Leicester Tigers and the Ospreys shared 12 tries on Friday night in an incredible pre-season clash at Welford Road.
- Leicester and Ospreys score six tries each in a thrilling contest on a balmy Leicester evening
- Habberfield, Evans and Howells touch down in the first half before Walker (2) and Gustafson scored in the second
- Ospreys kick off the new Guinness PRO12 season at home to Zebre next Friday night (7.35pm KO)
After a close contest at the Liberty Stadium two weeks ago that the Ospreys edged by five points it was another nailbiter, packed with incident, but after falling behind 14-0 early on just as they did in the previous clash, this time they were unable to overhaul the deficit and had to settle for a four point defeat despite their efforts.
With first half tries from Tom Habberfield, Dan Evans and Dafydd Howells, the Ospreys trailed 21-19 at the break. Eli Walker scored two after the restart, with Hugh Gustafson also scoring, while Sam Davies converted four from six.
The Ospreys started full of positive intent and an attacking lineout on the Tigers 22 just four minutes in gave them a solid platform, Justin Tipuric cutting a great angle to pierce the defensive line before Josh Matavesi tried to free Jeff Hassler, the Canadian finding his progress halted just a couple of metres short.
With the opening exchanges all taking place in the Tigers half, it took a swift counter attack to take them up into Ospreys territory, winger Telusa Veainu showing good gas up the right before eventually being pulled down. A Leicester knock-on saw the scrum go the way of the Ospreys, who were penalised at the set-piece, allowing the hosts to put the ball in the corner.
Twice the Tigers looked to drive their way over the Ospreys line, twice they were stopped illegally, and with an advantage in their favour, Sam Harrison opted for a cross kick to the left wing where Adam Thompstone was able to collect the high ball under pressure before grounding it for the first try of the night, Harrison making no mistake with a difficult conversion from the touchline.
It was all Leicester now and quick, clean, lineout ball on their right was then rewarded with a second try as the midway point of the half approached, centre Peter Betham bouncing off several attempted tackles in midfield to find his way over under the posts, Harrison slotting over the extras once again.
The Ospreys needed a quick response and that was exactly what they got, grabbing their opening try almost immediately. Sam Davies put the ball in the corner from a penalty on halfway and a solid drive from the pack took them close to the line, where Leicester were penalised. It was skipper Habberfield who reacted first with a quick tap and go to score, Davies’ kick bringing the visitors back to within seven points.
Leicester were next to score and it was all too easy as lock Dom Barrow finished off a move to dot down, Harrison then splitting the posts for a third time which meant the hosts led 21-7 with 25 minutes gone.
An entertaining game took another turn when the Ospreys struck for a well worked second try just before the half hour mark after an initial strong carry from Dmitri Arhip. As the Ospreys went through the phases patiently it was a lovely, gliding run from Ashley Beck that cut the Tigers defence open, the centre making the most of a two-on-one to feed Evans who raced over, Davies converting.
Some lovely interplay almost saw the Ospreys grab a third try, after Hassler and Beck combined in midfield before Davies carried towards the line, and it was the Canadian wing who just failed to hold the final pass as he stretched to collect for what would have been a certain try.
That third try did arrive at the next play though, the Ospreys awarded a free-kick at the resulting scrum, which was taken quickly and the ball spun out to the left wing where Howells evaded the last defender to score out wide. The angle proved just too much for Davies, which meant his side trailed by two as they headed back down the tunnel.
HALF-TIME: LEICESTER TIGERS 21 OSPREYS 19
Having worked hard to claw their way back into the contest, the Ospreys would have been disappointed to concede try number four within three minutes of the restart. The score came with a sense of inevitability as the Tigers pack marched their opponents backwards towards their own line and, with an advantage in their favour, it was Ed Slater who was able to put the ball to ground, Harrison keeping his 100 per cent record with the boot intact.
With Leicester dominating the open 10 minutes of the half, and enjoying the upper hand at the scrum, Nicky Smith then received a final warning from referee Luke Pearce. That proved to be the youngster’s final involvement in the contest as within seconds, Paul James was one of a raft of replacements entering the action as Tandy rung the changes.
Having weathered that particularly rocky storm the Ospreys again got a foothold in the game and were boosted when Tigers were reduced to 14 men when Springbok star JP Pietersen was sent to the sinbin within three minutes of entering the action in a Tigers shirt for the first time.
Already with an advantage after Leicester had illegally halted an Ospreys driving maul, Pietersen then crashed into the ruck from the wrong side, preventing Habberfield from releasing the ball, and was shown yellow.
The Ospreys went to the corner again and showed patience to go through a series of pick and drives, sucking in defenders, before Tipuric sent a long, looping miss-pass out to Walker, on for Howells, who stretched over for the Ospreys fourth try.
Davies watched his conversion from the left come back off the right hand stick and the scoreboard now read 28-24.
The numbers on the field were evened out almost immediately, Paul James shown yellow as his first scrum went down, and having gone for a lineout the hosts powered their way over from close range, Luke Hamilton putting the ball down. The conversion from Harrison was ugly but successful and Leicester led by 11 points inside the final quarter.
An action packed game then saw the Ospreys grab their fifth try of the night, Gustafson with his second on consecutive weekends, after Rob McCusker had picked up at the back of the scrum and galloped towards the line.
Davies converted and the deficit was four points but the Ospreys were back behind their line almost immediately as Thompstone capitalised on a three-on-one to race clear for his second, converted by George Worth.
Walker then grabbed his second in incredible fashion, the Ospreys pressing the Tigers line but conceding a turnover just a metre out before the hosts tried to play their way out from behind their own line.
Aggressive defence from the men in black forced the mistake, a pass going to ground, and it was the winger who reacted quickest to scoop it up and stretch over the line. Davies’ conversion meant that the score was 42-38 with seven minutes to play.
A crazy match almost had a fitting conclusion, Leicester’s pack rumbling towards the line for what looked set to be a certain try with the clock showing time, only for some incredible defensive work seeing the Ospreys not only turning it over on their line, but winning the penalty. Opting to run it from behind their line, it looked as though the Ospreys would swing it wide where they had an overlap and the full length of open field ahead, only for the ball to go to ground and that was that.
With the pre-season fixtures now concluded, attention turns to the opening game of the new PRO12 season, at the Liberty Stadium against Zebre next Friday night.
T: Thompstone (2), Betham, Barrow, Slater, Hamilton
C: Harrison (5), Worth
T: Habberfield, Evans, Howells, Walker (2), Gustafson
C: Davies (4)