There were times on Saturday when Leicester Tigers played like a lower league second team who had just come together in the car park, meeting for the first time half an hour before the game.
For much of Leicester’s 23-16 Aviva Premiership defeat to Harlequins there was a distinct lack of organisation and structure in the homeside’s play.
With the team striped of more than a dozen players including some key leaders by international call-ups and injury no-one took a grip of the situation to punish an entertaining Harlequins side when they were vulnerable.
With first choice half-backs Toby Flood and Ben Youngs amongst the replacements who featured in England’s 20-13 win over Australia their understudies failed to step into their considerable boots.
Third choice fly-half Owen Williams, still just 21 years-old, looked bereft of ideas on how to get Leicester’s backline moving and far too often shuffled on the spot in the face of on-coming defenders.
Far too regularly he gave the ball to an isolated forward at a standstill, who got ferociously knocked back.
However the young Welshman can not and should not be blamed for all Leicester’s failings.
Fellow summer signing David Mele, playing at scrum-half, looked frantic at times, causing the team to lose its calm.
Too many established players failed to make their mark against a Harlequins side who appear to have rediscovered their mojo.
And make no doubt about it Harlequins were worthy winners, their off-loading game left Tigers scrambling to keep up and their powerful running from depth forced Leicester onto the back foot.
Leicester had their chances in the match and kept the scoreboard ticking through penalties early on but in truth the final score flattered Tigers who were awarded a penalty try in the final minute of play to secure a losing bonus point.
Tigers’ angry director of rugby Richard Cockerill said after the game: “If people run at you and you don’t tackle, they win.
“We have to defend better than that.
“The fightback and the point we got is no consolation. Some of our defence was embarrassing.”
Leicester’s injury crisis was exposed for all the 24,000 spectators at Welford Road to see on Saturday, when further injuries resulted with scrum-half Sam Harrison standing in at centre and prop Fraser Balmain standing uncomfortably on the wing.
Sadly things don’t get easier for Leicester throughout November, with Ospreys up next in the opening round of the LV= Cup on Friday night at Welford Road. Kick-off is 7.45pm and the game is live on Sky Sports.
Tigers then face Worcester away in the same competition before returning to league rugby at home to London Irish and Gloucester away.
In normal conditions Leicester and their dedicated fans would expect to win all four games but as things stand perhaps winning just half would be a good result.
The only hint of optimism to take from Saturday’s game was that Leicester appeared to get stronger when their substitutes came on. The returning Steve Mafi and Matt Smith made an impact and Thomas Waldrom threw himself into the cause. Each will likely be significant players if Leicester are to stay in contention with the league leaders during the autumn internationals.
As it is Leicester have dropped down to sixth place in the Aviva Premiership but remain just four points off a top four position.
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