Leicester Tigers’ fallibilities were shown up by a very good Wasps side on Saturday.
Having an All Black in your side always helps, two is even better, and they both made their mark on the game, Charles Piatau scoring a double and Frank Halai crossing once as the home side scored five tries in a 36-24 victory.
The bounce of the ball can so often undo a team and it almost did for Leicester. After a bright start which saw them apply pressure on the hosts, Halai pick up the lose pass and sped 60 metres down-field. Disruption at the ensuring ruck handed Jimmy Gopperth the chance to make it 3-0.
Rugby and defending really isn’t that complicated - in attack get more numbers than there are in defence and work the ball into space. In defence always try to have at least one man opposite one attacker. Where all that breaks down is when two players manage to run through the tackles of six players between them in the space of two phases which is exactly what happened when Wasps opened the scoring. First Ashley Johndon barged his way through on his 100th appearance for the club and then man of the match Charles Piutau put on an equally impressive display of power to get to the line.
In contrast Wasps were brilliantly belligerent in defence, smashing back the Leicester carriers with each contact.
Freddie Burns scored a penalty from 45 metres for Tigers before Wasps winger Christian Wade handed Peter Betham an early present, floating a pass straight into the Australian’s arms and against the run of play Tigers led.
Betham is a talented rugby player, balanced and fast, which has earned him international caps for Australia. What he is not is a big hit it up centre. With Manu Tuilagi away with England and Jean de Villiers injured the Wallaby started at outside centre and he was found out. Unfortunately in that position you have to take the ball up and he was simply knocked back time and again in both attack and defence.
Wade made amends for his mistake quickly, the shortest man on the pitch out-jumping an out of position Vereniki Goneva moments later to score.
Charles Piatau was over for his second before the break, as he and his brother carved through the middle of Leicester defence like a hit knife through butter off first phase possession from a lineout. It was all far too easy.
Early in the second half Halai showed his class and pace with a wonderful individual finish and the game looked dead and buried.
But Telusa Veainu scored with his first touch of the game, the only question is why wasn’t he on it from the start. Mathew Tait had a torrid afternoon and eventually left the field with a head injury, but he did set up the try with a creative over-head flick pass,
However Wasps are a class outfit with plenty of firepower on the bench and guns don’t get much bigger than Nathan Hughes. He came off the bench and was over the line within 10 minutes of joining the fray, powering over despite the tackle of the not inconsiderably sized Graham Kitchener.
With four minutes to go, good hands from Veainu saw Goneva cross the line before he limped off the field. Leicester will hope it is nothing serious because the winger looked their most deadly threat in the back line, making breaks from almost impossible positions.
With Adam Thompstone also picking up a knock the Tigers’ resources in the backs are being stretched.
Leicester should have got a bonus point try in the final moments of the match as they battered their way towards the line. A little calmer heads would have seen them get two losing bonus points had they got over the line, one for being within seven points of Wasps and a second for scoring four tries. That would have but a much better shine on the result, as it was they came away from a costly none and as a result have dropped out of the Aviva Premiership top four to fifth, sitting one point behind Northampton Saints.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “Credit to the boys for sticking in there. We were playing for two points at the end but we were a bit under-powered in the backline. That hurt us.
“They were strong through the middle. I was a bit disappointed with our defensive display at times but they took their opportunities well”
“We conceded too many tries too easily. If you get broken that cleanly it’s going to cost you.”
Cockerill added: “It’s very tight and anyone in that top eight will be looking to push for the top four.”
Make no mistake this Leicester team could become the first side in the club’s history not to make the play-offs come the end of the season. They have an up-hill battle to do it now and league leaders Saracens are next.
“Saracens is an important game next week and then we go to Sale. It’s an important couple of weeks for us, it’s going to go to the wire,” Cockerill concluded.
One plus point from the game was the performance of new prop Ellis Genge who looked good when he came on, making a couple of nice carries and good tackles in a decent debut. More importantly the scrum stayed solid with the Bristol loanee in it and he looks to have a bit of something about him. Despite it being his first Aviva Premiership appearance he was in the thick of the action when a ruckus started, manhandling the huge Nathan Hughes to the ground. That’s what you want from a prop.
In the mean time Leicester’s top prop Dan Cole was beating Wales at Twickenham along with scrum half Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi, who made his international return in the 25-21 victory.
With Scotland beating France on Sunday 29-18, England have won the Six Nations for the first time since 2011, and the first time ever with one round still to play. They now head to Paris on Saturday night in search of the Grand Slam, something they haven’t achieved since they won the World Cup back in 2003.
All three Leicester men look likely to be involved in that match. Mores the pity for Leicester who could really do with certainly Tuilagi’s power in their midfield against Saracens on Sunday.