It was the proverbial game of two halves at Welford Road on Friday night as the Ospreys rounded off their pre-season fixtures against a strong Leicester Tigers line-up.
- Three tries in the second quarter gave Leicester a big 26-0 lead at the break
- Ospreys hit back through Jeff Hassler and Cory Allen in the third quarter to give them hope but Leicester killed the game off with two more tries in the final 10 minutes
- Ospreys now kick off the new Guinness PRO14 season against Zebre at the Liberty Stadium next Saturday afternoon
The Tigers led by just an unconverted try going into the second quarter but a combination of individual error and Leicester’s pace and power saw them run in a further three tries before the break to lead 26-0 at half-time.
It was a different story after the restart as Jeff Hassler marked his first appearance in 10 months with a try and Cory Allen also touched down, to give the Ospreys the scent of a comeback, only for the hosts to regroup and score two more in the final 10 minutes.
Leicester attacked straight from the kick-off, claiming the high ball and attacking down the middle where the Ospreys defence had to be alert to snuff out the danger on their own line, Manu Tuilagi stopped just short.
The Tigers were attacking again a couple of minutes later and maybe should have done better when they worked an overlap on their right for Tom Brady who went for the line only to be forced into touch by Hassler as he looked to stretch over.
The early pressure from the hosts eventually told when they scored the first try of the night in the 10th minute, Tigers new boy Jonny May winning the race to ground it after a clever kick behind the Ospreys defence by George Ford.
The conversion attempt by Ford on the left hand touchline drifted across the face of the posts and wide.
Despite finding themselves under the pump for much of the opening quarter the Ospreys trailed by just the five and were finally able to start putting together some possession and territory.
Coaches and supporters alike though would have been concerned by the sight of Ma’afu Fia exiting early, limping out of the action in the 22nd minute.
However, it was Leicester who scored next, a passage of play that saw them press on both sides of the field before Ford read James Hook’s rush out of the line to sidestep him and feed Matt Toomua, who in turn passed to Brady, the winger stepping in off his line to score, Ford adding the extras.
Leicester then grabbed a third soon after, the Ospreys finding themselves back under pressure after being pinged for offside at the restart and then penalised at the resulting scrum, allowing the hosts to go to the corner.
With a penalty advantage in their favour at the ensuing lineout the ball was spun wide by the Tigers, May with a spectacular finish in the corner for his second of the night, the conversion again good.
What followed was an incredible passage of play as the Ospreys pressed, the welcome sight of Jeff Hassler charging to the line only to be pulled down just short, Hook then went close and Dan Evans was pulled down inches from the line. However, the ball was lost, allowing the Tigers to attack from behind their own line.
Keelan Giles did well to track May and pull him down on halfway but it was recycled quickly and, with players out of position all over the field. Ford eventually found Toomua who put the ball behind the defence and raced through to ground the bouncing ball, Ford converting.
HALF-TIME: LEICESTER TIGERS 26-0 OSPREYS
Despite the scoreboard being against them the Ospreys were not going to throw the towel in and after a spell of pressure in Leicester territory they were able to get their side of the scoreboard moving on 50 minutes.
Awarded a penalty for hands in the ruck they went to the corner, Adam Beard rose high at the lineout and after the maul was stopped it was Hassler at the angle to collect off Habberfield to score, Hook converting.
A piece of Hook magic then put the Ospreys on the front foot, Leicester illegally preventing the recycle after Giles was brought down inside the 22 and Sione Kalamafoni sent to the sinbin.
Again the pack went for the line and once it was halted, it was Allen who went over from close range, Hook’s conversion reducing the deficit to 12 points.
As the clock ticked into the final quarter, the Ospreys were well in the contest, playing their best rugby of the evening, a Giles break, Allen’s power and some good signs from newcomer, Sam Cross, giving them some go-forward, the Tigers defence holding firm.
The visitors were keeping the ball alive, looking to stretch the Tigers defence whenever possible, but that proved their undoing in the 70th minute as the hosts extinguished any lingering hopes of an Ospreys comeback.
Having defended well and won turnover ball inside their 22, the Ospreys countered from deep. It always looked forced though and when they lost possession in midfield Leicester swooped, Ford, Toomua and Tom Croft creating the chance for Jonah Holmes to score, Ford with the extras.
Leicester then had the final say, Charlie Thacker crashing over for a late score, converted by Joe Ford to round off the evening.
The Ospreys now switch their attention to the opening weekend of the new Guinness PRO14 season when Zebre visit the Liberty Stadium on Saturday 2nd September for an untelevised 2.30pm kick-off.