Ospreys coach Steve Tandy compares 'destructive' Justin Tipuric to former star Marty Holah
THERE were eight seconds left on the Liberty Stadium clock on Boxing Day and a consolation try for the battered Scarlets seemed certain.
They were 32-3 adrift against the Ospreys and reduced to 13 men after having Rob McCusker and Gareth Owen sent off, but they launched a final raid down the left wing that seemed certain to yield a try.
The ball came to Gareth Maule barely ten metres out and the line beckoned.
The home players could have been forgiven for giving their neighbours a score after pounding them for much of the previous 80 minutes.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
But Justin Tipuric was having none of it.
Watch the replay if you can and witness the openside arriving on the scene like a missile, landing a direct hit on Maule and forcing him into touch.
That's the kind of thing that separates the best from the rest. Tipuric knew a Scarlets score was pretty much incidental in the greater scheme of things, but he is a gun-to-tape player who doesn't believe in finishing work early. Eight seconds is eight seconds: you play to the whistle and never, ever get in the habit of allowing the opposition an easy try.
The Ospreys have outstanding cover for Tipuric if he fails to make it for the Heineken Cup encounter with Leicester on Sunday because of a shoulder injury.
Sam Lewis is a formidable defender, almost a smaller version of Dan Lydiate with his tenacity and relentless ability to cut down opposition attacks. Against the Dragons on New Year's Eve he put in 21 tackles.
So if he plays against Leicester the Ospreys will lose nothing in defence.
But where Tipuric is different from close on every other openside is that his game is so multi-faceted. He tackles, he achieves turnovers, he supports, he makes breaks — he even dummies and puts boot to ball if the situation demands.
He gives every side he plays for an extra dimension and is rated so highly at the Ospreys that Tandy was willing to talk about him in the same breath as Marty Holah, Tipuric's predecessor in the No. 7 shirt at the Liberty.
"Marty was outstanding for the Ospreys, a really destructive openside," said Tandy, himself a former openside.
"Tips is also destructive around the tackle contest and gets a lot of turnovers like Marty, but I think Tips is more of a rugby player.
"He has footballing ability that means when we have the ball it is like having another back on the field. That's what makes him so important.
"Sam Lewis has put in some unbelievable performances for us. He's an outstanding tackler and so destructive defensively. His attacking game is developing, too, but that's an area where we want him to improve a bit more, to get up alongside Tips.
"But we are blessed in that area with those two. If Sam does have to step up, we'll have no issues."
Tandy suggested the Ospreys were unlikely to go down the route of picking a power-based back row and leaving Lewis out if Tipuric missed the cut this weekend. "We'll weigh things up, but we have a boy in Sam who's outstanding every time he wears the shirt," he said.
"He was out on his feet at the end of the Zebre game last Friday, a few days after his performance against the Dragons. He is developing all the time.
"You find out more about people on these big occasions and there's nothing like experiencing them. I know if Sam has to step into the role he won't let us down."
The Ospreys are steeling themselves for a major scrum battle this weekend, against English rugby's most vaunted set-piece, one that repeatedly gives Leicester the edge in the Aviva Premiership.
The Tigers' party piece is to break sides around the 60-minute mark by replacing international props with internationals. For tiring opponents, it is usually the cue to hoist the white flag.
But in Adam Jones, Campbell Johnstone, Ryan Bevington, Duncan Jones, Richard Hibbard and Scott Baldwin, the Ospreys believe they have front-row firepower to cope with the best.
"It's really difficult when Leicester bring on their subs after 60 or so minutes," said Tandy.
"They are very fortunate to have those guys and be able to bring those replacements on.
"We know other teams have been dismantled by Leicester, but we are pretty blessed in that area ourselves and have the ability to bring on the likes of Duncan Jones, who has been terrific for us this season, and Scott Baldwin, who was one of the shining lights against Zebre.
"Campbell came in from Spain, off the deckchairs, and produced 80 minutes out in Toulouse that was something else.
"So we are comfortable with our bench. There is no club prouder of their scrum than Toulouse, and those three boys had the chance to play out there recently. We hope we can combat Leicester.
"We are certainly not going to worry about it.
"The set-piece is going to be huge and we are really confident in how we scrum. We feel we can impose ourselves in that area."