Now White is in the dock as Ospreys make gouging claim

Ospreys 15 Leicester 9: Tigers scrape through as desperate battle for points ends with accusations against Stevens' replacement
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Julian White, the Leicester prop who has been promoted to the England squad in place of the disgraced Matt Stevens, could face a ban of his own after being accused last night of gouging. After a torrid match, a furious Ospreys management claimed that a number of their players, most notably the hooker Richard Hibbard, had had their eyes gouged.

They intend to refer White to the citing officer Denis Templeton, of Ireland. "A couple of our players have marks around their eyes and are very upset at what happened," Jonathan Humphreys, the Ospreys' forwards coach, said. "There were similar incidents when we played them at Welford Road and it's particularly disappointing that it's the same guy who's involved."

Richard Cockerill, the Leicester coach, said he was unaware of any such incidents.

The Ospreys won the battle which this final match in Pool Three of the Heineken Cup became, but the war may yet be beyond them. At the death it was Leicester who raised their arms, not in triumph but in the knowledge that they had finished top of the group. That may not earn them a home quarter-final, but the Ospreys would happily swap positions.

The galacticos of South Wales achieved their core mission, which was to win the game, but the Tigers' magnificent defence, allied to some cynical fouls, helped them secure a precious bonus point.

The six pool winners qualify for the knockout stage; the Ospreys are hoping to secure one of the two best runners-up spots but they have to sweat on a couple of matches in other pools today, those involving Wasps, who play Castres in France, and Bath, who host Toulouse.

"We have mixed emotions," Ryan Jones, the Ospreys captain, said. "The disappointing thing is we've only got 20 points in the pool and we don't know whether that will be enough. It was fierce out there and Leicester did the job they wanted."

The Ospreys deserved their win – by five penalties from James Hook to three by Derick Hougaard – but they needed a try. The man of the match award went to Geordan Murphy, which was like a sick joke. The talented Irish full-back spent the whole night kicking the ball into the sky.

Neither team was at full strength. For the Ospreys, it was not Byrne's night. Their star full-back, Lee, failed a late fitness test. That meant a major reshuffle. Gavin Henson moved from centre to full-back and Tommy Bowe from wing to centre, with Jonny Vaughton taking Bowe's place. Leicester were missing Lewis Moody after the England openside, only recently back from a major shoulder injury, fractured an ankle in training. His place went to Ben Woods, while at stand-off the Tigers preferred the South African Hougaard to Toby Flood, who moved to inside centre.

The battle for possession wasalmost volcanic and the Tigers conceded a couple of early penalties, which were converted by Hook. The Ospreys stand-off gave his side the lead after six minutes from long range, close to the left touchline, and he produced a repeat three minutes later.

The 6-0 lead was deserved, but then Leicester began to play. They got their reward when, in the 14th minute, they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. Hougaard made it 6-3.

The former Springbok failed with another penalty attempt and a shot at a drop goal and in between Henson banged up long and high balls to the Tigers' back three, who simply returned the compliment.

The fight for the ball was as intense as ever but it was what to do with it that was less clear. When the Ospreys finally broke from their own half they put together a menacing attack. Their scrum-half, Mike Phillips, broke down the centre and Shane Williams made mayhem down the right wing. At a ruck, Flood hacked the ball away. He saw a yellow card but Hook missed with the resultant penalty attempt.

Leicester managed not to concede a score in Flood's absence, although it took another last-ditch foul, this time by Murphy, with an obstruction on Williams, to keep their line intact. Hook opted to kick that penalty to touch and although the Ospreys laid siege to the Tigers' line they failed to breach it.

There was no lack of ambition in the Ospreys in the second half, but they found it difficult to unlock the Leicester defence. Hook kicked a penalty which increased the lead to 9-3 and the fly-half then produced the break of the match, wrong-footing the Tigers with a couple of dummies. Leicester, however, defended their line and regained possession. It looked like something out of the Alamo.

When the Ospreys produced a clever move from a line-out which saw Phillips release Williams down the left from 30 yards out, the referee, Christophe Berdos, ruled, not for the first time, that a perfectly good pass had gone forward. It was an obsession of his – he missed much else.

There was, of course, no lack of penalties and Hook and Hougaard kept teeing them up. After the captains had been lectured, following another heated debate between the packs, Hougaard stepped up to kick his second penalty and once again the home side's lead was down to three.

Hook responded in kind; the South African then kicked his third penalty before the Welshman got his fifth. Leicester, though, got what they came for. They secured a bonus point for losing by less than seven points and at the end they reacted as if they had won the match.

Ospreys: G Henson; J Vaughton, T Bowe, A Bishop, S Williams; J Hook, M Phillips (J Nutbrown, 72); P James, R Hibbard (H Bennett, 68), A Jones, I Gough, A-W Jones, R Jones (capt), F Tiatia (T Smith, 73), M Holah.

Leicester: G Murphy; S Hamilton, S Rabeni, T Flood, M Smith (J Murphy, 53); D Hougaard, J Dupuy; B Stankovich, B Kayser (G Chuter, 75), J White (M Castrogiovanni, 63), M Corry (capt), M Wentzel (B Kay, 63), T Croft, J Crane, B Woods.

Referee: C Berdos (France).

Comments