There were 10 minutes to go before kick-off at Welford Road yesterday when Billy Twelvetrees was handed the Leicester No 12 shirt. Dan Hipkiss had fallen victim in the pre-match warm-up to the Tigers' backline curse that had already accounted for three men in morning fitness tests (Aaron Mauger, Harry Ellis and Matt Smith), the in-form England centre having complained of suffering from what Richard Cockerill, Leicester's director of rugby, described as "aching joints and swollen testicles".
With Toby Flood, Sam Vesty and Geordan Murphy all on the long-term injured list, that left Twelvetrees with a debut occasion in front of a 20,000 crowd against the Ospreys – James Hook, Tommy Bowe, Shane Williams, Lee Byrne and all – in a Heineken Cup Pool Three opener. Having been released from Leicester's academy in 2008, and re-signed for the club last May after a season with Bedford in National League One, there might have been a question of whether the 20-year-old with the Pacific Islander name – but with home roots actually from Pulborough in West Sussex – happened to be equipped with the cojones for the big occasion.
The answer was confirmed three minutes from time. Having assumed the place-kicking duties from the wayward Jeremy Staunton in the 36th minute, after running in the try that led the great Leicester fightback from 26-8 down, and then helping to set up the late try by Staunton that cut the Ospreys' lead to 32-30, it fell to Twelvetrees to secure the unlikeliest of draws for the Tigers, whose pack purred all afternoon even though it was shorn of a recognised back division. Five metres in from the right touchline, he swung his right boot and dispatched his conversion straight through the middle of the posts.
Welford Road erupted in celebration. It might have got better, but with the Tigers going for the jugular, the Ospreys managed to resist an injury-time assault on their try line. Still, it was a huge moral victory of a draw for Leicester – a triumph against the odds not just for the debutant Twelvetrees, but for all 20 of the Tigers involved.
You might have said it was a backs to the wall job but they didn't have any three-quarters left in reserve when the limping Anthony Allen failed to make it past half-time. Craig Newby, a back-rower of All Black pedigree, had to be summoned from bench duty as an emergency inside centre, with Twelvetrees switching to outside centre for the second half.
It was little wonder Cockerill was crowing with pride afterwards. "You can buy sides but you can't buy spirit," he reflected. "I thought we showed that today. It was a titanic battle for us because of the situation we were in." It was little surprise, too, that Scott Johnson, the Ospreys' director of coaching, said the draw felt like he had "just kissed the mother-in-law".
The great pretenders from west Wales will never get a better chance to put down a marker in the Heineken Cup. Leicester's starting XV included just one surviving back from the side that finished three points shy of the trophy in last season's final against Leinster at Murrayfield: Scott Hamilton.
Hamilton helped to put something of an East Midland wind up the Welsh visitors, feeding the ball on from the breaking Allen for Johne Murphy to put a five pointer on the board with just two minutes on the clock. The Ospreys were also rocked back on their heels by the home pack, Julian White doing much of the damage. Still, with Staunton missing the conversion and two of three eminently kickable penalties, the visitors managed to manoeuvre themselves into the driving seat. They did so with Dan Biggar – their 19-year-old fly-half – landing two mid-range penalties and then making the bolt from deep which set up a try for Shane Williams in the 24th minute.
Watched by Warren Gatland, Wales' head coach, Dan the (young) man kept the scoreboard ticking with an opportunist drop goal and landed a second conversion after Tommy Bowe picked up a wild fling of a pass from James Grindal, the Tigers' scrum-half. A third Biggar penalty left the Ospreys 26-8 to the good after 33 minutes.
The sum total of their endeavour thereafter? Two second-half penalties by Biggar, who finished with a tidy seven-out-of-seven return with the boot.
The Welsh region might have thought they had the win in the bag but there is no such thing as a lost cause when it comes to Leicester. Twelvetrees launched the fightback four minutes before the interval, finishing a diagonal run in the right corner and slotting the touchline conversion. He might have won the game had the penalty he struck from the halfway line soon after veered an inch to the left rather than striking the right post and dropping wide.
As it was, the new boy successfully converted when wing Lucas Amorosino scored in the left corner after a superb arcing run by Hamilton. Twelvetrees also sparked the attack that led to the fourth home try, Staunton forcing his way over on the left after a jinking run by the Leicester No 12. Then came the pressure kick of a conversion that squared the contest from the debutant man of the match.
Leicester: Tries Murphy, Twelvetrees, Amorosino, Staunton; Conversions Twelvetrees 3; Penalties Staunton, Twelvetrees. Ospreys: Tries Williams, Bowe; Conversions Biggar 2; Penalties Biggar 5; Drop goal Biggar.
Leicester: S Hamilton; J Murphy, A Allen (C Newby, h-t), B Twelvetrees, L Amorosino; J Staunton, J Grindal (B Youngs, 67); M Ayerza (B Stankovich, 79), G Chuter, J White (M Castrogiovanni, 47), L Deacon (capt), B Kay (G Parling, 51), T Croft, L Moody, J Crane.
Ospreys: L Byrne (A Bishop, 51; S Parker, 76); N Walker, T Bowe, J Hook, S Williams; D Biggar, M Phillips; P James, H Bennett (R Hibbard, 62), C Griffiths, A Jones, J Thomas (I Gough, 62), J Collins ( F Tiatia, 55-56; 74), M Holah, R Jones (capt).
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).Reuse content