Inside the Tigers’ Den - Kiwi pair star in Leicester Tigers’ LV= Cup exit

Leicester Tigers centre Terrance Hepetema breaking tackles against Bath in the LV= Cup. Tiger Images
Leicester Tigers centre Terrance Hepetema breaking tackles against Bath in the LV= Cup. Tiger Images
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So Leicester are out of the LV= Cup but the individual performances from the club’s youngsters, second-string and old heads have been something to behold.

A strong Bath side beat Tigers 35-17 under the lights at Welford Road on Friday night but there were many positives to come out of the match.

Leicester Tigers flanker Pablo Matera. Tiger Images

Leicester Tigers flanker Pablo Matera. Tiger Images

Leicester were well in the match at half time having scored two tries through 20-year-old Argentinean international Pablo Matera, his first for club, and 25-year-old American Blaine Scully.

Owen Williams, 21, kicked the rest of the Tigers points.

Bath went in 18-17 up 
after tries from Alafoti Fa’Osiliva and Matt Banahan and the kicking of former British and Irish Lion Gavin Henson.

Considering the weakened team put out by Leicester, for their long shot at making the last semi-final place, it was an exceptional first half performance on Friday.

Matera was a powerful presence in the loose, causing destruction with and without the ball.

His display was matched by American winger Blaine Scully and outstanding New Zealand centre Terrence Hepetema.

It was Hepetema’s best display in the Tiger green since joining the club this summer.

The 21-year-old Kiwi, who moved from Super 15 side Western Force, has had a slow start to his Leicester career after fracturing his eye socket in the autumn.

However on Friday, in just his seventh start for the club, the 15 stone centre was an explosive ball of power and creativity. Unlocking the solid Bath defence with his footwork on more than one occasion.

However it was not just the young cubs who were putting on a show in the LV= Cup. Fellow Kiwi, and former All Black, Scott Hamilton turned back the clock with an assuring performance of class and guile.

The full back was imperious under the high-ball and turned defence into attack through out.

Sadly Leicester were out-gunned in the second half and Bath scored 17 unanswered points. Turning to their bench to get them home and secure a home semi-final.

Ollie Devoto and Carl Fearns scored their tries to secure the bonus-point.

After the match Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “It was a good learning tool for our younger guys.

“We put a mixed team out in this competition and see where we get to.

“Bath had a better team out in terms of experience and had a stronger bench, which they used in the second half when we were out-muscled. But there is no criticism of our players. Their commitment and character was fantastic.

“We were naive at times and got caught out but when you look at the difference in experience that was to be expected.

“The first half was great and we were a little bit disappointed not to be up at half-time. But in the second half it is always going to be difficult in that weather if you don’t have a set- piece to match theirs.”

Despite the Six Nations tournament starting on Saturday Tigers had a host of international talent available for selection on Friday but choose not to use it.

Cockerill said: “We could have stuck Ben Youngs, Toby Flood and Marcos Ayerza in there tonight and put a different side out.”

“But that is not what we are about at the moment. Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture. For 50 minutes it was a pretty good contest on the scoreboard, but I am pleased with how a lot of our players have coped.

“They have learned a lot and picked up experience over the past couple of weeks.”

The match was a significant milestone for one of Leicester’s more senior players, number eight Thomas Waldrom, who was named Tigers captain for the first time despite announcing he will leave the club for Exeter Chiefs in the summer.

Leicester were without a host of players involved in internationals at all levels.

Sadly none of them had a weekend to celebrate.

Prop Dan Cole and hooker Tom Youngs played in England’s crushing 26-24 last minute loss to France in Paris in the Six Nations

Cole had a difficult afternoon against the fierce French scrum but came through the encounter like the seasoned international he is and should be involved when England face Scotland on Saturday.

Ben Youngs and Ed Slater have joined up with the elite squad at their Pennyhill training ground once again despite being dropped for the opening game.

Tigers winger Adam Thompstone made his England Saxons debut on Friday in the side’s 16-16 draw with Scotland A.

England were leading at the break but Scotland pegged them back to leave the development side with nothing to celebrate from its two game programme.

The England U20s also came unstuck against France, in the junior version of the Six Nations.

Leicester academy duo Harry Thacker and Henry Purdy did not help the cause with a yellow card each.

Despite France going down to 14 men they came back to win 21-15.