Ospreys hold nerve as Leicester cry foul
Published 24/01/2010 | 05:00
There weren't too many numbers to tax the brain here, the scoring being confined to a single try by the outstanding Tommy Bowe, six penalties equally shared between Dan Biggar and Toby Flood, and a drop-goal apiece from Biggar and Jeremy Staunton.
No, the arithmetic wasn't complicated, but somehow the Ospreys forgot how to count and for a minute, late in the second half, they protected their slender lead with 16 players on the field.
It was a bizarre twist to a seriously uncomplicated and enthralling head-to-head between the best of Wales and England. It came about when Lee Byrne seemed to go down with a recurrence of the foot injury that has kept him out of the game for much of the season.
He walked off and was replaced by Sonny Parker. Byrne sat on the touchline, put his boot back on and announced he was ready to resume. His coach, Scott Johnson, ordered him back on. Nobody came off, but the full-back took his place at the back, sharing the position with James Hook, as the Ospreys threw themselves into defensive duties.
When the anomaly was discovered, Byrne came off, only to come back on to replace Biggar. He wasn't exactly wrapped in red bandages, but apparently his toe had released sufficient life-juice for this to qualify as a blood replacement.
Richard Cockerill, the Leicester coach, was remarkably sanguine about the affair. "It's not something I'm going to pursue. It wasn't deliberate and had no bearing on the result," he said. But he did not rule out the possibility of the matter being taken further, should his bosses at Leicester decide to do so.
They did and Peter Wheeler, Leicester's chief executive, confirmed that they had lodged an official complaint. "It came at a significant point of the game and the 16th man interfered in play, helping stop the break by Ben Youngs. We think it could seriously have affected the outcome of the game."
Johnson was less happy to talk about it. "Look, it was in the heat of the moment. There was a lot of confusion out there . . . I'd rather be talking about the rugby," he said.
As for the game, it delivered in every respect as a cross-border showdown between old rivals, each devoted to their own very different style. The Ospreys wanted to stretch play, break it down so that opposition tacklers were drawn out of position. The Tigers wanted to keep the game structured, so they might blast away at the scrum and line-out and breakdown.
For their part, the Ospreys managed to turn the pattern of scrummage pressure on its head, at the very moment when heavy investment in the shoving process tends to produce dividends the other way. Having struggled all afternoon, the Ospreys suddenly blasted Martin Castrogiovanni upwards and won a penalty.
Even so, Leicester still hammered away and it required more than just a rejuvenated scrum -- or even 16 players -- to keep them out. Shane Williams raced back to tackle Scott Hamilton in the dying minutes, and Aaron Mauger knocked on with feet to go.
When the Ospreys' single golden chance came, they seized it, James Hook looping in midfield and threading a delicate grubber behind the defence. Bowe won the chase to score the game's only try and maintain his record of scoring in every Pool game.
There was a brief period, after half-time, when the Ospreys might have pulled away. They led by five points at the break and in rapid succession had a penalty and two good drop-goal opportunities. All the kicks missed and the game swayed around.
The scoring in the second half was confined to one penalty each. It should have kept things simple, but this game did nothing but throw up confusion. Once again, rugby has poked itself in the eye.
Scorers -- Ospreys: Bowe try; Biggar 3 pens, 1 d-g. Leicester: Flood 3 pens; Staunton d-g
Ospreys: Byrne; Bowe, Bishop, Hook, Williams (Walker 79); Biggar (Parker 73), Januarie; James, Hibbard (Bennett 76), A Jones; A Jones, J Thomas (Gough 66); Collins (Tiata 76), Holah, R Jones.
Leicester: Hamilton; J Murphy (Tuilagi 56), Hipkiss, Staunton (Mauger 62), Tuqiri; Flood, B Youngs; Ayerza (Stankovich 79), Davies (Chuter 67), Cole (Castrogiovanni 53); L Deacon, Parling; Newby (Woods 60), Moody, Crane
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland)