Gutsy Ospreys secure last eight spot
January 23, 2010
Shane Williams is clattered by the Leicester defence
© Getty Images
The Ospreys produced a performance of guts and determination to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, defeating English champions Leicester 17-12 at the Liberty Stadium.
The result spells the end of Leicester's European dreams for this season, with Clermont Auvergne claiming top spot in Pool 3 by hammering Arix Viadana. Tommy Bowe scored the only try of the game for the home side, who collected the rest of their points from the boot of young fly-half Dan Biggar.
Tigers fly-half Toby Flood slotted three penalties, and centre Jeremy Staunton a drop-goal, but they were outfought by a brilliant Ospreys defence, marshalled by a magnificent Marty Holah. There may yet be more controversy following the game, though, with the Ospreys apparently playing with 16 men for a short spell in the second-half following a blood injury to fullback Lee Byrne.
Biggar showed his class early by collecting a steepling Garryowen but his incursion was halted by a penalty at the ensuing ruck, from which the Tigers secured the opening points following a sniping break from Staunton and a powerful burst from Lewis Moody. Flood slotted over three points as Ricky Januarie killed the ball.
Staunton made a mess of the restart under pressure from Andrew Bishop and after Shane Williams had been hauled into touch out wide the Ospreys disrupted the Tigers' throw. From the resulting scrum Biggar assessed his options before chipping over a close-range drop-goal.
Holah handed the lead back to the visitors with an infringement following a sharp break from Dan Hipkiss, which Flood punished with his second kick. The scores were level when Biggar again showed his composure, this time from the kicking tee as the Tigers were pinged for offside.
Leicester's pack continued to win the battle at scrum-time, much to the irritation of Ospreys boss Scott Johnson, and a penalty gave the visitors position as Staunton curled in a drop goal to give his side the lead. As much as Leicester were dominating at the set-piece, the class of the Ospreys out wide was all too evident.
Williams twice broke tackles out wide, striking panic into the Tigers' ranks and forcing a penalty, which Biggar duly dispatched to draw his side level. The forward battle continued to take precedence, with both sides hammering into each other at the breakdown.
The crucial moment in the first half came off the back of a barnstorming run by Jerry Collins, the former All Black breaking out his best side-step to rip through the Tigers. Alun-Wyn Jones was up in support, with a Leicester boot hacking the ball away from the big lock. Scott Hamilton cleared direct to touch, not realising that the ball had come back into the 22 from one of his team-mates.
The Ospreys secured quick, off-the-top ball from the lineout, and spun it wide. Hook collected the ball and slotted a brilliant grubber into a packed blindside, where Bowe dived missile-like to score. Just before the break the Ospreys' discipline slipped, with Januarie slapping Lote Tuqiri off the ball and allowing Flood the chance to eat into their lead. The Leicester pivot was wide for the first time as the half-time whistle sounded.
The Ospreys almost immediately extended their lead after the break, but Biggar was off target with his opening penalty of the half. Nevertheless the home side made a dynamic start as Collins and Bowe continued their fine work, but Biggar saw another three points go begging with a misjudged drop-goal.
Hook showed more enterprising play with a chip to put Hamilton under pressure and the former All Black spilled the ball into touch. The Ospreys again worked the ball into midfield but their missed opportunities continued to pile up with a knock-on under pressure from Flood and Staunton.
Flood slotted the first points of the half for the Tigers despite living off 25% possession, with the Ospreys having raced clear off turnover ball moments earlier. Byrne then punished an errant kick from Staunton with his siege-gun boot, their kick-chase drawing a penalty as the Tigers scrambled. Some nifty backs play saw the Tigers pile in at the side, allowing Biggar to slot the points.
A cacophonous roar greeted the Ospreys' next penalty at the scrum, which arrived as James ploughed through Martin Castrogiovanni on his own 22. The Ospreys lost Byrne soon after to a blood injury and were saved by a poor pass from Ben Youngs as the Tigers looked to exploit a knock-on by Biggar.
Byrne's reintroduction invited a tongue-lashing from referee Alan Lewis, with the fullback apparently entering the field of play early and giving his side 16 players for a short period of time. The bumper crowd at the Liberty then had their hearts in their mouths as the electric Young again broke away. Moody steamed up in support but the ball was lost forward by a trailing Jordan Crane.
The Tigers set up camp on the Ospreys' line as the game ticked towards its conclusion and Tuqiri almost set Hamilton clear to the line with a brilliant flick. Youngs fired the ball into midfield but his pass was off-target, Aaron Mauger knocking-on and handing the ball to the Ospreys. James secured another penalty as the sides packed down, with Hook clearing long. Replacement hooker Ed Shervington found his man and Januarie hacked the ball into touch to send the home side into the last eight.
ESPN looks at the forthcoming season of the Guinness PRO12 and assesses how each of the 12 teams will do
"Like the Treaty of Versailles, despite all the promises, the new Participation Agreement is certainly not the final solution." John Taylor writes
"We know where we are going and we know where we want to get but how long that will take is anybody's guess." David Humphreys on his plans for Gloucester
Jim Mallinder and Justin Burnell were sat on the same top table, but in different circumstances. Tom Hamilton reports on the Aviva Premiership season launch