Leicester Tigers play their first home game of the new season on Friday night as they conclude their pre-season programme against Ospreys. But this week Tigers travelled to North East Italy to take on Treviso and returned with a 33-10 victory.
Treviso are traditionally one of the weaker outfits in the Guniees Pro12 but the game last Friday was a good test of Leicester with two weeks to go to the start of the new season.
Leicester crossed the try line in just the third minute of play. After kicking for touch from a turn over penalty, won by Ed Slater, they executed a good catch and drive, and with the advantage being played broke off the back. Manu Tuilagi was used as the battering ram coming back against the grain, the ball was recycled quickly at the ruck and played out to Slater who once again show some beautiful handling skills to offload to Lachlan McCaffrey who passed back inside for his scrum half Jono Kitto to score under the posts.
It was a wonderfully simplistic try which would have had even the best defences in trouble.
Next followed some brilliant defence from Leicester, with plenty of line speed on display, with the skipper Tom Youngs leading the way by chopping down Italian attackers.
The pressure told and defence soon turned into attack after forcing a knock on. Fly half Freddie Burns spotted two props and a flanker in front of him and trusted his footwork to create a gap - stepping wilding to his left to leave two platers on the deck and getting the offload away before the third man could bring him down.
And who was on the inside shoulder? That man Kitto, who showed great pace to finish his second try inside of eight minutes of play.
It was some start from the young Kiwi, who only joined the club last summer and was third choice for the nine shirt last season, behind England international Ben Youngs and Sam Harrison.
While Tigers were brilliant in their open-field defence, particularly considering the time of year, having had little time to work together in a competitive environment, for the second week in a row their maul defence, and defence of the close range drives, looked suspect.
And it was from a driving maul at a lineout that Treviso’s tighthead Simone Ferrari powered over the line in the 14th minute.
Six minutes later Ferrari was zooming over the line again. In an almost comical moment Leicester’s defence lost track of the ball, trying to stop a driving maul which did not have the ball. This allowed the prop to get up from the ground five metres behind the action and run in to score. In a more important fixture questions of whether the maul was blocking defending players would surely have been raised.
However the first quarter finished 12-14, with Tigers just leading thanks to Burns sinking both conversions.
Burna looked good during his time on the pitch, especially considering he had an operation in the spring on his ankle after injuring it in the European semi-final defeat to Racing.
Burns’ looping pass to the wing started the move for Leicester’s third try of the game. The ball was recycled at the ruck and McCaffrey, assuming the scrum half role, threw a horrible bouncing pass back in-field towards Tuilagi. Somehow the England centre got down to scoop it off his boot laces and scrambled on his knees over the line to score.
In the second half Adam Thompstone, who you imagine will struggle for game time this season with the likes of JP Pieterson, Peter Betham and Telusa Veainu to compete with for a wing spot, scored on of the more bizarre tries you will see this season, eventually doting down a bouncing, ball which was tapped back by a Treviso player after Sam Harrison chipped a kick over the defence.
Tigers saved their best for last as new signing Luke Hamilton finish a length-of-the-field score. Ben White took a Treviso box-kick set off, linking with Harry Thacker and full back George Worth before Hamilton burst through the centre. He passed to White who went for the corner but was covered so passed to his support man Hamilton.
There were plenty of positives from the match. Tom Youngs showed good lineout accuracy in the match, making the most of having Slater and George Kitchener as his two main lineout options, both expert lineout operators with good hands.
It will be an important season for Kitchener whose progress stalled last season having looked on the verge of breaking into the England set-up a year earlier. He is a highly athletic lock who is a good ball playing and carrying option in the row.
McCaffrey continues to flourish at number eight and is a real footballer, with turn over skills, great hands and even a kicking game.
Kitto also had a superb game at scrum half.
They will all hope to be in contention for a start when the Aviva Premiership season opens away at Gloucester on September 2, under the Friday night lights at Kingsholm.
Last week the date of the club’s European Champions Cup fixtures were confirmed.
Leicester start their campaign away to Glasgow Warriors on Friday, October 14 in the first game of the tournament.
French champions Racing 92 then travel to Welford Road on Sunday, October 23.
The December back-to-back matches will be with Munster, visiting Thomond Park on December 10, with the Irish side visiting Welford Road on December 17.
After Christmas Tigers go to Paris to face Racing in Round Five and then host Glasgow in the last pool fixture in January.
Fixtures for Aviva Premiership A League, for the reserve teams, were also released this week. Tigers travel to Wasps first on Monday, September 12, before hosting Newcastle Flacons the next week.