Victory on a brutally cold Swansea night marked the beginning of the end of Steve Borthwick’s time with Leicester and was a fitting way to start the long goodbye.
Borthwick remains the RFU’s wanted man to succeed the sacked Eddie Jones as England head coach and it is now a matter of time until he steps into the Twickenham hotseat.
Negotiations between the RFU and Leicester remain ongoing. It has left Borthwick, who again reiterated he expects to be in charge of the Tigers against Clermont on Saturday, in a tricky position. Borthwick doesn’t and never will do headline quotes. This is a man who focuses on the job at hand and is impressive at doing just that.
Steve Borthwick (L) led Leicester to victory over Ospreys in what could have been his final game. Borthwick is also in talks with the RFU over replacing the sacked Eddie Jones
Leicester controlled the game to secure the win in brutal conditions in Wales on Sunday
Even without key figures Freddie Steward and Ben Youngs, Leicester’s second string were too good for an Ospreys squad boasting 651 caps of Test experience.
It allowed the Tigers to start their Champions Cup campaign with a crucial away win with Clermont at home up next.
There remains a very good chance it will be Borthwick’s last game in charge.
‘My head is on Clermont on Saturday,’ said Borthwick, when questioned on his ongoing links with England.
‘I have always said since I started here two years ago we only look to the next week.
‘As soon as the final whistle happens, my head is on the next game.’ Borthwick is no headline writer’s dream, but he can certainly coach. That was evidenced by how he helped guide Leicester to their latest success. The Tigers were far from dominant here.
Borthwick has insisted his head is still focused on Leicester and their next game on Saturday
Their scrum was demolished by the home pack in the first half, with Ospreys loosehead Nicky Smith forcing England prop Joe Heyes to be yellow carded. Heyes did not return to the field.
Smith, discarded by Wales under their former head coach Wayne Pivac, also scored a close-range try at the end of the first half as the Ospreys led 10-6 at the break.
The first half was no classic.
Charlie Atkinson booted two Leicester penalties, but the Tigers were all over the place at the set-piece. Their scrum was in reverse and their line-out wobbled.
The Ospreys wore a garish multi-coloured kit, but their rugby was anything but fancy as they looked to dominate up front. To a degree, it worked. But their discipline was poor.
Toby Booth’s side also lost Wales powerhouse George North in the build-up to Smith’s try.
Charlie Atkinson kicked two penalties for Leicester in a ragged first half in Swansea
‘It’s a cheekbone. He has got a big bump under his eye,’ Ospreys head coach Booth said of North.
‘He has got some neural pain. We won’t know the nature of it until the swelling goes down, but he is pretty uncomfortable at the moment.’ Leicester were far better in the second half and their performance was lit up by some brilliance from England’s forgotten man Anthony Watson, who has struggled badly with injury.
Watson hasn’t played Test rugby since 2021, but he was somewhere close to his best in south Wales as he dominated the air and scored a wonderful, scintillating try.
Harry Potter went over to score his side’s first try of the game before Anthony Watson’s magical score
Leicester’s first score came from an Atkinson cross-kick which exposed Keelan Giles. Harry Potter pounced to score. Then came Watson’s moment of brilliance.
With nothing on in midfield, Watson jinked through a seemingly impregnable gap to race to the line.
It was a rare moment of genuine class in front of a disappointing crowd of 5,428 which showed the Champions Cup is not what it once was in terms of attracting rugby supporters.
Watson, 28, scored the try of the game in a rare moment of genuine class in the match
The former England man jinked through a seemingly impregnable gap to race to the line in what was a stunning solo effort
‘I thought the character of the team was magnificent,’ Borthwick said.
‘We played our heart out and found a way to win. I thought the third quarter was very strong after a difficult spell.
‘That was the Welsh Test team, wasn’t it? I thought Anthony showed his class. I am so pleased for him. He is getting stronger. His pace is getting faster and faster.’ This was a 12th straight Champions Cup defeat for the Ospreys, who grabbed a late consolation through Morgan Morris. They have not beaten an English side since 2017.
‘You spend a hell of a lot of effort to get into the main competition and to then not perform is disappointing,’ said Booth.
‘We need to go to Montpellier and play the French champions after the English ones and get a win in their backyard. It is going to be very difficult.’
Scorers Ospreys Tries: Smith, Morris Cons: Walsh (2) Pens: Walsh
Leicester Tigers Tries: Potter, Watson Cons: Atkinson (2) Pens: Atkinson (3)
Leicester’s future is unclear in terms of who will be in charge of the team, but they produced on the pitch at the weekend
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