Tigers power to Energy Cup triumph

And so stage one of ‘Operation Treble’ is complete. Leicester Tigers claimed the EDF Energy Cup courtesy of a eventful 41-35 victory over the slow-starting Ospreys at sunny Twickenham on Sunday, surviving an inspired second-half performance from the Welsh to collect their first trophy for five seasons.

The Tigers had stormed into an emphatic 28-6 half-time lead with four converted tries, only for the Ospreys to strike back after half-time and set-up a dramatic finish.

In the end, Leicester held out – running in five tries to four – to end their trophy drought.

And it sets them up well for next weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final clash with the Llanelli Scarlets and the Guinness Premiership run-in.

The victory was also a riposte to Ospreys scrum-half Justin Marshall, who had questioned the quality of the Guinness Premiership in the build-up to the game.

Marshall’s first-half positioning was baffling and he was clearly at fault for two of the Tigers’ first-half tries.

The former New Zealand scrum-half kept taking the ball at first receiver and too often took the ball into contact, nullifying the Ospreys’ dangerous back division.

And Leicester took maximum advantage. In a scrappy first half, the Tigers finished with ruthless efficiency and steamed into a 14-6 lead with two tries in the space of two minutes.

Marshall retreated to his own line to cover Paul Burke’s chip over the Ospreys defence but was stripped of the ball by Varndell who spun clear to score.

And barely a minute later the Tigers were over again.

Croft tapped Burke’s cross-kick down to Dan Hipkiss, received the return pass and then galloped 40 metres to outpace Ospreys full-back Lee Byrne.

Leicester were in dominant form, particularly in the set-piece where the Tigers front row were causing Ospreys’ international props Duncan and Adam Jones all sorts of pain.

The Ospreys did not win a single turnover in the opening half hour and they were struggling to secure their own lineouts.

And when they did Marshall was running on to the ball at first receiver, making them predictable and vulnerable.

Marshall lost possession as he ran into Leicester hooker George Chuter and England lock Ben Kay scooped up the loose ball, sold Hook an audacious dummy, and then strode 30 metres for the Tigers’ third try.

Soon it was four. Vesty’s attempted grubber kick rebounded kindly for Leicester and Harry Ellis slipped the pass to Alesana Tuilagi, who rampaged through Marshall’s tackle to dive over next to the posts.

At 28-6, the Ospreys seemed dead and buried. The travelling support queued glumly for their half-time beers.

But within minutes the drinks were being splashed all over the place in celebration as the Welsh glamour region stormed back into the contest.

Marshall was back in his regular position at scrum-half and it almost led to a try for Filo Tiatia, only for the number eight to drop the ball with the line begging.

But Andrew Bishop then broke the Leicester defensive line and Williams slipped a neat pass out of the tackle for Byrne to score in the corner, a try which Hook converted brilliantly from the touchline.

The Ospreys then ran in a stunning 80-metre counter-attack score with Nikki Walker and Byrne combining to feed Williams, who outstripped the Leicester defenders.

Andy Goode, a half-time replacement for Burke, slotted a penalty to put Leicester two scores ahead – but they could not put the Ospreys away.

After Walker’s chip had pinned Tuilagi back on his own line, Williams slipped through Daryl Gibson’s poor tackle to score his second try.

Even when Varndell sprinted home for his second try after more excellent work from Hipkiss, the Ospreys would not lie down as Walker powered through Harry Ellis and Hipkiss to score.

But in the end, the Ospreys had left themselves with too m

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