Planet Rugby

Ospreys face a nervous Sunday

24th January 2009 19:23

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Ospreys v Leicester stock

Tussle: Leicester seek to limit the dmage against the Ospreys

The Ospreys ought to be spending Sunday glued to their television screens, after failing to deny Leicester a bonus point in their 15-9 victory at the Liberty Stadium and thereby finishing second in the pool.

The Ospreys' players and fans alike will rue their inability to take the opportunities on offer. So many times they had the ball in promising positions, so many times they gave it away. A stray line-out here, loose rucking there, a messy scrum, an ineffective kick. When it came down to it, Leicester were more effective even if inferior in most of the skilled aspects. It was as ugly a result as the Tigers will ever have eked out. But they progress.

Looking back, the real key period - you felt every moment in the game at the time would be key - was when Toby Flood was sent to the bin for ten minutes at the end of the first half. The Ospreys pressed and pressed, they kicked a penalty to the corner when only 6-3 ahead, they dominated. But they couldn't score a try. When Flood returned it was still 6-3. Had the Ospreys just tried a little more pragmatism, tried to wear a couple of penalties out of the numerical advantage rather than going for glory, it might have been different. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

As it stands, Tigers look unlikely to secure a home quarter-final tie though, while the Ospreys are handily-placed, but games involving English clubs Wasps and Bath on Sunday could ultimately result in them being knocked out.

If the Ospreys survive, they could also face an intriguing all-Welsh clash against Cardiff Blues in April.

Derick Hougaard's penalty hat-trick proved sufficient to give the Tigers the point they required, as for the second time in Heineken Cup combat this season, Ospreys and Leicester played out a tryless game.

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 full-back 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.

The scorers:

For the Ospreys:

Pens: Hook 5

For Leicester:

Pens: Hougaard 3

Yellow card: Flood (30, Leicester, offside)

Ospreys: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Shane Williams, 10 James Hook, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Filo Tiatia, 7 Marty Holah, 6 Ryan Jones (c), 5 Alun-wyn Jones, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.

Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 Cai Griffiths, 18 Lyndon Bateman, 19 Tom Smith, 20 Jamie Nutbrown, 21 Dan Biggar, 22 Jonny Vaughton.

Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Seru Rabeni, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Matt Smith, 10 Derick Hougaard, 9 Julien Dupuy, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Ben Woods, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Martin Corry (c), 3 Julian White, 2 Benjamin Kayser, 1 Boris Stankovich.

Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Martin Castrogiovanni, 18 Ben Kay, 19 Brett Deacon, 20 Ben Youngs, 21 Sam Vesty, 22 Johne Murphy.

Referee: Christophe Berdos (France)

Touch judges: Eric Gauzins (France), Patrick Bellet (France)

Television match official: Daniel Dartigeas (France)

Assessor: Brian Stirling (Ireland)

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