Planet Rugby

Ospreys redeem their season

12th April 2008 15:56

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Andrew Bishop try EDF final

Checkmate: Andrew Bishop crashes over for his try

The Ospreys pushed aside the disappointment of last week's Heineken Cup exit at the hands of Saracens to beat Leicester Tigers 23-6 at Twickenham and lift the EDF Energy Cup on Saturday.

In a tight game, the Welsh dominated their English counterparts after the initial early bluster from the Tigers and ran in two tries, from centre Andrew Bishop and lock Alun Wyn Jones, restricting their opponents to just six points from Andy Goode's boot.

Without wanting to remove the gloss from the win, this wasn't a vintage performance from the Ospreys. This result has as much to do with Leicester frailties as the magic of James Hook and his cohorts.

Fingers will be pointed in all directions at Welford Road in the next few days. They coughed up their title without raising the semblance of a fight.

Why did Marcelo Loffreda decide to field such a conservative team? What has happened to Leicester's fabled defence? Why did all those passes fail to stick? Why no communication under the high ball? Why was Tom Varndell left on the bench for all but three minutes of the game? In short, where are the Tigers of old?

Leicester might want to quiz referee Alain Rolland over a number of curious decisions, but credit where credit is due and the Ospreys must be congratulated for sensing the creeping lack of confidence within opponents. Bishop's early try turned the tables emphatically and every ensuing Leicester error was greeted with whoops of exhortation from the black pack.

The Ospreys, who lost to Leicester in last year's final, duly became the first Welsh side to win the EDF Energy Cup. The red revolution continues!

They were without Gavin Henson but still featured 11 of the Wales side that beat England here at Twickenham in early February.

The Tigers also came into the match on the back of a defeat, at home to Wasps in the league, but they had had a weekend off and started stronger.

Their urgency and physicality at the breakdown made it hard for the Ospreys to settle and after Goode missed a long-range kick from his own half he pushed Leicester 6-0 ahead with a penalty and a drop goal.

The Tigers could have been further ahead after marching to within inches of the try-line but the Ospreys' defence stood firm as Leicester first tried to pummel their way over through the forwards.

And when captain Martin Corry, forced backwards in a huge tackle from Hook, offloaded to Danny Hipkiss the England centre spilled the ball and the chance was gone.

Hook missed two of this three goal attempts in the first half but with the ball in hand he was a constant threat.

He showed a searing turn of pace to launch the Ospreys' first real foray into Leicester territory and then pushed a clever kick into the corner to pile on the pressure.

Hook was promising to conjure something special and it almost came from a scything break through the broken Leicester defence.

With Shane Williams outside on the overlap the try was on but Leicester scrum-half Harry Ellis produced a desperate, brilliant tackle to haul Hook down from behind.

The Ospreys, though, did not have long to wait for the opening try as Hook found Bishop on the switch ball.

The Wales Under-21 star powered through tackles from Goode and George Chuter and had enough momentum to hold off Aaron Mauger and Tuilagi to score by the posts.

The try changed the momentum of the game and the Ospreys dominated for the remainder of the opening half, with full-back Lee Byrne an increasing threat.

One of the standout performers in Wales' Grand Slam campaign, Byrne was confident under the high ball and attacked dangerously.

Hook tried to tighten the Ospreys' grip just before the interval after latching onto an offload from Williams but his kick forward was just too strong and the ball skidded out.

The Ospreys continued in the same vein after the restart with another break from Byrne splitting the Leicester defence and Hook sent Alun-Wyn Jones plundering over for the second try.

Hook's conversion from wide right was masterful and he followed that with a brilliant penalty from a similar position to open an 11-point lead their invention deserved.

The Ospreys kept the pace high and were in complete control, with Hook, Tiatia and Williams leaving Leicester chasing shadows.

Leicester needed to secure a foothold and Ellis provided it, snaffling a turnover from Tiatia at the base of an Ospreys scrum in the shadow of the Tigers posts.

Leicester marauded upfield as Jordan Crane galloped into the 22 and earned a close-range penalty but Corry opted for the scrum instead of a shot at goal.

And it proved to be the wrong move. The Ospreys defended valiantly for six minutes, holding up a Leicester drive over the line before clearing their lines and Hook applied the killer blow with his third penalty.

The Ospreys remained heavily on the front foot and almost finished with a third try for replacement Gareth Owen, only for referee Alain Rolland to call play back for a forward pass. But it mattered not - it was game, set and match to the Welsh.

Man of the match: Another superb all-round performance from James Hook. The fly-half had a hand in both Ospreys tries, setting up Andy Bishop for the opening touchdown before sending Alun Wyn-Jones over the whitewash. Lee Byrne also had a fine game, as did the evergreen Justin Marshall, but our man of the match is big Filo Tiatia who snuffed out every raid that dared to stray into his path.

Moment of the match: The Ospreys didn't look back after Andrew Bishop exposed some feeble defence early in the game, but it was Leicester's inability to convert a number of five-metre scrums into points in the second half that sealed the deal. The Tigers of old would have cleaned up.

Villain of the match: Alun Wyn Jones looked set for this award after taking Dan Hipkiss high, but the England centre appeared to slip at the moment of truth. Other than that, not too much monkey business. No award.

The scorers:

For Leicester Tigers:

Pen: Goode

Drop goal: Goode

For the Ospreys:

Tries: Bishop, Wyn Jones

Cons: Hook 2

Pen: Hook 3

Leicester Tigers: 15 Johne Murphy, 14 Ollie Smith, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Harry Ellis, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Ben Herring, 6 Martin Corry (c), 5 Ben Kay, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 George Chuter, 1 Boris Stankovich.

Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Julian White, 18 Richard Blaze, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Christophe Laussucq, 21 Sam Vesty, 22 Tom Varndell.

Ospreys: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Johnny Vaughton, 13 Sonny Parker, 12 Andrew Bishop, 11 Shane Williams, 10 James Hook, 9 Justin Marshall, 8 Filo Tiatia, 7 Marty Holah, 6 Ryan Jones (c), 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.

Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 Duncan Jones, 18 Ian Gough, 19 Jonathan Thomas, 20 Gareth Owen, 21 Jonathan Spratt, 22 Aled Brew.

Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)

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