Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester show old winning spirit

Leicester Tigers. Tiger Images EMN-141229-123316001
Leicester Tigers. Tiger Images EMN-141229-123316001
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Don’t say it too loud but there were some signs on Saturday that the Tigers of old, who never know when they have lost, could be back.

Leicester’s Julian Salvi was fired over the line by a group of forwards in the 78th minute to snatch victory out of the jaws of defeat away at the Sharks.

Owen Williams held his cool to score the game winning conversion for a 32-30 victory and five league points and move Tigers up to fifth in the Aviva Premiership at the halfway point in the season.

Leicester’s form in recent weeks has perhaps been over-shadowed by their results. Losing two out of three heading into Saturday’s game hardly instils fear into the opposition but those results came against back-to-back European champions Toulon and English champions Northampton.

In all but the trip to the South of France and Toulon’s Stade Felix Mayol they looked competitive and in with a shout of winning the games.

Sale have been in decent form themselves in recent weeks and their attacking prowess was there to see on Saturday.

However Leicester’s defence was questionable on far too many occasions.

Sharks scrum half Chris Cusiter opened the scoring when he found room in the corner, however the hosts were lucky not to have the score rubbed off because the Tigers defenders were being held off the ball.

The good news is Leicester looked cutting in attack and centre Seremaia Bai, making just his second appearance of the season after returning from injury, finished well to get Leicester’s first try of the day.

Leicester then took the lead thanks to an expert piece of finishing from Mat Tait, playing in an unaccustomed position on the wing. But he showed great experience to keep his body in play to touch down with a dive in the corner.

Will Addison responded with a classic winger’s try after good hands from the Sharks’ backline and either side of the break Sale crossed the line to build up what should have been a winning margin.

Leicester’s Jamie Gibson was shown yellow and a minute later big Scottish lock Nathan Hines powered over the line under a heap of Sharks forwards. Danny Cipriani’s conversion to close the first half made it 25-15, and just four minutes after the break Tigers’ defence went missing to allow Sam Tuitupou acres of room to dart through. Sale’s multi-phase play left Leicester without any guards at the ruck and the centre spotted the fallibility in the defence.

Sale was off course the rugby union home to one of the greatest league converts - Jason Robinson and on Saturday Leicester’s Miles Benjamin did his best Billy Wizz impression to score a vital try for the Tigers.

Just like Robinson playing for the British and Irish Lions against Australia in 2001, Benjamin beat the defender with an in and out swerve with just the tram lines to work with to finish in the corner.

It was another flash of the tantalising talent that had so many excited when he moved to the club.

The winning try was pure Leicester, phase after phase of power drives, and Sale a man down submitted.

Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “At half-time I knew we had the ability to get back into the game. At 30-15 the message was to keep playing because if we scored next we would put them under pressure, but our ability to get ourselves into a deep hole was remarkable.

“Credit to the players they played themselves out of the hole and they got themselves into a position to win the game.

“Credit to Sale as well, they played exceptionally well. They took advantage of our limpness in defence and credit to Leicester for working it out and getting themselves back into the game to give them a chance to win it.”

Leicester will need to be significantly better on Sunday if they want to avoid another thrashing by Bath.

The first time the teams met this season the West Country side committed Tigers to one of their darkest days on a rugby pitch in recent memory, winning 45-0 at The Rec.

Since then Bath have continued to look the real deal and on Saturday put down another title marker with a 31-14 victory over high-flying Exeter Chiefs.

It was a performance packed full of the terrifying combination of power and flair. There were errors in the performance but also moments of brilliant which included some sumptuous passing from former Tigers fly-half George Ford and one of the best maul tries you will see. All that and no mention of another rugby league convert everyone is talking about Slammin’ Sam Burgess, who despite looking slightly lost on the Union fields so far still brings an air of excitement to each game he features in.

Sunday’s match could very well be a guide for how the rest of this season will go for Leicester.

Tigers haven’t quite signed players of Sam Burgess’ reputation recently but they have just signed a “bigger” player.

Last week Leicester added US Eagles international Greg Peterson to their line up.

The towering lock is 6 foot 8 inches tall and weighs in at nearly 20 stone.

The 23-year-old is another raw talent the club hope to develop in the same way they have fellow American Blaine Scully.

Peterson came on for the last four minutes of the game at Sale’s packed AJ Bell Stadium and adds further cover in the injury hit second row.