Planet Rugby

Ospreys reach their holy grail

23rd January 2010 12:08

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Shane Williams fend

Shane Williams: A starring role

The Ospreys have, barring miracles, battled their way into another Heineken Cup quarter-final with a 17-12 win over Leicester in Swansea on Saturday.

Tommy Bowe's gem of a try two minutes before the break separated the teams at the end of a pulsating clash which left bodies strewn all over the field by the end. The Ospreys were ecstatic, having this time clung onto a lead against the Tigers, but they did their level best to throw it away on the pitch.

But the big talking point will surround events off it. Lee Byrne's re-entry to the field of play after treatment for a blood injury saw the Ospreys with 16 players on the pitch for the better part of a minute. Alan Lewis left little doubt as to what he thought of it at the time, labelling the Ospreys official's pleadings 'absolutely ridiculous'. We'll see what happens now - and whether Leicester decide to make a point of it or accept the defeat on the chin.

There'd be no disgrace or dishonour if they did the latter. The Tigers were outplayed for long periods of the match and could have been further behind at the end had it not been for the profligacy of Dan Biggar. In the first five minutes of the second half - by far the Ospreys' best period - Biggar missed both a drop goal and a penalty that could have given them a more comfortable cushion.

There were three key moments. There was the try - a fresh piece of magic from James Hook, whose versatility, sense of the game and latent talent were once again all on show - and there was a scrum on the hour mark in which the Ospreys, under their own posts and facing a freshly-inserted Martin Castrogiovanni, utterly steam-rollered Leicester's eight.

Then there was the ruck two minutes from the end. Leicester had the Ospreys stretched and tired. They had an overlap on the left. They had quick ball. But Ben Youngs' pass to Aaron Mauger was under-powered and dropped just short of its target. Mauger knocked on and the game was gone.

Otherwise it was a war of attrition, but one in which both teams threatened to break through at any second. The Ospreys set their stall out to run the ball from deep early, but kept getting themselves into trouble at rucks. Leicester's method of attack was more fundamental - boot and grind - but for a good part of the first half it was the Tigers getting the penalties and keeping their noses in front.

Leicester had to absorb considerable pressure before and after a ninth-minute penalty success for Flood as the Ospreys looked to attack in wide channels.

But the game soon settled into an anticipated heavyweight tussle between two powerful packs intent on establishing set-piece supremacy.

Ospreys prop Paul James was on the receiving end of referee Alan Lewis' whistle at two early scrums, yet the Ospreys composed themselves for Biggar to slot a drop-goal and penalty.

Flood's second penalty had edged Leicester ahead for a second time, and although a Staunton drop-goal then made it 9-6, an equalising Biggar penalty meant there was nothing between the sides approaching half-time.

The Ospreys though, were far more adventurous, and their invigorating approach reaped its reward in thrilling fashion.

Flanker Jerry Collins set the tone with a rampaging burst through the heart of Leicester's midfield, and despite lock Alun-Wyn Jones being unable to take the move on, Tigers were soon unlocked.

The Ospreys moved possession wide and at pace, and a deft left-footed kick by Hook was finished off in trademark predatory style by Ireland and Lions wing Bowe.

It meant Bowe had touched down in all six of the Ospreys' Heineken group games this season, and despite Biggar missing a touchline conversion attempt, Ospreys enjoyed a glimmer of control.

Leicester were rattled by the try, underlined when Flood botched a penalty chance with the final kick of a fast and furious half.

The Ospreys looked to extend their advantage early in the second period, but Biggar was guilty of missing penalty and drop-goal chances as Leicester found themselves pinned inside their own 22.

Flood then showed him how it should be done, finding his range from almost 45 metres to put Leicester just two points behind and remind the Ospreys they were far from finished.Biggar cancelled out Flood's strike, making it 17-12, as Leicester boss Richard Cockerill sought powerful bench reinforcements with the introduction of prop Martin Castrogiovanni and wing Alesana Tuilagi.

Time was starting to tick away for the Tigers, Heineken Cup winners in 2001 and 2002, and they desperately needed inspiration to somehow thwart a ferociously-committed Ospreys outfit.

But when the Ospreys pack then destroyed Leicester's scrum, sending them retreating at a rate of knots, there appeared no way back.

Leicester, when they had possession, looked to free the destructive Tuilagi, and a punishing contest began to resemble a case of last-man standing entering the final five minutes.

It was the Ospreys who held their nerve though, celebrating arguably their greatest victory.

The scorers:

For the Ospreys:
Try: Bowe
Pens: Biggar 3
Drop goal: Biggar

For Leicester:
Pens: Flood 3
Drop goal: Staunton

Ospreys: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Andrew Bishop, 12 James Hook, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Ryan Jones (capt), 7 Marty Holah, 6 Jerry Collins, 5 Jonathan Thomas, 4 Alun-Wyn Jones, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Huw Bennett, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Cai Griffiths, 19 Ian Gough, 20 Filo Tiatia, 21 Jamie Nutbrown, 22 Sonny Parker, 23 Nikki Walker.

Leicester:15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Jeremy Staunton, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Craig Newby, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Louis Deacon (c), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements:16 George Chuter, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ben Kay, 20 Ben Woods, 21 James Grindal, 22 Aaron Mauger, 23 Alesana Tuilagi.

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)
Assistant referees: David Wilkinson (Ireland), Sean Flannery (Ireland)
Television match official: David McHugh (Ireland)

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