A young and inexperienced Tigers side roared out of their recent slump in form with a revitalising 39-16 win. The 4 try bonus point was only secured on the last play but a dominant second half saw Tigers retain almost 80% of possession and the Ospreys defence wilt under the constant pressure. It was reminiscent of a Tigers game from the early 2000s as a game opposition kept it close for an hour before the Tigers inexorably pulled away.
Richard Cockerill had picked a balanced side with experienced players down the spine of loosehead prop, number 8, scrum half and full back given the structure and support for the young players around them to fulfill their potential.
The Ospreys meanwhile were slightly younger, an average age of 23 compared to 24 of Leicester, which will have an affect at this level. Boasting Junior World Player of the Year Sam Davies in their ranks they were a side, though, which would take some beating.
Leicester started well with strong breaks by young centre pair Javiah Pohe and George Catchpole to set up a position in the 22, a few phases later and the Ospreys infringed to give Owen Williams the first 3 points of the match. Almost straightaway the Welsh side were caught for their backs not being 10 meters behind the lineout and Williams had a 40 meter effort to make it 6-0 after 7 minutes.
The confidence was flooding into Williams now has he spotted the Ospreys defence of a 22 drop out asleep and went with a quick grubber to Michael Noone. The former Ospreys age group player made it 9-0 after an eye catching break by Sebastian De Chaves the Portuguese-English-South African.
A poor box kick from Sam Harrison and lazy retreating from the Tigers pack gave the Ospreys their first points. The kick off was out on the full but the Ospreys took the quick lineout, rather than waiting for the scrum, and were rewarded with a lineout on our 22. They had kicked through and Williams had scrambled back to prevent any try threat.
They made it 9-6 after a glass jaw moment from their tighthead Joe Rees. Boris Stankovich barely touched him and collapsed like a house of cards. It was late so fair enough a penalty I suppose; but on watching the game back on Sky Scott "SQ" Quinnell and Johnny "Taffy lover" Hammond were calling for a red card! If all they want are passionate one eyed idiots to commentate on the games then I am available.
Ospreys had a chance to level the scores on 23 minutes; but even after stealing a yard and a half wunderkind Sam Davies could only strike the bar. Clearly goal kicking is not high on the IRB's priorities for World Player of Year after watching George Ford for 3 years.
But 4 minutes later it was Tigers who scored the game's first try through Thomas "the tank" Waldrom. A smashed tackle from the Javiah Pohe on halfway got Tigers onto the front foot. Williams on the half break feed Sam Harrison who took it up to the 22, good awareness from Harry Thacker saw him step into the scrum half position to keep the tempo up. It was then 3 phases before Harrison found Waldrom on the tightline cutting back towards the ruck, the kiwi broke the first up tackle and powered through full back Ross Jones attempted tackle to claim the score making it 14-6.
A fairly harsh penalty on Irishman Michael Noone for failing to release the tackled player gave SAm Davies the easy 3 points to drag it back to 14-9 at half time.
Tigers were straight back onto the attack after half time. The possession was lost though and it took a cheeky break by Jamie Gibson through the middle of the maul to get us back into the Ospreys half. Thacker made the meters after Gibson's show and go at the front of the lineout bamboozled the Welsh defenders. More strong and straight running from Pohe, curing us of our drifting problem so evident against Wasps, took the play to the 10m line where the Ospreys again offended. Poor officating from Rose saw Sam Harrison's quick tap pulled back but Williams slotted the goal for a 17-9 lead.
At this point the Ospreys just could retain the ball and Tigers attacks crashed down on them wave after wave. Williams missed one penalty, after the Tigers' lineout jumpers were taken in the air, but made no mistake 3 minutes later. From the 22 clearout of the last miss Tigers scorched through the middle. Scott Hamilton made initial break, arcing away from the defence, he then turned the ball inside to Gibson who opened his legs and rushed through to 22. Ospreys defended stoutly to prevent a try but the penalty was inevitable and converted by Williams for 20-9.
It took 10 minutes for the next try to come but Tigers had an almost complete monopoly of possession and territory. A midfield penalty was struck to the corner and when the Ospreys infringed again we got to 5m out. The lineout was driven but not quite over so it was up to Sam Harrison to catch the tiring defence out and sneak over under the posts for the 2nd try, celebrating with his version of Bebeto's famous rocking the baby celebration. There was 19 minutes left for Tigers to secure the bonus point.
Unfortunately Harrison's game was ended shortly afterwards by a tackle from Hanno Dirksen the American winger. Dispite the similarities to Stankovich's in the first half I couldn't hear "SQ" calling for Dirksen to receive a red card, only yellow this time. Clearly "SQ" has never quite got over Nottingham all those years ago.
Tigers didn't let that stop them though as the impressive Harry Wells dug, fought and burrowed his way under a pile of Ospreylian defenders to, just about, ground the ball. It took the video ref 4 minutes to decide if it was a try or not. Now I know we benefited from it this time but what view did he see after the first 60 seconds that was different? Why does he have to take so long? There are no clear views so you're going to have to make an educated guess either way. Just make it and carry on. For the fans at the ground, even with a one off video screen for this match, these delays are incredibly boring.
Either way it was almost all one way traffic now. Sam Williams did grab a consolation for the visitors after pilfering the ball from the side of a maul then charging 40 meters for the try. Mele's lack of reaction was not his best moment but in the grand scheme of things better to let them score a quick try than defend for 5 minutes and lose the chance at a 4th try for ourselves.
With the bench now cleared Tigers were hunting the bonus point try. A series of driving mauls resulted in the try scorer Sam Williams seeing yellow and Tigers kicking to the corner with only 55 seconds remaining. Before Sam Williams could even reach the bench though Tigers had scored as the power came through and Michael Noone could sheer off the side of the maul and dot down for his 3rd try in 4 games.
Harry Thacker was the offical Man of the Match and it is difficult to argue against that selection. The hooker was the smallest player on the pitch but thanks to his aggression into contact he rarely, if ever, went backwards and often could scrambled forward for extra yards.
This match was a long way from the physicality of a Premiership match though so expectations should not get too high too soon. He is unlikely to play a Premiership match this season, and rightly so as he develops physically for the rigours of the Premiership on the neck and shoulders.
Others to impress were Jamie Gibson, seemingly more comfortable in the 7 shirt than any other; Javiah Pohe is a solidly built young man, the Cornish-Kiwi could certainly stand up to the strength of the Premiership and his ability to straighten the line and attract defenders is invaluable. He takes some stopping at any level. Owen Williams was 7/10 with the boot and I would say the same mark for his game over all. We saw glimpses of his potential but fly half is such a confidence position that requires regular game time it will be difficult to see more of it once Flood is back from England.
Hopefully the same side will play against Worcester and continue to impress and hopefully this will instil some more confidence into Cockerill to blood one or two of these youngsters into the full blooded games more often.