Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester waste a golden chance to reach LV= Cup final
The good news is Leicester Tigers could and should have beaten Exeter Chiefs on Sunday, the bad news is they didn’t.
Tigers showed some great flashes of creative attacking play in their LV= Cup semi-final 30-20 defeat to Chiefs but they failed to make the right choices in the key moments to turn breaks into points.
In stark contrast Exeter attacked twice and scored three tries. Their two attacks were brilliantly worked driving mauls and the third score came from an interception.
Defending LV= Cup champions Exeter Chiefs were the second best side for much of the afternoon at Welford Road but they were clinical when it counted.
It was Leicester’s first defeat at home in all competitions since September and they had plenty of chances to win but wasted overlaps and made some poor choices.
Exeter will now meet Saracens at Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday to play for the first piece of silverware this season.
Either side will be fitting winners as the Chiefs have invested in developing players better than any other club in the country and Saracens have arguably the strongest overall squad in the league.
Tigers flyhalf Tommy Bell scored 15 points with the boot and Michele Rizzo crossed for a try in the fourth minute but the Chiefs scored three tries to win. Elvis Taione was at the bottom of the first driving maul for Exeter before Fetu’u Vainikolo took an interception pass from Laurence Pearce.
Exeter went down to 14 men midway through the second half and Leicester went agonisingly close through Brad Thorn, Neil Briggs and George Catchpole but the visitors weathered the storm.
There have been many times in recent years when Leicester have won mighty scrummaging duels to win a match – but on Sunday they lost the one key scrum of the game and it led to them losing the match.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, after several re-sets, Exeter were awarded a penalty as the Tigers front row popped up. They kicked to the corner and after a couple of attempts mauled the ball over the line with the league’s shortest scrum half Dave Lewis helping out. Replacement hooker Greg Bateman was at the bottom of the pile to touch down. Ciri Sweeney stuck the knife in with the conversion to put the game well beyond reach and finish with a 15 point haul.
Leicester Tigers assistant coach Geordan Murphy said: “We were probably a bit naive. We made eight line breaks and scored only one try. We left some points out there.
“At times we could have turned the screw but we let the pressure off them with our mistakes.
“Tommy Bell missed touch with 25 minutes to go and a penalty then would have put us one point behind. But the guys stuck at it and you can’t have excuses at this level, the guys know how to play the game. I think at times we suffered from white line fever.”
Despite the competition ending in disappointment for Leicester it has once again been a brilliant showcase for emerging talent.
Twenty one year-old hooker Harry Thacker has been a standout player through out the competition and should kick on to provide excellent cover during the international periods next season.
Sebastian de Chaves captained Tigers for the first time on Sunday and had one of his most accomplished games for the club, making big runs and showing surprising skill and mobility for a 16st 7lb 6ft 6in lock.
At 24 the former South African U20s international has a lot to offer the club and has been a vital cog in the squad this season through the second row injury crisis.
At Twickenham England kept their Six Nations championship ambitions alive with a 25-13 victory over Scotland on Saturday.
However like Tigers they left far too many points on the field which could cost them dearly in the final reckoning.
With Wales beating Ireland the tournament is now a three-way tie between those two nations and England, with points difference the only thing separating them.
England currently have a four point advantage but by far the toughest assignment on Saturday when they take on France at Twickenham.
Ireland are away at Scotland and Wales away at Italy, a blow-out win for either side would likely see them win the title.
England were very close to being very good on Saturday.
But for a few missed chances and spilled balls they could have been handsome winners, cutting through the Scottish defence with relative ease.
Ben Youngs was excellent once again at scrum half giving England good ball and finding gaps around the edges.
Dan Cole once again anchored the scrum and Tom Youngs and Geoff Parling did well when they came off the replacements bench.
Stuart Lancaster is a likeable man, an honest man, but his loyalty to players who are under performing is a big chink in his armour as a coach. He has continued to stick with Northampton duo Dylan Hartley and Luther Burrell despite the pair having below average performances in their last few games.
Burrell is incredibly blinkered and greedy with the ball, and on Saturday he blew a try scoring chance in the opening minutes of the game by not passing when his supporting player would almost certainly have been in for a score.
His place in the starting side is certainly up for grabs and with rugby league convert Sam Burgess named in the training squad he will be looking over his shoulder.
Hartley has been anonymous in the loose and poor in the lineout with Tom Youngs out-performing him when the two have been traded.
With the World Cup getting ever closer there is all to play for when it comes to nailing down a starting spot in the national side - but for now it’s all about beating France.