Late try earns Ospreys Heineken Cup draw with Leicester
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The Ospreys were the last hope for the regions this season after the car-crash campaigns of both the Scarlets and the Blues.
But Steve Tandy's side couldn't preserve Welsh interest as they just failed to overcome the twice European champions.
It's hard to be overly critical.
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They finished with youngsters all over the pitch, with two locks under the age of 22 and two openside flankers in the back row. They lacked experience in the backline, too, forced to start with a young scrum-half on the wing.
That's Welsh rugby for you in 2013.
Able to supply Grand Slam winners last season, the game here again finds itself unable to get one of its sides into the last eight in the Heineken Cup.
It says everything about the lamentably skewed nature of rugby in these parts, with its exaggerated focus on the national team.
But that is an argument for another day.
In defeat the Ospreys showed huge character.
They lost Richard Hibbard and Ryan Jones to injury and saw the replacement Tom Habberfield leave the field with a bump as well.
They were hanging on in the final minutes, trailing 15-10, but they somehow gave themselves a shot at victory when Jonathan Spratt crossed with five minutes left.
But Dan Biggar couldn't land the conversion from the touchline.
It wasn't the fly-half's day.
He missed five kicks all told, three of them striking the woodwork and the other two inches away from being successful. Some days your luck is in. Yesterday wasn't one of them for the Wales international.
No-one will blame him.
He has won the Ospreys countless games in the past with his accuracy in front of goal.
All he needed yesterday was Lady Luck to throw him a smile. Unfortunately it didn't happen.
Nor did the scrum contest. It was tight and pretty inconclusive, a penalty here and a penalty there, nothing to generate banner headlines.
The hosts were not short of impressive performers, Kahn Fotuali'i, Justin Tipuric, Hibbard and Ryan Bevington among them.
Fotuali'i was again outstanding, a constant source of hope and invention for Ospreys supporters. He is out of the Shane Williams mould, a player who writes his own scripts, and he came close to inspiring the Ospreys to a famous victory.
But it didn't happen.
Ultimately, when your squad is small and already hit by injuries, there are only so many more blows you can take.
Defiance almost beat Leicester yesterday.
But they are a tough-minded lot themselves and they were able to secure a draw that keeps alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
The weekend had not been a good one for Welsh rugby, with the Dragons cruelly beaten in Bayonne, the Blues lacerated in Toulon and the Scarlets badly defeated by Leinster in Dublin.
No-one was in the least surprised by those results. Maybe the odd eyebrow would have been raised by the Blues scoring four tries at the Stade Felix Mayol, but the seven they conceded kind of put a lid on any Welsh celebrations on the Cote d'Azur.
So it was left to the Ospreys to see if they could keep the regions' hopes alive heading into the final round of pool matches.
Their problem was robed in green, white and red in front of them yesterday, with English rugby's most obdurate club providing the opposition at the Liberty Stadium. If rugby were an academic subject taught in schools, you'd imagine lesson one on the first morning of term would be that Leicester are a difficult team to beat.
But a side with talented players and a sound game-plan will have a chance against anyone.
That's what Steve Tandy would have told his players, anyway.
The Ospreys had said all the right things during the build-up. The question was whether they could back up their quiet confidence with deeds.
Welcoming Justin Tipuric and Andrew Bishop back into the side after injuries, they were once again attempting to bridge the gap between rugby's moneyed and, well, those who, in comparative terms, are not overly flush.
There was a late change when Ross Jones twisted his ankle during the warm-up and was forced to pull out. Habberfield, normally a scrum-half, came in on the right wing.
But the Ospreys put the disruption behind them to make a strong start that saw them force Leicester into giving Biggar three testing penalty opportunities in the first 18 minutes.
Unfortunately for the hosts, the gods were on Leicester's side in the early stages, with two of the kicks bouncing clear after hitting the woodwork and the other one flying narrowly wide.
Other than that the signs were encouraging for the Ospreys.
Fotuali'i blazed around the pitch, encouraging his forwards and bringing into play his backs; Tipuric was so ubiquitous it seemed impossible to believe there was only one of him on the pitch; Hibbard devoured ground when he had ball in hand; Bevington displayed the dynamism that the Ospreys coaches privately believe could make him a 50-cap international.
The first home try had its roots in a woeful kick out of defence from wing Niall Morris.
Fotuali'i caught it while sprinting and ripped open a huge hole in the Leicester defence before finding Tipuric in support, Bevington supplying the link for Joe Bearman to carve his way through the cover.
With Biggar adding a conversion to a penalty he nailed earlier, the Ospreys led 10-0 after 33 minutes, a lead that was reduced by three points before the break when Toby Flood slotted a penalty.
But the Ospreys were bedevilled by injuries, the story of their season, and when Jones and Hibbard went off the pendulum started to swing the other way.
The hosts were on the ropes and Leicester delivered a vicious blow to the solar plexus on 68 minutes when Ben Youngs made his way across from close range, Flood kicking the conversion.
And there was another setback soon after when Morris dived over from short range, leaving the Ospreys 15-10 adrift.
Enter Eli Walker, the wing screeching clear on a crossfield 50-metre break that stretched Leicester to snapping point, the ball being worked wide, where Spratt was able to dive in at the flag.
It all boiled down to another tough kick for Biggar, tight on the touchline.
The fly-half connected nicely but the ball drifted inches wide. And with it went Welsh hopes in Europe for another season.