Tigers claim vital bonus point to progress
January 24, 2009
Ospreys fly-half James Hook pushes Leicester lock Martin Corry during the match at the Liberty Stadium
© Getty Images
Wales star James Hook kicked the Ospreys to victory with five penalties, but Leicester's losing bonus point meant they finished top of Pool Three.
Tigers look unlikely to secure a home quarter-final tie, though, while the Ospreys can now only progress as one of two best runners-up. At the moment, they are handily placed, but games involving English clubs Wasps and Bath tomorrow could ultimately result in them being knocked out.
If the Ospreys survive, they could face an intriguing all-Welsh clash against Cardiff Blues in April. All the Ospreys can do is play an agonising 24-hour waiting game, but Leicester have no such worries.
Derick Hougaard's penalty hat-trick proved sufficient to give them the point they required, as for the second time in Heineken Cup combat this season, Ospreys and Leicester played out a tryless game. There was mixed news for the Ospreys involving two of their current Wales internationals, with fullback Lee Byrne ruled out through injury and lock Ian Gough agreeing a new two-year contract.
Byrne failed to recover in time from an ankle injury suffered last weekend, which will concern Wales boss Warren Gatland only a fortnight before his team launch their RBS 6 Nations title defence. An Ospreys reshuffle saw Gavin Henson take the number 15 shirt, with Tommy Bowe moving into midfield alongside Andrew Bishop and Jonny Vaughton gaining a start on the wing.
Leicester were without injured trio Lewis Moody (ankle), Aaron Mauger (hamstring) and Dan Hipkiss (knee) as they targeted a quarter-final place. The opening exchanges proved predictably fast and furious, with a simmering atmosphere between both packs requiring French referee Christophe Berdos' close attention.
Tigers' England prop Julian White was left bloodied - then bandaged - after an all-in wrestling match, before Hook built a useful lead by striking two long-range penalties. Leicester took time to settle, but Hougaard cut the deficit through a 17th-minute penalty, but he then missed further penalty and drop-goal opportunities as Tigers edged the territorial battle.
Ospreys posed a threat when they moved possession wide, most of their attacking game initially being built around number eight Filo Tiatia's powerful surges. And Leicester ended an attritional opening half reduced to 14 men when their England back Toby Flood was sin-binned for kicking Ospreys ball away from an offside position.
Flood could have no complaints about the decision, but the Ospreys stepped up pressure as half-time approached, with Shane Williams only narrowly denied a chip-and-chase try. Tigers fullback Geordan Murphy was penalised for obstructing Williams, and Hook rifled a kick into the corner, setting up easily Ospreys' most threatening attacking position of the game.
Ryan Jones marshalled his forwards for a huge scrummaging effort five metres out, but his team were guilty of wasting two glorious chances. Bishop knocked on Jones' pass with the line beckoning, and after Leicester struggled to clear, Henson then did not back himself following a clean break, cutting inside, where he found Leicester defenders waiting in abundance.
Ospreys would have been frustrated with only a three-point interval lead, but they began the second period in lively fashion. Hook completed his penalty hat-trick, and then caused panic in Leicester's defence with a weaving run that had the Tigers retreating at a rate of knots.
Hook's raid on the Leicester 22 came from quick ball, something Ospreys had cried out for during the first half, and there were suddenly signs of gaps appearing. Leicester, though, responded impressively, using their forwards to create threatening field position, and then keeping Ospreys pinned back through a well-executed tactical kicking game.
The Ospreys tried to bring Williams more into the contest, yet Hook remained their most probable scoring outlet, and a fourth penalty put Leicester 12-6 behind as he cancelled out Hougaard's second successful strike. The penalty fest continued when Hougaard brought Leicester back to within three points, and Ospreys knew they somehow had to escape Tigers' suffocating presence.
Hook's fifth penalty restored a six-point lead with seven minutes remaining, piling the pressure on Leicester to remain within losing bonus-point range, and they managed it - just.
England prop Julian White found himself at the centre of an eye-gouging storm following the match with furious Ospreys coaches Sean Holley and Jonathan Humphreys speaking out.
Ospreys assistant coach Humphreys said: "We've got a couple of players in our changing room with marks around the eyes. There were a couple of incidents at Welford Road (when the teams meet in October) with Julian, but we didn't go down the citing line. It is disappointing it happens, and disappointing it happens with the same guy. It seems to be becoming part of the game, and there are a few guys in there who are upset with Julian."
Ospreys head coach Holley added, "We know it happens, and we've got to question is it acceptable? If it warrants a citing, we will certainly do it this time. Apparently, there is some footage. The evidence is quite clear. I think we have a duty to eradicate this from our game."
As for the Ospreys' overnight position, Holley said: "It is quite a numb dressing room. We hope we have done enough to qualify."
Tigers skipper Martin Corry was delighted to see his side progress despite defeat. "It is a very weird feeling in the dressing room. It was a very hard game, and in the end, we had to take stock and make sure we came out of it with something. It was a very tough group, and for us to get through as group winners is something we can take a lot of pride from. We've got to be pleased we have come through."
Caretaker coach Richard Cockerill added, "We fronted up physically, and we did enough to qualify. I thought the players' attitude was fantastic. We've done the job, and although it wasn't perfect, we've won the group and we move on."
Ospreys: Henson; Vaughton, A Bishop, Bowe, Williams; Hook, M Phillips; James, Hibbard, A R Jones, Gough, A W Jones, R Jones (capt), Holah, Tiatia.
Replacements: Nutbrown for M Phillips (69), Bennett for Hibbard (69), Smith for Tiatia (72). Not Used: Griffiths, Bateman, Tandy, Biggar.
Leicester: G Murphy, Hamilton, Rabeni, Flood, Smith, Hougaard, Dupuy, Stankovich, Kayser, White, Corry, Wentzel, Croft, Woods, Crane.
Replacements: J Murphy for Smith (52), Chuter for Kayser (75), Castrogiovanni for White (62), Kay for Wentzel (61). Not Used: B Deacon, Youngs, Vesty.
Sin Bin: Flood (29).
Man of the Match: Geordan Murphy (Leicester Tigers)
Ref: C Berdos (France).
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter