sport

Cockerill expects Toulouse classic

Richard Cockerill has predicted a Heineken Cup "classic" when Leicester and Toulouse go head to head at Welford Road next Sunday.

Tigers are two points behind the French heavyweights and Pool Two leaders, with only the group winners guaranteed a quarter-final place.

Victory for Leicester would take them through, albeit to then face a potential last-eight clash away against European title contenders like Clermont Auvergne or Toulon.

"We have set the occasion up for next week. That was our aim, and it should be a classic," said Tigers rugby director Cockerill, following his team's 15-15 Liberty Stadium draw against the Ospreys.

"We are disappointed that we didn't win today and won't have a chance to be at home in the quarters, but we are set up for a winner-takes-all with Toulouse at Welford Road.

"(Against) anyone at Welford Road we will back ourselves to beat them. Toulouse are a very good side. We know they have got the class in their team, and they know how to win games.

"But if we get past Toulouse, and that's an if at this point, then we are in with a fighting chance."

Ospreys substitute Jonathan Spratt's 77th-minute try denied Leicester victory in an absorbing tussle.

The visitors looked to have done enough through quickfire second-half touchdowns from scrum-half Ben Youngs and wing Niall Morris after they trailed 10-3 for much of the contest after Ospreys posted a 34th-minute Joe Bearman try.

Dan Biggar and his opposite number, Leicester's Toby Flood, each kicked a conversion and penalty, but the Ospreys would have won had Biggar not missed four penalties - three of them either hit the post or bar - and a late conversion.

It was rough justice on the Ospreys, who are now out of the competition for another season, yet Leicester summoned all their trademark resilience to secure two priceless points away from home that sets up a mouthwatering encounter in seven days' time.

Cockerill added: "It was a very tight game. It was an arm-wrestle the whole time.

"We just weren't quite sharp enough today, which is a bit of a concern. We have got to be more accurate.

"If we had gone more than seven points behind I don't think we would have grabbed it back. Ospreys played very well, and credit to them. We couldn't have complained had they won.

"We are good at taking the punches. The character of the boys is never in doubt. Mentally, we never get flustered.

"But when Ospreys had the ball, they put us under pressure. When we had the ball, we did not keep it long enough to put them under enough pressure. That's our own fault."

England internationals Manu Tuilagi and Tom Youngs both went off nursing tight calf muscles, but Cockerill allayed any fears about their fitness for Toulouse.

There was more injury alarm for interim Wales head coach Rob Howley, though, after Test forwards Ryan Jones and Richard Hibbard both failed to last the distance.

Former Wales captain Jones went to hospital after suffering a suspected thumb or finger dislocation, while Hibbard hurt his shoulder.

Wales will go into the Six Nations campaign without injured locks Alun-Wyn Jones and Luke Charteris, and their fellow second-rows Bradley Davies and Ian Evans are also currently injured.

Versatile flanker Jones could have given Howley, who names his Six Nations squad on Tuesday, an option in the second-row department, but he could now also be battling for fitness before Wales' tournament opener against Ireland on February 2.

Reflecting on the game, Ospreys head coach Steve Tandy said: "I am disappointed with the result - I thought we deserved more. It is a really deflated changing room.

"Most other teams would have thrown the towel in at 15-10 behind, but this group fights like no team I've seen or played in.

"They don't know when they are beaten, and they put in another massive shift today."