Inside the Tigers’ Den - Goneva and Williams turn on the magic for Leicester
Considering this is Leicester’s transition period, bedding in period, things are not looking too bad for the Tigers early on.
Played three, won three. That’s the only statistic that really counts. Leicester have not secured a bonus point yet for scoring four tries in a match but they have now won against some handy opposition to go second in the Aviva Premiership behind just Saracens.
Harlequins are a good side, as they proved this week when they beat Bath 38-28 at the Rec, but Tigers dismissed them. Wasps are a good side too, they have also beat Bath this season, but were second best at Welford Road on Sunday when they were beaten 24-16.
Tigers had to defend for prolonged spells during the game but they seemed to relish the physicality of it.
You could hear the smack of the impacts from the stands, with Tom Youngs absolutely outstanding without the ball.
Youngs stands at just 5ft 9in but is 16st 5lbs of explosive muscle. No moment typified Leicester’s dominance in the physical arm wrestle more than when the hooker left giant Wasps number eight Nathan Hughes crumpled on the floor. With Hughes nearly a foot taller at 6ft 5in and carrying an extra 40 pounds it’s a contest Youngs had no right to win, but he did, and then some.
The hosts, who have not lost to Wasps at Welford Road since 2008, got off to an outstanding start when Fijian winger Niki Goneva crossed the line in just the fourth minute.
Goneva was at his spellbinding best all afternoon, breaking the line with ease and dancing his way out of trouble to turn perilous defensive moments into attacks.
His try summed it up best, first he broke down the right side of the pitch after some nice passing from the backline, and then a couple of phases later he popped up on the left wing to beat a handful of Wasps tacklers with a short but mazy run to the line.
Owen Williams, who was the other standout performer in the backline, added the conversion as part of his 14 point personal haul with the boot.
Wasps stayed in touch through the boot of fly half Jimmy Gopperth and then the canon of Elliot Daly.
Williams kicked a pair of penalties as well before the break to make it 13-9 at halftime.
Leicester started the second half with another Williams penalty, but the young Welshman offered so much more than just a reliable boot.
He was looking for chinks in the Wasps defence from the first moment he received the ball, using good footwork to get over the gainline. When he couldn’t make a half break he brought the attacking talents outside him into the game with some accomplished passing.
Leicester were given a helping hand in beating Wasps when fly-half Jimmy Gopperth was shown a yellow card for a flying elbow to the head of Mat Tait. He has since been given a three week ban by the RFU Disciplinary Panel but how referee Tim Wigglesworth didn’t give him a straight red card only he will know. Maybe he gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was competing for the ball but the replay suggested he knew where the full back was.
Tigers took advantage of the extra man and scored in the corner through debutant Telusa Veainu, who signed with the club after impressing for Tonga at the Rugby World Cup.
Wasps scored another penalty and a converted try late in the game as they piled on the pressure, but Leicester responded brilliantly with their defence, making tackle after tackle.
Tom Croft is beginning to look more like his old self and seems to have an added bite to his play since his injury hell. He was very much at the centre of Leicester’s aggressive defence.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “That was a good performance, but we can definitely be a lot better.
“A bit of control in that middle part of the game would have helped - we seemed to get a bit lost and let them back in the game.
“But we played some good stuff - I thought we created a lot.
“Wasps are a good side so it was nice to get a good win and they go away with nothing which I think will be important.
“The league is going to be tight and Wasps will certainly be contenders for it.
“After last week’s performance, this was a more complete performance, we controlled the game we controlled them well and I thought we deserved to win and there was no doubting the result really. We were good in attack and did the basics a lot better than them. We seemed to get the raw end from the referee in the first half but we tightened up after the interval.
“We were mentally resilient and wanted it far more than them. Our defence was outstanding as they are a very dangerous side.”
However Leicester are going to have to up their game if they are going to keep their winning streak going on Saturday when they travel to third place Exeter Chiefs.
In other news, nothing official is coming out of Welford Road yet but Australian centre, who can also play fly-hal f,Matt Toomua was spotted at the game on Saturday. He might have just been enjoying some Northern hemisphere club rugby the day after coming off the bench in the Wallabies World Cup final loss to New Zealand, 34-17, but with Tigers after more centres watch this space.