth penalty and after Cardiff had lost flanker Maama Molitika to the bin – he saw yellow for slowing up Ospreys ball in front of his posts – Hook kicked his side 15-3 clear.
The game’s only try followed while the Blues were down to 14 men. The Ospreys finally found some continuity as the fleet-footed Shane Williams squirmed his way up close to the try line and supporting hooker Bennett piled over from two metres out.
Hook converted and the Ospreys, the defending champions, comfortably saw out the result – only their third win of the current league run – although the Blues did go close late on to notching a try through Dafydd Hewitt and then Rhys Thomas.