Clermont Auvergne 27 Ospreys 7
The Ospreys qualification hopes in the Heineken Cup hang in the balance following a humbling defeat to Clermont Auvergne.
Julien Malzieu and Napolioni Nalaga grabbed second-half tries for the French outfit in an intense contest at the vociferous Stade Marcel Michelin.
The crushing result now means the Welsh region must win against Leicester Tigers at the Liberty Stadium next Saturday to stand any chance of reaching the quarter-finals.
Tommy Bowe set the Ospreys on their way with a seventh-minute score but the French giants dominated proceedings and possession thereafter and eventually the pressure told.
Shane Williams and James Hook returned on the bench following injury as the Ospreys kept faith with the side who had won their previous five matches.
The visitors nearly gained the perfect start when Lee Byrne fed Bowe inside 55 seconds but the Irish wing failed to keep his feet under pressure from Malzieu.
Clermont could have taken an instant lead but Nalaga fumbled after the Fijian giant wing beat Ryan Jones to Anthony Floch’s excellent chip and chase.
But Bowe made no mistake with a second chance to break the deadlock for the Ospreys from close range on seven minutes.
Dan Biggar’s long pass found centre Sonny Parker who combined with Byrne to supply Bowe in space for the wing to maintain his 100% scoring record in the competition this season.
The Ospreys were on the front foot and, four minutes later, came within inches of doubling their try count.
Ricky Januarie stole the ball from Nalaga in his own 22 and the scrum-half was set to dive for the try-line only for Seremaia Bai to intervene with superb saving tackle.
Brock James reduced the deficit to 7-3 with a routine penalty after Byrne failed to release as a pulsating opening period drew to a close.
Clermont piled on the pressure and, although James’ knocked on with the line at his mercy, the Australian fly-half added a second penalty after the Ospreys conceded a penalty in the scrum under their own posts.
The French outfit spurned the chance to take the lead for the first time when James’ penalty struck the left-hand upright following Jerry Collins’ high tackle on Elvis Vermeulen.
Moments later, Alun Wyn Jones was penalised by English referee Dave Pearson for killing the ball and James made amends to hand Clermont a deserved advantage.
But the Top 14 leaders were not content and James’ deft drop goal on the stroke of half-time nudged the home side 12-7 ahead at the interval.
Clermont wasted a golden opportunity to edge further clear in the 48th minute when James pulled his penalty to the right of the posts.
Biggar and James missed penalties before Malzieu struck the killer blow shortly after the hour mark.
Byrne failed to deal with James’ high up and under and Aurelien Rougerie spotted the unmarked wing Malzieu who galloped home.
James missed the conversion – the third time he struck the posts – and the Ospreys were in deep trouble.
To compound the visitors’ misery, Adam Jones was yellow-carded for kicking the ball away and James notched his fourth penalty before Nalaga sealed victory for Clermont with three minutes remaining.