Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester earn difficult win

Freddie Burns in action for Leicester Tigers against Cardiff Blues in pre-season. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-140409-144639001
Freddie Burns in action for Leicester Tigers against Cardiff Blues in pre-season. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-140409-144639001
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Don’t let anyone tell you differently winning away in the deepest West Country down at Sandy Park is no easy task and Leicester did just that on Saturday.

They didn’t do it with ease or much grace and have been one of the few teams to regularly come home with points in recent years but many other top teams will falter under the sound of the tomahawks chop down in Devon.

Make no mistake this is the most competitive the Aviva Premiership has ever been. After just two rounds of competition there are just three unbeaten teams left, and one of them will lose their record at the weekend when Tigers and Bath pack down at The Rec.

Defending champions Northampton looked imperious in the opening game at home to Gloucester but came unstuck against the resurgent Wasps on Sunday who almost beat Saracens on the opening day.

This was an Exeter team who beat London Welsh a staggering 52-0 in the opening week of the competition and like Newcastle before them they game at Leicester with an astute game plan. Despite all that Leicester triumphed 24-20 thanks to tries from Anthony Allen, Ben Youngs and the kicking of Freddie Burns and Owen Williams.

Exeter no doubt fearing the likes of last season’s top try scorer Niki Goneva were determined to deny Leicester any width and conceded the ruck battle before kick off, choosing not to compete and spread their defence wide instead.

It was a clever and largely successful tactic. The result was a claustrophobic feel on the field with the Chiefs forcing the Tigers to attack through the centre of the park.

However It was a good day for Leicester’s new fly-half Freddie Burns who showed great tactical awareness and was cool under pressure in his 72 minutes.

Realising what Exeter were attempting to do he unlocked their sturdy defence with a series of pin-point kicks just over or beyond the defensive line. On such kick was brilliantly converted by the returning Anthony Allan for Leicester’s first try.

He and fellow England internationals Mat Tait and Geoff Parling all did well in their first starts of the new season and they will only get better.

While it was Burns and skipper Youngs doing all the glossy things to fill the highlights reel the game was won in the line out. Parling and his second row partner Graham Kitchener were dominant in the set-piece and particularly the later won some key interception ball.

Leicester are working with a new defence goal in Phil Blake this season and he still has some work to do. They missed far too many tackles against Exeter and if Tigers have a similar performance against Bath then they will be on end of a hiding.

Bath are a bit of a bogey team for Leicester of late, having not beaten the West Country side in all competitions in their last four meetings, and Tigers have only won once at The Rec in the Aviva Premiership since 2006.

With all that in mind Leicester are taking the fixture incredibly seriously and made the unheard of call of cancelling their A league game on Monday to make sure all their troops were in shape for battle on Saturday.

Once again Leicester are fighting a war on two fronts, on the pitch and on the physio’s table. Tigers had a dozen players unavailable on Saturday including internationals: Dan Cole, Tom Croft, Maros Ayerza, Brad Thorn. Michele Rizzo and Pablo Matera as well as: Miles Benjamin, club captain Ed Slater and former club captain and England man Louis Deacon.

Leicester are so short of second row options, with young academy product Tom Price having surgery on a broken foot sustained against Northampton during pre-season, that they are even looking to buy another player in.

However The good news is Croft, who has been out a with a shoulder problem, is expected to be back for Bath, most likely on the bench because of the sterling job Jamie Gibson continues to do on the blindside.