Leicester 6 Ospreys 23: Holah and Co say goodbye to Tigers
Ospreys back row far too good as regional side make up for European failure with impressive Anglo-Welsh triumph
Sunday 13 April 2008
Send for the psychologists. Last week the Ospreys were as flat as a beer mat in losing to Saracens in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup; yesterday they dominated an out of sorts Leicester to become the first Welsh side to win the EDF Energy Cup. As well as the Ospreys played, the Tigers appeared to have been hit by a poison dart.
Such is the nature of the modern game that few coaches can confidently expect to reach pensionable age with job intact and the coaches here had been under scrutiny. Lyn Jones of the Ospreys said they were "devastated" by last week's failure in Watford but that when he arrived at Twickenham he was absolutely confident of avictory that would reverse the result of last year's final.
Ryan Jones, the captain who also led Wales to the Grand Slam, said: "We're proud to have turned it around and put ourselves on the map. It was just reward for the fantastic hard work we've put in." His opposite number, Martin Corry, said his team had "under-performed". "We couldn't get into the game," he added. "We just didn't function."
Without detracting from an excellent Ospreys' display, the question to be asked is why Leicester did not perform, and the asking will increase the pressure on their Argentinian coach, Marcelo Loffreda. The Tigers made a premature exit from the Heineken Cup and unless they make the Premiership play-offs the cupboard at Welford Road will be bare. That is not something they will be prepared to tolerate.
Leicester looked in good form in the opening quarter and Andy Goode, as is so often the case, took centre stage. The fly-half had his first shot at goal in the third minute – a very ambitious attempt from his own half which predictably fell short. He had an easier attempt two minutes later which he duly landed but he then failed with another kick at goal before slotting a drop goal which gave the Tigers a 6-0 lead after 15 minutes. So far so good,but the swingometer turned dramatically.
The Ospreys back row of captain Jones, Marty Holah and Filo Tiatia began to outplay their opponents and that gave their side the momentum. It was a run by James Hook that changed the pattern of the match, Goode finding it difficult to keep tabs on him. In the 22nd minute the Ospreys took the lead – few thought they would keep it for the duration and fewer still that Leicester would be restricted to six points – and it was the manner of the try that was startling.
Andrew Bishop, playing at centre in place of the injured Gavin Henson, went over for a score that told the Ospreys they were not up against a vintage Leicester. Far from it. Bishop took an inside pass, beat Goode and then eluded another three defenders before slithering over the line. It told its own story.
In the second half the Tigers were virtually played out of Twickenham. After 47 minutes the Ospreys full-back Lee Byrne, outstanding throughout, brea-ched a half-hearted defence and Alun Wyn-Jones picked up the torch to crash over, resisting Louis Deacon as he did so.
Hook, who missed a couple of penalties in the first half, hit his range and accuracy in the second, landing a hat-trick of penalties as the Ospreys drew clear with what looked like alarming ease. The margin should have been bigger, especially when Shane Williams was strutting his stuff.
All the creative rugby came from the Welsh region and the closest Leicester came to a try was from a series of drives close to the line. It was predictable and boring and the Ospreys defence had the situation in hand.
There again, perhaps the Tigers forwards had no confidence in the backs. It was easy to see why. Tom Varndell, who played a significant role in last year's cup triumph here, was on the bench. Not so long ago Aaron Mauger was an outstanding All Blacks centre. Yesterday he looked lost, but he was in good company. Loffreda is said to be close to signing the Argentinian star Juan Martin Hernandez, one of the players who helped the Pumas to the semi-finals of the World Cup. Loffreda was the coach in France and his exploits enhanced his reputation. Six months is an extremely long time in professional rugby.
Leicester: J Murphy; O Smith, D Hipkiss, A Mauger, A Tuilagi (T Varndell, 76); A Goode, H Ellis; B Stankovich (J White, 51), G Chuter (B Kayser, 74), M Castrogiovanni, L Deacon, B Kay, M Corry (capt), J Crane, B Herring (T Croft, 57).
Ospreys: L Byrne; J Vaughton (A Brew, 76), S Parker, A Bishop (J Spratt, 75), S Williams; J Hook, J Marshall; P James (D Jones, 71), R Hibbard (H Bennett, 66), A Jones, A-W Jones, I Evans (I Gough, 69), R Jones (capt), F Tiatia (J Thomas, 69), M Holah.
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).
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