Inside the Tigers’ Den - Fantastic Thacker and reliable Burns earn derby victory
Wasn’t this meant to be Leicester’s transition season? Well someone might just have pushed fast forward on that transition because Tigers after looking at being involved in two semi-finals this season after a win in the derby on Saturday.
Leicester came away from Franklin’s Gardens with a 30-24 victory which moves them into fourth place, seven points clear of Northampton in fifth.
Any type of win over Worcester in two weeks time means Leicester will be in the Aviva Premiership semi-finals, with a trip to top of the table Saracens looking the most likely match-up.
That is unless Exeter fall apart in their final two games of the season, and they are tough ones. Second place Wasps, who thrashed Worcester on Saturday when Christian Wade scored six tries, go to Sandy Park next and they will finish the season away at Harlequins at the same time Tigers go to Bath.
Freddie Burns scored the first points of the match on Saturday after Tigers won a penalty in the scrum. It was to be the first of many infringements in the scrum with decisions going both ways. Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill called the refereeing of the set piece as “a blight on the game.”
Then a moment of genius.
There are great tries in derby matches and then there is the try Harry Thacker scored. The ball was spilled when the two sides competed a high up and under kick. There were plenty in the Tetley’s Stand who thought Leicester had knocked it on but with no call coming Thacker picked up the ball from the following ruck and took off up the wing to break into open green field. With Vereniki Goneva for company on his shoulder he sold the dummy to the last Saints defender and went in under the posts for a glorious score.
Cockerill said: “Harry Thacker’s try is probably try of the season, you won’t see a better one.
“He’s a great footballer, we saw that with the finish, the ball was in two hands and he’s tricked the full-back into chasing it.
“He’s got a great fend and he’s quick, he’s probably wasted at hooker really. It’s a great finish.”
Cockerill added: “Harry’s worked really hard, sometimes players have to work it out for themselves.
“Circumstances allowed him to get more opportunity and he’s taken the opportunity.
“Clearly he’s half the size of some hookers in the Premiership but what he gives you around the field, if he can cope in the scrum, he throws very well and he’s a great defender.”
With England announcing last week that they will take a Saxons team on their tour of South Africa this summer, the young hooker should expect a call-up.
However Saints got back into the game through another pair of men looking to further their England cause, Luther Burrell - who hasn’t been given a look in with the national team since Eddie Jones took over - ran a great line against the grain to get Northampton onto the front foot and then number eight Teimana Harrison applied the power finish.
Stephen Myler levelled the game up at 10-10 with a kick and Saints were pushing for the lead but they hit the self destruct button when a wild off load was capitalised on by Goneva who intercepted and ran in from 50 yards out untouched.
Myler and Freddie Burns traded penalties before Northampton pulled the scores back to within two points at 20-18 with a try from George Pisi following sustained pressure.
Saints director of rugby Jim Mallinder was angrey after the match that Leicester had not seen a yellow card for foul play in the build up to the try, bringing down successive driving mauls.
His counterpart Cockerill could be seen angrily shaking his head that referee Tim Wigglesworth had ruled his side had transgressed. Who would be a referee aye? There was certainly one situation where substitute Tom Croft did brilliantly to get through the middle of the maul only to be penalised.
In the end Leicester won it through a Burns try. Goneva showed great strength to battle through a couple of tackles and get Leicester close to the line, the ball was moved out wide quickly and once again Manu Tuilagi, who had a quiet game by his standards, gave the scoring pass to Burns. His conversion completed a 20 point game for the fly half.
“I am 25 now, and as much as that is not old, it is that transition from being the young guy who can make mistakes because you are young, to being the guy people look to to drive the team,” Burns said. “Potentially, I might have struggled with that through the back end of my Gloucester career and the start of my time here (at Leicester), but it is something I thrive on now.
“Defensively, I am showing up, and the goalkicking is going well. They are the things I am not renowned for. The rest I have always had, and I am trying to put it all together.”
On Sunday Leicester are making their first return to the European semi-finals for seven years against Racing 92.
The good news is the stats are on Leicester’s side at the weekend. Ten of the last 12 semi-finals in the European Cup have been won by clubs with home country advantage.
The game has been moved away from the comforts of Welford Road, a venue where Leicester have lost just once in the last year, to Nottingham Forest’s The City Ground.
But Leicester have some fond memories of European rugby at The City Ground having famously beaten the Llanelli Scarlets 13-12 back in 2002 thanks to a last minute penalty from 58 metres by Tim Stimpson which bounced off both crossbar and post before dropping over. It was one of the iconic moments in Tigers history.
Perhaps Sunday will see another moment that will etch itself in the minds and hearts of all those who wear the green, red and white stripes.
Perhaps it will be that man Burns.