Leicester will be delighted to be back at Welford Road after the mauling they received in Toulouse last weekend as they host the Ospreys in a crucial match for England’s most successful Heineken Cup team (3pm BST, Sunday).
After failing to pick up a bonus point last Sunday, this weekend’s match is absolutely vital for Leicester and a loss could see them knocked out after just two rounds. The format of the Heineken Cup and the strength of this group means there is no time to ease into the competition and two losses on the trot can get a team eliminated.
Leicester were riding high in the English Premiership and are in the top four but just two weeks before the start of the Heineken Cup they lost their 11-month home unbeaten run and since then they have not looked the same outfit.
Leicester have welcomed back England internationals Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi but neither were able to prevent their team from suffering a 22-9 loss to the French champions Toulouse. Ben Youngs took a lot of flak for that loss as his quick tap from in front of the posts would have allowed Toby Flood to cut the gap to just a point with 25 minutes left and from then the game changed.
Leicester will have to rethink their tactical game, playing Thomas Waldrom at flanker backfired as Thierry Dusautoir had a free reign of the breakdown. The Ospreys do not have an openside of the calibre of Dusautoir but Justin Tipuric is no fool. Leicester failed to get ball carriers Tuliagi and Vereniki Goneva into the game last weekend and against a less powerful Ospreys back line they would be well advised to use them at every opportunity.
At home Leicester tend to dominate the set-piece and from there they slowly grind teams down with Toby Flood’s boot and strike runners out wide. With Cole and Mulipola in the starting line-up and Ayerza and Castro on the bench, Leicester arguably have the strongest front-row in the competition.
Anyone who thinks that Leicester can just turn up and win is sadly mistaken. Last season the Ospreys beat the seemingly invincible Leinster side, in Dublin, in the final of the Pro12. Granted that they have lost Shane Williams, Tommy Bowe and numerous others since then but they started last week with a bonus-point win over an improved Treviso side and they are currently Wales’ best province.
Ospreys may not have stellar names in their back line but Dan Biggar is back to form at fly-half. He is able to bring the best out of Ashley Beck and Andrew Bishop, two players who are sure to feature for Wales in the upcoming internationals. The Ospreys arrive at Leicester with a very strong pack in which each member has played for Wales and Lions Prop Duncan Jones can only make the bench.
On a narrow pitch at Leicester, the Ospreys must make sure that their set-piece and tactical kicking game is top notch. If Justin Tipuric can have the same affect that Theirry Dusautoir had last week for Toulouse then the Ospreys will be able to cut the supply of ball to Ben Youngs and the dangerous Leicester back-line. The difference between the two sides is likely to be the power of Leicester all around the pitch. With Steve Mafi and Thomas Waldrom in the pack and Tuliagi, Goneva and Anthony Allen out wide, Leicester should just be too strong for the Welsh.
- Our Preview’s Betting Tip: I expect Leicester to sneak a win but not by the nine points Ospreys get on the bookmaker’s handicap. The bet has to be Ospreys +9pts @ 10/11 with Betfred, Coral or William Hill.