Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester call on big guns to find winning form
If Leicester Tigers want to serious contenders for the Aviva Premiership title this season they really should have picked up 10 points from their last two games.
A blip against Sale, played in terrible conditions, was allowable, but a second straight loss, to Newcastle one of the league’s relegation battling sides should start alarm bells ringing.
This was the game Leicester were going to show their reaction to scoring the fewest points at home in their history in a league match.
Bur no. Instead it was another loss, this time 26-14, and another day for unwanted records.
It was the Falcons’ first league victory over Leicester since March 2009.
Under the watchful eye of former Tigers legend Dean Richards, now Newcastle director of rugby, Falcons starved Leicester of territory and scored first-half tries through Simon Hammersley and Adam Powell at Kingston Park.
Another former Tiger, Andy Goode, who came out of retirement to help out Newcastle, and is looking more the prop than Premiership fly-half these days, still has a touch of class and he kicked 13 points to give the Falcons the gap they needed to keep Leicester’s inevitable comeback at bay.
Replacement Laurence Pearce pulled a try back for Tigers but they failed to cross the line again, despite banging on the door.
Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “Newcastle were better than us tonight and I am bitterly disappointed with that performance. We need to get back and try and figure a few things out because what we did today wasn’t acceptable from a Leicester point of view.
Cockerill continued: “We got exactly what we deserved. We got beaten at every contact point, Newcastle wanted it more than us and they deserved their win.
“In the last couple of weeks we have suffered with the physicality a little bit. We started well tonight and then we dropped off our accuracy. When we turned the ball over and gave Newcastle opportunities, they took them.
“We knew they would be very tough, direct, well-organised and we were none of those things. We need to get back on the training field and we need to sort a few things out.”
There appears to be two big problems for Leicester’s backline in recent weeks. A lack of creativity and a lack of size. The two of course are part and parcel as big, physical players like Manu Tuilagi, draw in players to create space for creativity to flourish.
There is a lot of guile and speed in this Tigers side, once again full back Telusa Veainu topped the league for the most metres made in a game, with 166 metre, 50 more than the league’s next best, Amanaki Mafi.
He lined up alongside Peter Betham, Mat Tait and Gonzalo Camacho in the back line, in an incredibly exciting attacking line-up but they failed to shackle Newcastle in defence. In fact on more than one occasion each of those men missed costly tackles, Argentine international Camacho in the build-up to Hammersley’s try and Tait failed to get to grips with Powell as he crossed.
Matt Smith has been filling in admirably at inside centre, as has Tait at outside centre, but neither man has the natural ball playing game to carve open tight and organised defences.
It is a shame Owen Williams remains sidelined as he could have been a great option at number 12. The buzz around the Tigers training ground is Tuilagi and Jean De Villers will be involved this weekend which should help.
Of course Leicester’s result wasn’t the biggest shock of the weekend. That took place at Allianz Park where league leaders Saracens were thrashed 64-23 by Wasps, who Leicester face on March 12.
Saracens have been heavily depleted by international call-ups during the Six Nations but the nature of their third biggest lost in Premiership history was remarkable.
In the end things could have been a lot worse for Leicester, who somehow remain in third spot in the league having been helped out by some surprising results around the league. Sale Sharks continued their strong run of form with a 23-17 win over Exeter and Gloucester beat Harlequins 28-6. Tigers travel to Quins next, visiting the Stoop on Friday night and they are expected to have forwards Brendon O’Connor, Tom Youngs and Ed Slater back in the squad, along with Tuilagi and De Villiers, for what could be a vital game between two sides with title ambitions.
On the international scene England completed their perfect start to the Six Nations with a 40-9 victory away in Italy.
Despite Bath’s Jonathan Joseph scoring a hat-trick of tries Leicester’s scrum half Ben Youngs was somewhat surprisingly named man of the match by the host Italian broadcaster.
Even Youngs was surprised by the award but the scrum half was certainly worthy of praise for his performance. The only other Tiger involved for England was prop Dan Cole.
Both men should be in the mix to face Ireland on February 27 .