ALL four Welsh regions made it through to the knock-out stages of their European Champions Cup and Challenge Cup competitions at the weekend, despite battling defeats for the Dragons and Blues. George North came off the bench after just 20 minutes to gain valuable game time ahead of the Six Nations, as the Ospreys secured a dramatic last-play converted try deep in stoppage time to down English champion hosts Leicester.
And the Scarlets also beat Bayonne 20-7 in France on Saturday to top pool B in the Challenge Cup and stay unbeaten.
Having beaten the French champions Montpellier home and away, the Ospreys went to Welford Road and beat the Tigers 27-26 on Friday night to guarantee safe passage into the knock-out stages of the Heineken Champions Cup, where they will next play three-time European champions Saracens away.
And Monmouthshire-based centre North saw plenty of action as the game finished 15 minutes into stoppage time when the referee and TMO awarded a try by man of the match Jac Morgan, before fly-half Owen Williams cooly slotted the decisive conversion.
You have to go back 13 years for the last time the Ospreys made it into the knock-out stages, and they could still get a home draw in the Round of 16 if results go in their favour.
They became the first Welsh side to win a European tie at the home of the two-time Champions Cup winners, and they did it in the most dramatic fashion with a try from man of the match Morgan that was finally given by the referee in the 92nd minute.
North, who lives with Olympic medal cycling wife Becky and their two young children in Goytre near Abergavenny, entered the fray after 20 minutes when Cai Evans was forced off with an injury.
At that point, Leicester led 13-7 following an opening try by England scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet, answered by a try by Dewi Lake from a driving line out, converted by Evans before he was forced off with injury.
Wales hooker Lake was also forced off with a knee injury in the first half and was seen using crutches later in the dug out, with Scott Baldwin replacing him.
But Williams kicked two penalties, the second with the final movement of the opening half, to level things up at 13-13.
The Ospreys never led in the game until the late drama, but their incredible defence kept them in a marvellous match.
To their credit, the Tigers conjured up a great try by Harry Simmons, which Handre Pollard improved to edge ahead, but then a hack through from a loose ball in their 22 allowed Keelan Giles to show off his speed as he raced onto the ball, gathered it one-handed as it bounced over half-way and sped to the posts.
Williams levelled things up with his conversion before Pollard added two more penalties to make it 26-20. The Ospreys knew they had to gather one bonus-point to qualify, but they wanted more than that.
They thought they had it when Keiron Williams picked up at a ruck on the home line and dived for the line.
The on-field decision was ‘Try’, but the TMO and referee couldn’t then see a clear grounding on the line.
The Tigers were penalised for off-side and then picked up a yellow card at an ensuing scrum. The Ospreys kept pounding away at the line as they won scrum penalty after scrum penalty.
Eventually Morgan powered over and after another lengthy TMO check was rewarded with the try. And up stepped Williams to secure the win.
The Scarlets secured home ties in both the last 16, where Brive will be the visitors, and a potential quarter-final as tries from Jonathan Davies, Joe Roberts and Steff Evans saw Dwayne Peel’s side home in the French sunshine.
In colder climes back home, the Dragons lost out 30-25 to South African visitors Emirates Lions after being forced to move their Sunday Challenge Cup game from a frozen Rodney Parade pitch to Ystrad Mynach. But two bonus points means they join the Lions in the last 16.
Will Reed’s try gave the Dragons the lead before scores from wings Quan Horn and Edwill van der Merwe put the Lions ahead.
Jordan Hendrikse’s boot then kicked the Lions into a 27-5 half-time lead before tries from Aki Seiuli, Jordan Williams and Rio Dyer gave the Dragons hope of a comeback.
But JJ Hanrahan’s late kick made it 30-25, and the hosts could not win it late on.
Meanwhile, Cardiff suffered their first defeat in the Challenge Cup, beaten by Brive 37-24 in an eight-try thriller at Stade Amedee-Domenech, but still go through to the last 16 with a home tie.
Flanker James Botham, fly-half Rhys Priestland and wing Jason Harries all crossed in the space of ten minutes to stun the hosts, who had dominated up until then, to put Cardiff 24-23 ahead midway through the second-half.
But a yellow card for new Wales squad member Teddy Williams and some thrilling back play by their French hosts saw Brive pull away to join their visitors in the last 16.