Sean Holley backs bullish Ospreys to tame the stubborn Tigers
IF the Leicester front row were booked for a shoving match against the highest peak in the East Midlands, there's a fair chance that many of the Welford Road faithful would rush to put money on the mountain moving.
With an all-star front-row pool that includes Samoan Logovi'i Mulipola, Argentina's Marcos Ayerza, England's Dan Cole and Italy's Martin Castrogiovanni, the Tigers have depth as well as power at the sharp end, allowing them to remain at full capacity for 80 minutes and ratchet up the pressure when opponents are tiring.
Cole, in particular, is revered over the Bridge.
One website has been running a Lions watch in recent months, picking a team of the week from the players available to Warren Gatland this summer. Cole has been the choice at tight-head three times over the past six weeks.
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Even when an Adam Jones-inspired Ospreys scrum destroyed the Scarlets on Boxing Day, the Leicester front rower got the nod. Six scrum penalties against Zebre last weekend? Not enough. Cole received the thumbs up after coming on as a replacement against Worcester.
A stack of scrum penalties in Leicester's favour in the Heineken Cup encounter between the sides in October suggested the Midlanders comfortably held sway in the front-row scrap.
But close examination of the match tape led the Ospreys to conclude that Ryan Bevington was unfortunate to be yellow-carded that day, with Romain Poite making a series of questionable calls.
This weekend presents the Liberty Stadium front rowers with the chance to set the record straight, in the European game of the round, and former Ospreys coach Sean Holley believes they will take it.
"The first thing to say is that it is going to be a terrific scrum battle," said Holley, who helped coach the Ospreys to four wins and a draw against Leicester in nine encounters.
"The key man is going to be the referee. At Welford Road in October a lot of penalties went in Leicester's favour at the set-piece, and that surprised me because the Ospreys make a point of scrummaging square while the Tigers scrummage on the angle.
"Leicester have depth in that area but the Ospreys are not exactly short of quality there, either.
"Richard Hibbard is getting the praise he deserves for his work around the field but he is also one of the best scrummaging hookers in Europe, while Adam Jones is finding his best form after injury and Duncan Jones and Ryan Bevington are two exceptional loose-heads.
"Duncan is still a fantastic player, and Ryan is a tremendous athlete.
"It is going to be a great tussle, but I see the Ospreys getting on top there."
The Ospreys have given themselves a Pool 2 lifeline with their win over Toulouse in the last round of European matches.
They need to come out on top this weekend and against Treviso the following Sunday and hope other results go their way.
"I think the Ospreys will beat Leicester on Sunday," said Holley.
"They then need to do a job on Treviso in Italy and keep their fingers crossed.
"It will be close this week.
"Leicester are a stubborn side who contest everything and always hang in there, but with a big crowd at the Liberty and the Ospreys in a bit of form, I see it ending up as a home win.
"The front five battle will be important but further back will also be worth paying to see, with the Ospreys having true quality at six (Ryan Jones), nine (Kahn Fotuali'i) and ten (Dan Biggar). I expect that to prove significant.
"A big game like this will also bring the best out of Andrew Bishop and Justin Tipuric. The whole Ospreys side will relish it because it is a chance to show how good they are."
The Ospreys are monitoring Tipuric as he strives to recover from the shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the past two games.
Leicester will learn tonight whether Toby Flood will miss the encounter at the Liberty.
The fly-half appears before a disciplinary panel after being cited for an alleged tip tackle on Worcester's Andy Goode.
If Flood is ruled out, George Ford would be expected to feature at No. 10.
He is rated highly but is seen as an unreliable goalkicker.