A crazy final 10 minutes meant Tigers ended this game with 5 points instead of the 1 or 2 they were looking at on 70. Manu Tuilagi's second score, diving over from a ruck inches out, secured what could turn out to be a precious point when the final reckoning comes. The game finished 39-22 but Ospreys were more than a match for the Tigers for long stretches and only fell behind for the first time well into the second half.
Dan Biggar had a virtuoso kicking display but his moment of madness led to the decisive act of the game. On 70 minutes and with the score 22-19 Ospreys were attacking on the half way line, playing towards the Welford Road; the play was sweeping towards the CAT stand from the Crumbie. Biggar threw an ambitious pass aimed at Cornishman Joe Bearman (what a name!). But Flood had read him like a book, or these days a blog, and timed his run perfectly picking Bearman's pocket. He showed real gas as he raced away from the despairing Ospreys lunges to finishes with an Ashton-style splashdown.
This was the cue for carnage.
Ospreys' feathers were ruffled. Rhys Webb was caught at the break down and Tom "Tank" Waldrom fly hacked through. The ball was bouncing loose, two Ospreys were covering it. But rugby balls are funny buggers. Bounce this way and that. This one went that. Matt Smith was on hand to collect the ball from Beck's clutches and freed Steve Mafi looping round towards the Crumbie touchline. He beats one. Then another. There's a third one coming to force him into touch; this will be a pretty handy place to put some pressure on their lineout we're thinking. But they don't call him the Tongan Octopus for nothing, his arms were all over the place, the ball going this way and that. It ended up in Ben Youngs grasp. As he wheels away towards the try line Scott Hamilton is running towards Flood "One more for the bonus point, take a quick conversion" he's saying (lip reading can be awful useful). Great banter Scotty, Woodward would have called this T-CUP, so he would.
Tigers worked themselves back in Ospreys territory with a strong maul and a fast move down the line. Ben Youngs weaved in and out of the line drawing in the defence like bees to honey before realeasing his backline. The move
Wave after wave of Tigers pressure bore down upon the Ospreys, first Youngs and Flood toyed with the Ospreys defence to free Mafi on the wing. It came to nothing. But the waves crashed down again and again. Waldrom, then Crane, then Youngs and Flood as puppet masters again. They pulled the Welshmen one way then the other. Allen sees the space on the outside, he throws a beauty to the on rushing Tuilagi. Some people will have you believe Manu can't pass, I hope they were watching. An unbelievably flair back of the hand spin pass found that man Steve Mafi, the Tongan Octopus, on the wing. Never mind on octopus we was the Tongan Harry Houdini as he escaped the cluthes of 4 Ospreys to step inside and set up the ruck inches out. Then Manu pounced and 4 points became 5.
It had all started out so differently. Ospreys kicked off and Tigers cleared limply. Ospreys retained possession and released American-South African-Cornish-Welsh winger Hanno Dirksen down the right flank and within millimetres of the line. Ryan Jones, from a questionable position in the ruck, picked up and drove over despite the attentions of Dan Cole. Fussel made a break to put them back in the 22 just 3 minutes later but the move fizzled out with a knock on. The Ospreys were taking flight.
They made it 10 nil after a midfield scrum collapsed on 11 minutes. It was the dream start as Bevington was judged to have forced Cole down but the real damage was done by Lion Adam Jones. Biggar was easily long enough from within his own half. Then again the kickers had no excuse as the length of the Welford Road pitch has been forensically examined these past two weeks.
Things were looking bleak but a terrific series of bursts raised the spirits. Manu Tuilagi was launched into the Ospreys like an exocet, further carriers by Kitchener then Manu, again, gained more ground before Allen was released down the right slaloming between the tacklers like Ivica Kostelic. The move was halted by the sloppy ball retention of Mulipola. So close.
It was the 27th minute before Tigers even got on the board. It was coming in some form their had been breaks by Ben Youngs and Goneva before. In the 25th minute a scrum penalty was kicked for touch, Tom Youngs throw was not straight. Nightmare, we've just turn our noses up at 3 points! What are we doing? Well they had some idea after all. Dan Cole gained his revenge and Tom Youngs's over throw was clearly a moment of tactical genius.
The first try was the work of a master craftsman. Tom Youngs hugely powerful burst gets us on the front foot. With that foot more space Flood is devastating. This time he finds Goneva coming on his inside like a steam train, he's through the gap and all the momentum is with us. Goneva is tackled by the full back but turns and finds Ben Youngs tracking on the inside. A quick basketball style pass from Youngs finds Allen who pops through the remaining two tacklers to present Manu Tuilagi with a easy walk in. Resplendent in their Black and Carbon tops this was trading of the finest passes.
Before half time Tigers scrum milked a yellow card but that was probably the high point for the scrum. Unable to do anything around the half time interval Tiger actually finished the 10 minutes 3 points down as the 7 man Welsh pack, pride dented, surged forward after an accidental offside between Goneva and Waldrom and Biggar stepped forward to boot the goal.
Tigers finally took the lead in the 49th minute. A midfield off side gave Flood the chance to level, a trademark break from Ben Youngs is then wasted as Youngs (after making 55m on the break) throws a wild miracle pass to no one. The penalty comes from an Ospreys scrum after Adam Jones leaves the field and Flood makes the kick look easy. We're probably watching the two best kickers in the British Isles this afternoon.
Flood extended the lead 2 minutes later. A soft penalty on the TIgers 10 metre line was made much much worse as Richard "my eyes" Hibbard's petulant throwing away of the ball gifted Flood a further 10 metres, pushing it into his kicking range.
Biggar brought Ospreys back into it after three soft penalties marched Tigers back from the Ospreys own goal line. The first was a marginal high tackle from Steve Mafi, one of his 8 arms having wrapped around Khan Fotuali'i's neck, the next a nothing scrum offence and the third penalty a weak offside from Goneva. He was off side but pulled out before it affected anything. You've seem them let go but it was probably a fair call. In the end it didn't matter of course. Biggar drew the Swansea side level on 60 minutes after Marcos Ayerza's second scrum penalty from two engagements. You could almost see the rust being shook off.
Just 6 minutes later Flood gave the Tigers their lead which they were never to lose. The kick was well into Tigers territory and even on Welford Road's infamously short pitch it was still something 55m.
Then the madness. Then the carnage. Then the bonus point.
This win was built on the solid uncompromising forward effort most typified by Tom Youngs and Dan Cole. Impetus from the contact area garnered the first and last tries and several of the penalties. It was old school Tigers rugby with Dan Cole cast as Dean Richards and Ben Youngs the reincarnation of Austin Healy, I know no higher praise to give. It was a classic example of that old maxim: The forwards win matches and the backs decide by how much. And our backs decided it was going to be very much.