Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester defend for their lives
As defensive sets go the 28 phases Leicester Tigers held Exeter Chiefs out for don’t get much better.
Exeter are no pushovers, they came to Welford Road on Saturday in second place in the Aviva Premiership and having beaten Leicester 30-22 two weeks earlier in the semi-final of the LV= Cup.
So Tigers’ 25-18 victory at the weekend should not be taken lightly and bodes well for the run-in at the business end of the season.
The win was Leicester’s fifth on the bounce in the league as part of a run which has seen them win 10 games in the last 13 with two losses and a draw during that run of the results.
But for all the number crunching and records the most significant one is Tigers are now up to fourth in the league - in a vital play-off position.
Leicester were put into a winning position thanks to a highly impressive display by fly-half Freddie Burns putting in a composed performance in his 100th Premiership appearance.
Burns kicked 20 points on an afternoon when he out-played his England rival Henry Slade, who has leap-frogged the former Gloucester man in the competition of the national number 10 shirt this season.
Leicester’s only try of the game came in the 64th minute and it was scored from an unlikely source. The ball was put through the hands well and lock Sebastian de Chaves showed great dexterity to play in his second row partner Geoff Parling to crash over in the corner.
The irony is England lock Parling will be swapping Welford Road for Sandy Park next season.
Exeter did score two tries, the first through former Tigers number eight Thomas Waldrom who is the Premiership’s top try scorer with 13 for the season.
The Chiefs crossed again through scrum half Will Chudley ten minutes from time after a searing break from Slade - his best moment of the game by some distance.
But it was defence which won the day and Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said he was delighted with his side’s effort. He said: “I thought the performance all round was very good and our attitude to work rate has always been great.
“We’re not smart enough sometimes but we never lack for effort and I thought the attitude of the boys wanting to win was outstanding. I thought we were the better side, we did well. Exeter are a good side and they came and played against us and two sides that actually tried to play in difficult conditions at times but delighted with the win and attitude of the defence.
“You set the tone of how you are going to play by how you play and I thought we did that well.
“We knew we had to make our first up shots and we knew we had to fill the field because Exeter have got some huge threats as you saw when they got the opportunities they made up pay.
“We work pretty hard at it. Blakey has got the boys well drilled and I think that’s key in the modern game, big D sets to keep sides out when they could score. I think that’s a big psychological blow before half time.”
Exeter’s director of rugby Rob Baxter was also full of praise for Tigers. He said: “I have got a lot of respect for Leicester. I thought that first half, you have got to say some of that defence was fantastic because a lot of other teams would have crumbled.”
Cockerill said it was good to have his international contingent back in the mix and Dan Cole Parling, Tom and Ben Youngs all started after featuring for England in the Six Nations.
Cockerill said: “They were keen to play, I was more than keen for them to play for obvious reasons. Coley has not played much for us, Tom Youngs has had a long injury lay-off and so has Geoff. So although they have come back from a tough tournament they haven’t played a huge amount of rugby.”
Leicester now have a week off while European competition resumes, before facing second place Saracens. However the Watford-based club may well have been tenderized by Racing Metro away in Paris in the European Champions Cup quarter-finals by that point.
Cockerill said: “We’ve just got to keep winning. I don’t look at the stats I look at the next game. Five wins, five relatively ugly ones but I’ll take that.”
He added: “We just need to re-group and freshen ourselves up and the sides that we are playing have got some pretty tough European games coming up, so hopefully we will be fresh for the opposition.”
“We would obviously like to be higher [than fourth] but with four games to go we have put ourselves in a good position to kick on.”
“Hopefully we will get to the play-offs but we have got some very tough games coming up.
“We’re well in the mix for top four and that’s obviously our target at the start of the season and it still is now. If we get it right we can still get a home semi-final. How realistic that is we will see.”
Leicester’s run in is: Saracens, London Welsh, Wasps and Saints.