The Ospreys left Welford Road empty handed after an unbelievable finish to a closely contested affair saw Leicester score three tries in the closing minutes to secure an improbable bonus point.
After a traditionally loud and proud welcome from the Tigers crowd, it was the Ospreys who got the perfect start, Ryan Jones scoring the first try of the game in under 100 seconds to silence the home support.
Securing possession from Dan Biggar’s kick-off the ball was moved from the hands as they patiently probed for an early opening, and they eventually worked numbers on their right. Hanno Dirksen took possession, ignoring Richard Fussell on his outside to cut infield and go for the line. He was stopped just short but the pack drove forward and eventually it was the big blindside picking up and stretching over to ground it, Biggar adding the extras.
As expected, Leicester were stung by the Ospreys start and the next few minutes saw a frenetic spell of action with the ball getting turned over in midfield both ways as the two teams wrestled for superiority.
The scrum was an eagerly anticipated part of this contest, with two renowned packs going head to head, and after Dan Cole was pinged as they went down on halfway, Biggar was able to slot over three points to extend the lead.
As the halfway point of the first 40 approaches the Tigers had barely been in the game but a barnstorming rugby from Manu Tuiliagi took them into the Ospreys 22 for the first time. They worked through the phases, swung it right to where Anthony Allen ignored Niall Morris only to have the door firmly shut in his face. They recycled, seemed to have an overlap, only for a combination of Eli Walker and Kahn Fotuali’i to force the knock-on from Logovi’i Mulipola in contact.
The Tigers tails were up and although the Ospreys were eventually able to clear from the resulting scrum, back came the home team, and this time only a last ditch tackle from Jonathan Thomas stopped Jordan Crane as he tried to bludgeon his way through.
Leicester were eventually able to get their first points of the afternoon on 28 minutes, a penalty at the scrum allowing Toby Flood to get the scoreboard moving.
Tigers were on top at this stage and they got their first try of the afternoon as they looked to turn pressure into points and a good break from Ben Youngs put his team on the front foot and quick hands among the backs eventually saw Tuilagi strolling over. Flood’s conversion seemed to be drifting to the left of the sticks but it bent back just inside the upright to level things with nine to go until the break.
Another scrum penalty against the Ospreys then saw Ryan Bevington sent to the sinbin, to the clear annoyance of skipper Alun Wyn Jones.
With the Ospreys a man light in the frontrow Ryan Jones, clearly carrying a knock, was sacrificed at the next scrum to allow Duncan Jones to enter the fray, but with Andrew Bishop packing down at blindside the Ospreys put in a good shove that allowed them to attack, working their way closer to goal for Biggar to try a drop which went just wide to the left, leaving it all square at the break.
HALF-TIME: LEICESTER TIGERS 10 OSPREYS 10
The first scrum of the second period, again with Bishop involved, saw the packs going down once more but this time the decision went the Ospreys way, allowing Biggar to put his team back in front just two minutes after the restart.
The lead lasted less than two minutes though, lazy running from Adam Jones as Leicester looked to play quick ball from a ruck spotted by the ref, allowing Flood to level things.
Ben Youngs spotted a gap in the onrushing Ospreys defence at a Tigers lineout midway inside their own half, carrying 50m upfield and sidestepping his way inside past several challenges, Justin Tipuic just managing to get across to put a crucial tackle in to save the try. As Youngs looked to offload, Eli Walker managed to intercept and eventually, clear.
With the Ospreys back up to 15 and Bevington back on the field, another scrum penalty went the way of the home team, allowing Flood to put his team ahead for the first time, with 30 to play.
Just a couple of minutes later Flood was able to double the lead with a penalty from just inside his own half after the initial penalty, for hands in the ruck, was moved forward 10m for Hibbard preventing the quick take.
The early composure and flow to the Ospreys game had gone and Leicester were looking to really put distance between the two teams but the visitors weren’t going to give up the fight and an offside decision against Steve Mafi, to quick out of the blocks at the breakdown allowed Biggar to reduce the deficit to three points.
Buoyed by that, and inspired by a huge Biggar hit in midfield that led to the Ospreys winning a turnover on halfway, they were able to enjoy their best period of the second half, and a penalty against replacement prop Marcos Ayerza allowed Biggar to draw them level once more with 19 to play.
Back came Leicester with a spell of intense pressure, relieved by some great scavenging work by Duncan Jones to secure the loose ball.
An action packed game was swinging back and forth, and Bishop was then pinged for coming in from the side, allowing a monster kick from Flood, 56m out, to put Leicester back in front.
There was a need for discipline from the Ospreys, but it deserted them when a Tigers scrum was changed to a penalty for backchat to the referee, but fortunately, Flood had the distance but not the direction on this occasion.
It was delicately placed, but the crucial moment came with 72 minutes on the clock, when with the Ospreys attacking from a lineout in Leicester territory, Flood read Biggar’s pass perfectly to intercept and race the length of the pitch to score, picking himself up to convert and take his team 10 clear.
Biggar was able to slot over another penalty, taking the Ospreys back into bonus point territory, but an incredible last five minutes saw Tigers not only deny the Ospreys the bonus but score two more tries to secure the five points for themselves.
First, with the Ospreys pressing, Rhys Webb knocked on at the base of a ruck, allowing the Tigers to again break from within their own 22, a long kick upfield bouncing horrendously for Dirksen as he attempted to cover, allowing Steve Mafi to collect before offloading for scrum half Ben Young to score. The seemingly unlikely fourth try came in the last minute. With the Ospreys defending desperately on their own line, Tuilagi showed good awareness to pick up loose ball at the back of the ruck and dive over athletically, twisting and turning to round off a huge win for Leicester.