Tigers strongarm Ospreys, Toulouse break Bath hearts
Leicester outmuscled the Ospreys 12-6 in the European Cup on Sunday while Toulouse edged a nail-biting 18-16 win over Bath, David Skrela hitting the winning penalty two minutes into injury time.
In the day’s third match, Wasps beat Castres 25-11.
Leicester, European champions in 2001 and 2002, produced a dominant first-half display, with their forwards laying the foundation for victory.
In a game bursting with internationals and bristling with the intensity of a closely-fought Test match in which chances were far and few between, the Ospreys were subjected to a blistering start by the home side.
“That was one of the hardest fixtures we have had this season. Having the Ospreys at home was a massive help,” said Leicester flanker Tom Croft.
“We are all delighted with the win. Heineken Cup games are similar to internationals – they are faster and more intense than normal club matches.”
Ill-discipline cost the Welsh region dear, Leicester outside-half Toby Flood booting three penalties in the first 22 minutes, a period in which Ryan Jones’ team were rarely allowed to venture out of their own half.
Leicester spurned two great chances to score early on, Lee Byrne tap tackling Matt Smith with the line at his mercy.
And when Johne Murphy sliced throught the defensive line between fly-half James Hook and inside centre Andrew Bishop – usually so tightly marshalled by Gavin Henson, who was dropped for this match for ill-discipline – it looked as if Leicester were in. But Murphy’s final pass spiralled straight into touch.
Shane Williams cut the deficit back with an opportunistic drop-goal for the Ospreys just on the stroke of half-time.
The Welsh started the second-half with more drive than they had shown in the first period, when they had struggled with Leicester’s superior physicality and the surging support play of their forwards, notably man-of-the-match Croft.
Hook cut back the lead with another penalty but with seven minutes remaining and the Ospreys, buoyed by replacement No 8 Filo Tiatia, beginning to find some holes in the English defence, the outside-half missed a second effort.
Ospreys centre Tommy Bowe went close after chasing his own kick ahead a fully 50 metres but Geordan Murphy did well to get back and force his Irish compatriot into knocking on.
Ospreys coach Sean Holley described the defeat as “a smash and grab raid gone missing”.
“We let a real chance go begging in the end, but I’m still very proud of the players,” said Holley. “But we have the consolation of a losing bonus point and we are still right in this Pool and fighting.”
There was heartbreak for Bath in Toulouse, where France outside-half David Skrela kicked a magnificent injury-time touchline penalty, his sixth of the game, to seal victory.
Just minutes earlier, Bath full-back Nick Abendanon had burst through three tackles to touch down for what looked like a winning score for the English club.
But Butch James missed the conversion, leaving the score at 16-15, and the three-time former European champions used all their nous to battle back and win the decisive penalty call when James was caught offside at a tackle.
“We’re all absolutely gutted,” said Abendanon. “We slipped at the last hurdle. Our mistakes cost us the game.
“We didn’t really deserve to lose,” he added. “But we know we can be number one in our group.”
Toulouse’s former All Black scrum-half Byron Kelleher added: “We’re not happy with our performance, but we’ve got plenty of time left in the competition to go away and improve on it.
“It was a difficult match,” he said. “They stuck to their guns, and made it difficult for us.”
In a Pool 2 showdown, Wasps built up a 20-3 lead at half-time over Castres thanks to tries from Paul Sackey and Tom Voyce, both converted by Danny Cipriani, who also hit two penalties.
Josh Lewsey scored a third try for the English club while France captain Lionel Nallet replied with one of his own, Cameron McIntyre hitting two penalties.© AFP 2013
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