Leicester Tigers completed an unbeaten pre-season programme with a 40-14 victory over the Ospreys at Welford Road on Friday evening with the new season just over a week away.
After wins over the Ospreys away and Treviso at home in the preceding two weeks, Tigers ran in six tries, including two for newcomer Jonny May, on a warm Bank Holiday evening.
First-half scores from May (2), Tom Brady and Matt Toomua gave Tigers a 26-0 lead at the break and, despite a quickfire reply from Ospreys at the start of the second half, the hosts held on to the lead with a score from Jonah Holmes and then a late addition from Charlie Thacker.
May, George Ford, Ben Youngs and Valentino Mapapalangi were brought into the squad by Matt O’Connor for the first time in the pre-season period, while Manu Tuilagi had his first outing since the New Year fixture with Saracens on his recovery from a knee injury, playing the first 40 minutes and looking keen and eager to carry ball. Centre partner Matt Toomua continued his build-up to the season after eight months on the sidelines.
The clock had not even reached the end of the first minute when the crowd rose to a charge from Tuilagi in midfield and, after Tigers secured ball again, Logovi’i Mulipola was brought down just short of the line.
Tom Youngs was the next to break the line deep in the Ospreys 22 after smart work from new arrivals Ford and May, and when the ball was sent wide to the right, Toomua picked out Brady but the wing just ran out of space as he dived for the line.
The breakthrough came in the ninth minute, with Ford again combining with May and the England wing winning the footrace into the left-hand corner. Ford had to wait for his first points of the evening, though, as he pushed the kick across the posts.
He did not have too long to wait as he made a break in midfield and Toomua put Brady in to score to the right of the posts. This time Ford added the extras for a 12-point lead.
And two minutes later, a quick attack from right to left, with Toomua and Telusa Veainu involved, gave May the space to score his second of the evening in the corner and Ford added the kick from the touchline
Even better followed when Toomua scored the fourth try of the evening following an ambitious break by May from turnover ball near the Tigers line. When May was caught on halfway, Ford took play on and the Toomua chipped in behind the defence and just got to the ball in time to dot down. Ford’s conversion made it 26-0.
Tigers took Tuilagi off at half-time with valuable gametime already under his belt, and it was the visitors who started the brighter, claiming two quickfire tries from possession near the tryline, with wing Jeff Hassler and centre Cory Allen the scorers. Fly-half James Hook added both conversions to trim the gap to 26-14 shortly after the 50-minute mark.
In defence, too, the Ospreys stood their ground, forcing Tigers through the phases in possession without finding a field position to stretch the scoreboard once more until the hosts started the build momentum again after the hour mark.
May’s evening came to a close after an hour, replaced by Holmes to a big reception from their new home crowd, and Mapapalangi emerged for his first outing in the Tigers shirt soon afterwards with O’Connor spreading gametime throughout the senior squad just nine days short of the start of the season.
Mapapalangi’s first intervention was a strong and well-timed charge on the Ospreys 22, with Mike Fitzgerald almost barging his way to the line before the visitors closed the door.
The home side’s first points of the half came after 70 minutes when Tom Croft latched superbly on to a clever kick from Ford and offloaded for Holmes to race in and score, to the delight of the crowd. Ford added the kick before giving way to older brother Joe as the game entered its last 10 minutes with Tigers 33-14 in front.
There was still one more score to come, with replacement centre Charlie Thacker finishing from close range after being involved in several phases of the attack. Ford senior competed the evening’s scoring with the conversion kick.
Tigers begin the Aviva Premiership season with a home game against Bath Rugby next Sunday (September 3). Kick-off is at 3.00pm and match tickets are on sale in all areas now. Book in person at the Tigers ticket office or phone 0116 319 8888 (option 2). The office is open 9.00am-5.00pm Monday-Saturday every week. Or book online any time.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs; 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Tom Youngs, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 4 Dom Barrow, 5 Graham Kitchener, 6 Mike Williams, 7 Luke Hamilton, 8 Sione Kalamafoni.
Replacements: Greg Bateman, Ben Betts, Harry Thacker, Mike Fitzgerald, Harry Wells, Joe Maksymiw, Will Evans, Valentino Mapapalangi, Sam Harrison, Joe Ford, Nick Malouf, Charlie Thacker, Matt Smith, Jonah Holmes, , Mathew Tait, Ben White
Ospreys: 15 Dan Evans, 14 Keelan Giles, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Owen Watkin, 11 Jeff Hassler, 10 James Hook, 9 Tom Habberfield (c); 1 Paul James, 2 Sam Parry, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 4 Bradley Davies, 5 Rory Thornton, 6 Rob McCusker, 7 Olly Cracknell, 8 Dan Baker
Replacements: 16 Ifan Phillips, 17 Nicky Smith, 18 Rhodri Jones, 19 Lloyd Ashley, 20 Adam Beard, 21 Matthew Aubrey, 22 Joe Thomas, 23 Ben John, Gareth Thomas, Sam Cross, Reuben Morgan-Williams, Tom Williams, Jay Baker, James Ratti