Inside the Tigers Den - Leicester search for lost form

Ben Youngs, pictured in action for Leicester Togers, really took command of the match against Exeter when the game was in the balance. Tigers Images
Ben Youngs, pictured in action for Leicester Togers, really took command of the match against Exeter when the game was in the balance. Tigers Images
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So English rugby’s most spoilt fans are beginning to get a bit nervous that when they make their already booked trip to the Aviva Premiershiip final on May 31 they will not be watching their side fight it out for the title.

Leicester have made it to Twickenham every year for the last nine seasons but if they are going to get there in 2014 they are going to have to do it the hard way.

Leicester are still in fifth in the Aviva Premiership and a home semi-final is beginning to look out of sight.

Worryingly the current out of spirits side do not look capable of going to Saracens or Northampton and winning when it matters.

However Tigers did show great character to come back and beat Gloucester 11-8 on Sunday, but they looked so far from their powerful and fluent best that it was worrying.

In a brief moment of good play Mat Tait crossed the line in the 67th minute to score a game levelling try.

Gloucester had taken the lead early in the second half when Charlie Sharples showed his class to finish a try created by a sumptuous inside flick pass from Martyn Thomas.

At the end of the day it was Leicester’s unrivalled pack which won the game.

The Tigers scrum, even without Dan Cole who was rested by request of England, obliterated the Gloucester pack time after time at the set-piece.

On 77 minutes Gloucester were harshly penalised for folding up in the front row, giving Flood, who had missed the conversion earlier, the opportunity to win the game.

But what will concern Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill is the lack in fluency in his side’s play.

As is his character the Tigers director of rugby did not make any excuses with his post match comments.

Cockerill said: “We played poorly and were hanging on for dear life at the end.

“We need to be better and we were glad to get the win in the end. The result was the only positive to come out of the game.

“We were inaccurate across the board and, playing with ball in hand, we had numerous opportunities but coughed the ball up numerous times, making basic errors.

“It’s disappointing and not what we want to be doing.

“Everyone is working as hard as they can, it is not through a lack of effort. But our accuracy was dreadful, we need to get that a lot, lot better.

“We are a better side than what we showed.”

“We need to get some rhythm back in our game but the basics of passing and catching and carrying the ball were poor.

“Ben Youngs is working as hard as he can and Toby Flood needs to step up and take a bit more control at times, but we were quiet across the board.”

This was not a team stripped of its internationals, just Cole was absent , and most of Tigers long term injured are now back in action. But too many key players looked off the boil.

Ben Youngs, who has been dropped by England, looked so uncertain in what he was doing. His pass dipped at the feet of the recipients time after time and he seemed out of sync with his forwards for a large part of the game.

Club captain Flood also looked someway from his best. While he challenged the line as a runner, his passing was also wayward and he made either a poor choice or no choice at all far too often when directing Leicester’s attack.

This was never more obvious than when he got levelled by human wrecking ball Sila Puafisi. With runners getting their wires crossed Flood looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights and was run down by the Cherry and Whites truck-like prop.

The confusion led Flood and Logo Munipola to exchange angry words as the inquest was held into what went wrong.

The incident was a clear sign of the frustration bubbling under the surface.

An interesting subplot to the game was Gloucester fly half Freddie Burn’s non-appearance from the replacements bench.

The out of favour England international, who is expected to be Flood’s replacement atWelford Road, was not called into action meaning Tigers fans were unable to get a preview of what they may be getting.

While Munipola may have temporarily fallen out with his skipper the 20 stone prop is going to be in high demand in the coming months as it was confirmed on Sunday that Tiger prop Dan Cole could be out of action for the rest of the season.

Cole, who started both of England’s Six Nations matches this season, has a bulging disc in his neck which is trapping a nerve.

The prop was diagnosed after experiencing weakness during a gym session at St George’s Park with the national squad last week and will miss the rest of the RBS Six Nations. Cole will have further specialist assessment this week.

The tighthead, with 45 international caps to his name, will be missed by Leicester but it is an area Tigers have strength in.

Next up for the wounded side are London Irish, followed by Newcastle and Exeter before a possible season defining game away at Northampton on March 29.