Monday, 14 January 2013

Hung, Drawn and Quarters?

The history books will have this one down as a draw but it was as good as a win given the circumstances.  No points and we'd have needed a bonus point victory over Toulouse to get a quarter final; one point and we'd have had to win whilst denying Toulouse a losing or try bonus point; the difference between 2 points and 4 points however is minimal, the only change is that now we can't allow Toulouse to gain both bonus points whilst missing out on 4 tries ourselves.  It would have been nice to rule that out too but the win wasn't worth risking the draw.

At the end of the game to many it didn't feel like a good result, the Tigers fans round the ground hardly celebrated the European dream staying alive and the players stood stock still neither in celebration nor despair.  That was probably because it was a draw from a winning position, in normal circumstances it would have felt like a loss.

In the first half Tigers attack was woeful, constipated in the extreme and riddled with errors.  Tigers squandered 4 attacking positions in the Ospreys 22 through knock ons, attacking penalties and being stripped of the ball.  It took until the 38th minute for Tigers to get on the scoreboard at all, Toby Flood slotting the penalty after Richard "my eyes" Hibbard was adjudged to have entered a ruck from the side.

By that stage Tigers were 10-0 down after Cornishman Joe Bearman had crossed for the first try and a penalty from the boot of Dan Biggar on the 4th attempt.  The usually reliable kicker had a duff day as Tigers were saved by one miss, one hitting the cross bar and one hitting the post all in the first half.  

The second half wasn't a huge amount better for the most part.  Tigers were all at sea for large parts as handling errors ruined the fluency of Tigers play, though it must be said the Ospreys defence was very good as well.  

Tigers began though to raise the tempo and lower the error rate.  Thomas Waldrom and Martin Castrogiovanni were added to the fray in the 55 and 60th minutes respectively and they made the desired impact, as did the forced changes of Matt Smith and Rob Hawkins for the injured Manu Tuilagi and Tom Youngs.  

In the 64th minute Biggar hit the post for the 3rd time and this was the queue for Tigers to attempt to up the ante.  It didn't work immediately as a rushed attempt at running the loose ball from our 22 ended up in yet another stripped ball but the tone was set.  

Steve Mafi then won a penalty for the Ospreys holding on in ruck and Tigers kicked to the edge of the Ospreys 22.  5 phases of two out carrying had gained about 8 meters and pulled the Ospreys left and right and completely apart.  Tait went round the outside to gain good meters before Ben Youngs found Toby Flood straightening the line and going through a massive hole.  He was caught half a meter short but after a Castro rumble Ben Youngs spotted the missing fringe defence and snuck over for the try to re-light Tigers ambitions.

Tigers were immediately on the attack again, only to be undone when Manu Tuilagi dropped the ball whilst injuring his leg.  It is not known how badly he injured himself as one report has him being seen in a protective "moon boot" whilst others have it as nothing more than a calf strain.

Try hero Joe Bearman turned villian next as he fumbled a 5 meter line out over his own line, luckily he got back to prevent the try there and then but Tigers now had a scrum on the opposition line.  Learning their lesson from two weeks ago, or perhaps respecting the Ospreys scrum more than a Premiership side's, they whipped the ball out after a decent but not try scoring shove to Anthony Allen who went with inches of the line.  Waldrom and Salvi both had cracks at the line to no avail but Salvi's was key.  It drew in the Ospreys defence leaving the winger young Eli Walker the only defender on the blindside.  When Mafi and Morris were both quickly back to their feet and in position he was distracted by the big Tongan and too close to the ruck to stop Niall Morris getting it at the corner.  This isn't to blame Walker as his team mates put him in a no win situation.  

Crucially Flood missed the conversion so only a 5 point margin.

The lead didn't last though.  Ben Youngs missed touch from a box kick within his own 22, Tigers compounded the error with a trademark terrible chase then again when Niall Morris, Ben Youngs and Adam Thompstone all missed good opportunities to bring down the electric (Elictric?) Walker who by now had run the ball back to with 15 meters of Tigers line and created a huge over lap.  Matt Smith made a good tackle to prevent the off load but neither he nor Tait nor Allen went in and killed the ball in the ruck or even slowed it down; the Ospreys had a 3 on 2 overlap with 15 meters of space and used every centimeter as Jonathan Spratt squeezed in at the corner.  If Allen or Smith had slowed possession at all Tait might have been that half a meter closer to Spratt and got him into touch.

But it wasn't over yet.  Dan Biggar had a kick to keep the Ospreys hopes, however faint, of a quarter final alive.  It was from the touchline but so was his kick to win the RaboDirect Pro 12 Final and he got that.  But today was not his day as he hit the post for a scarcely believable 4th time, this time only glancing blow on the outside.

Tigers played out the last 3 minutes coolly, Toby Flood putting in a O'Gara-esque kick into touch at one stage with a wicked but deliberate bounce.  Ben Youngs broke looking still for the win but as the ball was slow to come from the ruck referee John Lacey called an unplayable ball and full time.  Oddly the only unplayable ruck in the whole game, funny how that often happens on the last play in a tight game isn't it?

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