A Tommy Bowe try proved the difference as the Ospreys secure a place in the final eight of the Heineken Cup on a nailbiting afternoon at the Liberty Stadium
The Ospreys were forced into a late reshuffle on the bench after hooker Huw Bennett pulled up during the warm-up, Ed Shervington replacing him.
As expected the game got off to a rip roaring start as the two teams looked to take the early initiative, with both sides clearly fired up for the occasion.
Leicester were the first on the scoreboard through the boot of Toby Flood in the sixth minute after the Ospreys had been penalised following good work by Jeremy Staunton in the shadow of the posts. The Ospreys hit back straight away, and almost forced an opening after turning it over close to the Tigers line, Shane Williams getting bundled into touch as he tried to weave his way through. However, they did level a minute later after Leicester offended in the resultant line-out. The home side opted for a scrum, and after a typical darting run from Ricky Januarie Dan Biggar slotted over a drop goal.
The opening minutes were being played at a frenetic pace, and Leicester edged back in front through another Flood penalty after Ospreys defenders had gone off their feet at the ruck. A minute later the scores were level once more, Biggar kicking a long range effort after Craig Newby was caught offside at the ruck.
After the early activity, the game developed into something of an arm-wrestle, with the two packs battling for the upper hand. Leicester regained the lead in the 23rd minute from a Staunton drop goal after the Ospreys had been penalised at a scrum deep in Leicester territory. It was kicked deep into the corner and from the lineout Leicester drove forward before the centre was teed up for the points. The lead last just a couple of minutes though, Biggar once again successful with a penalty after some flowing rugby from the Ospreys had taken them back into the Leicester 22.
The Ospreys were then forced to absorb considerable pressure as the Leicester forwards took turns to pick and drive, taking their side forward into Ospreys territory, but the home side held firm and Januarie was able to clear, to the loudest cheer of the afternoon so far. That psychological blow was followed up by a huge charge from Jerry Collins, carrying it over halfway before feeding Alun-Wyn Jones. The big second row found himself isolated however, and Tigers were able to clear. The respite was only temporary though, as from the next lin-out the Ospreys were able to wrestle the initiative away from Leicester as Tommy Bowe crossed for the first try of the afternoon. The ball was worked through the Ospreys hands before a lovely James Hook grubber to the corner was collected by Bowe who beat two Tigers defenders to the ball to ground, referee Allan Lewis referring to the TMO who took just one glance to award the try.
Bowe’s score meant that he had now scored a try in every round of the pool stages, only the second player in the history of the Heineken Cup to do so, following on from Leinster’s Felipe Contepomi who did it in the 2005/06 season.
Biggar failed with the conversion attempt, leaving the scoreline 14-9 to the Ospreys, and Flood’s missed penalty after the touch judge had drawn Mr Lewis’ attention to an offence by Januarie meant that the Ospreys went in at the break five points ahead.
HALF TIME: OSPREYS 14 LEICESTER TIGERS 9
The Ospreys were handed the opportunity to increase their lead almost immediately after the restart when Leicester strayed offside, but Biggar’s penalty was wide. Moments later, Lee Byrne was almost successful with an outrageous drop goal attempt from halfway that faded at the last, before Biggar’s effort from the 22 also failed as the Ospreys looked to build up a lead.
The opening ten minutes of the second half had been played almost exclusively in the Leicester half, but the Ospreys were made to pay for their missed chances when, on just about the first Tigers foray into the opposition half, Flood reduced the deficit to two points with a long range effort after the Ospreys were penalised for going off their feet.
It was developing into a titanic struggle, with every tackle, drive and kick being cheered by the crowd as the two teams battled it out for the big prize of a place in the last eight. Biggar restored the five point lead after 55 minutes from in front of the posts as the Ospreys looked to drive home the territorial advantage they’d enjoyed in the second period.
The biggest cheer of the day so far came just past the hour following a huge drive by the Ospreys forwards at a Leicester scrum, which resulted in it going down under pressure and a penalty being awarded to the home side.
The Ospreys made their first change on 67 minutes, Ian Gough replacing Jonathan Thomas in the boiler room. Confusion reigned shortly after, when Byrne was forced off for treatment on a bleeding toe by Mr Lewis and replaced by Sonny Parker. When he returned to the action a few minutes later, no player left the action, forcing the referee to halt the game and sort out the situation. Eventually, Byrne was allowed back on officially, Biggar exiting and Hook moving to fly-half.
Leicester spent the closing stages camped in the Ospreys half as they looked for the score that could book their place in the quarters at the expense of the home team, but wave after wave of Tigers attack came up against a black wall. They looked to have finally found a way through in the 79th minute, but replacement Aaron Mauger failed to gather with the line beckoning, knocking on and giving the Ospreys an important scrum. Leicester conceded a penalty from the scrum, the Ospreys kicked to touch and from the resulting lineout, with time up, Januarie kicked to touch to bring a nailbiting game to an end, ensuring the Ospreys place in the last eight for a third consecutive season.