Ospreys 15 Leicester 17: Tempers fray as late Hipkiss try rescues Tigers' European hopes

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The Independent Online

The Liberty Stadium? Too right. So many liberties were taken on the outskirts of Swansea yesterday - many of them by Leicester, but by no means all - that Amnesty International itself might have considered it over the top. The Midlanders secured four precious Heineken Cup points with the last act of the match, having made little impact and no friends on their first visit to the Ospreys' marvellous new home. Whether we have heard the last word on the subject is another matter entirely. Citings may follow, possibly by the dozen.

Alex Moreno, the Leicester prop, was nobody's idea of an oil painting before the match. By the time it finished, he resembled an apprentice work by Picasso. Accused of stamping on Gavin Henson, no less, during the first meeting with the Celtic League champions seven days previously, he became involved with the same opponent in the early stages of this one and finished a distant second, his face a bright shade of crimson. Harry Ellis, meanwhile, suffered what Leicester fear may be a serious knee injury after an entanglement with the Ospreys pack. The hosts were not there to be pushed around.

For their part, the visitors contributed handsomely to business in the sin bin, losing both Ollie Smith and Louis Deacon to 10 minutes of penance. Deacon, who had been on the field less than two minutes before he was ordered back off it, might easily have received a red card three minutes from the end of normal time after clambering all over Jason Spice at one of the many red-mist rucks that defined this ill-tempered contest. He was spared only because the referee, Alain Rolland, had shown considerable leniency when Spice committed a similar misdemeanour in the opening exchanges.

Under the fraught circumstances, it was no surprise that things kicked off on the touchline, as well as on the field of play. When Mr Rolland ran down the curtain as Andy Goode's simple match-winning conversion sailed through the sticks, there was a nice little cabaret in the so-called "technical area" featuring Richard Cockerill, the former England hooker, and selected members of the Ospreys management.

Cockerill, in his first season as Leicester's senior forwards coach, used to be able to start a fight in an empty room. It seems he still enjoys an argument.

Lyn Jones, the Ospreys coach, accused Cockerill of celebrating victory with some ripe language, aimed in the direction of the defeated. "How you react under pressure is the measure of a man," Jones remarked. "To turn round and abuse everyone is incorrect, in my view."

Pat Howard, the Leicester director of rugby, was more evasive. "There was a lot of tension down there and Richard is an aggressive character, but I'll let this one go through to the keeper if you don't mind," he said. As Howard also declined to discuss the incidents involving Moreno and Ellis, it is reasonable to suggest that he played out a maiden over.

By taking nine points from their two games with Clermont Auvergne, the Parisians of Stade Français had pushed Leicester into a corner in this season's pool of not-feeling-terribly-well. By the hour mark here, the Tigers had one foot in the coffin. Barry Williams's close-range try had dignified a first half so wretchedly ugly that had it been watched by a Peeping Tom, he would have asked both sides to draw the curtains.

Eight minutes after the interval, Shaun Connor tapped a penalty to himself and scored unchallenged in the left corner to establish a 12-point advantage. Leicester then found themselves pinned on their own line with Smith and Deacon off the field.

Enter Graham Rowntree, back between the shafts for the first time in a couple of months. The last remaining third of Leicester's front-row ABC club understands what it takes to scrummage for dear life against superior numbers - he did it against the All Blacks in Wellington in 2003 and lived to tell the tale - and it was his know-how that opened up an escape route on this occasion. Leicester turned over the Ospreys just when a penalty try looked likely - "I reckon we were about two seconds off it," groaned Jones - and within a minute they were back up the other end, celebrating a try in the right corner by Leon Lloyd. Goode added the extras from the touchline, thereby transforming a possible 19-point deficit into an actual one of five.

Even then, the Ospreys looked the more likely winners. But Henson missed a long-range penalty from centre-field, had a drop-goal attempt charged down and went wide with a similar effort a couple of minutes later. Suddenly, the nerve-endings were exposed for all to see. When Goode aimed a cross-kick in the general direction of Tom Varndell, the new England wing took full advantage of Stefan Terblanche's fumble to make ground up the left. By the time the ball was switched right and then back again, the Ospreys were too stretched to prevent Danny Hipkiss running in behind the sticks.

Cue unbridled joy on the paddock and some heated conversation in and around the tunnel. It was not a particularly alluring afternoon's rugby, but if Leicester make it into the knock-out stage - and victory over Stade at Welford Road next month will give them every chance - they will reflect on it as a thing of beauty.

Ospreys: Tries Williams, Connor; Conversion Connor; Penalty Connor. Leicester: Tries Lloyd, Hipkiss; Conversions Goode 2; Penalty Goode.

Ospreys: A Cashmore; S Terblanche, S Parker, G Henson, R Mustoe; S Connor (A Bishop, 71), J Spice; D Jones, B Williams (capt), A Jones, A Newman, I Evans (L Bateman, 79), J Bater, S Tandy, J Thomas.

Leicester: G Murphy (S Vesty, 74); L Lloyd, O Smith, M Cornwell (D Hipkiss, 47), T Varndell; A Goode, H Ellis (A Healey, 34); D Morris (G Rowntree, 49), G Chuter, A Moreno (Rowntree, 18-32 & 35-40), L Cullen, B Kay (L Deacon, 53), B Deacon (L Abraham, 66), S Jennings, M Corry (capt).

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

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