RUGBY: Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester taking the Anglo-Welsh Cup seriously
It was a good weekend to be a Leicester Tigers fan.
At Welford Road the Tigers were dominating Newport Gwent Dragons in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, while at Twickenham scrum half Ben Youngs was winning the man of the match award for England as they ended 10 years of hurt against the Springboks.
So first to matters at home, Welford Road, were a very strong Leicester team scored six tries in a 42-3 rout of the Welsh Pro12 outfit.
It was a dominant first half display from Leicester who named a side with four former internationals in the starting line-up with the likes of Freddie Burns, Peter Betham, Tom Croft and Marcos Ayerza turning out.
And the class in the Tigers’ line-up shone through early.
It was Burns who opened the scoring from a penalty, and then they fly-half pounced on a loose ball, caused by some poor handling from the visitors in the albeit it soaking conditions, to start a break from inside his own half. The move developed with the ball going through four sets of hands before Owen Williams, flying at inside centre, grubbered the ball through for Adam Thompstone to gather and offload back to the young Welshman to score his first try of the season - using the wet grass to slide over the line.
Dragons did respond with a penalty from the boot of Rhys Jones, after a scrum went down, but that was to be the visitors’ only points of the afternoon.
Thompstone scored his third try of the season with a strong finish in the corner, which was all the more impressive because of the accurate handling from the Leicester back line in the wet conditions to create the space out wide.
With the forwards dominating the inexperienced side from Wales, who are the weakest of the four Welsh regions, Leicester scored next through Greg Bateman after some sublime skill from big lock Graham Kitchener, who first stepped his marker and then off-loaded to former Exeter Chief Bateman.
Bateman is proving to be a brilliant utility squad player, having now played right across the front of the scrum this season.
Tigers had the bonus point wrapped up before the break thanks to some brilliant persistence from Burns. He chipped the ball ahead and chased after it. Tavis Knoyle, the Newport scrum half, looked to have the situation covered but Burns pulled off his own Rob Howley moment - when he robbed the Heineken Cup from Toulouse in the last minute back in 2004 for Wasps.
The fly half bravely dived on the ball and slid over to score. If ever a moment summed up the spirit the coaching staff have been trying to install in this group of players, that was it.
The youngsters took over after the break. First prop Ellis Genge was driven over at the back of a maul for his first try in Tiger stripes. He will link up with England again this week as they prepare to face Fiji on Saturday.
The centre Jack Roberts completed the rout with his first Leicester try as well, using his pace to get on the outside of the wilting Dragons’ defence and then touch down.
Tigers now sit top of their group, Pool 4, but they will have to take on Pool 1 leaders Northampton Saints, in an extra derby, after Christmas and then finish with Saracens if they want to progress to the semi-finals.
Tigers coach Richard Blaze said the strong selection and subsequent impressive performance was all about maintaining momentum.
He said: “We spoke in the week about keeping our foot on the pedal, and that is something we will have to look at.
“We had a really good first half and then almost let them back in the game in the second. But we got the win and we are sitting comfortably in the table.
“There were some good performances and I thought number eight Luke Hamilton was one of the outstanding players today.”
Meanwhile Ben Youngs inspired England to their first victory over South Africa in 10 years at Twickenham, setting up two tries as England romped home 37-21 in the first Autumn International of the year.
It was two men recalled to the England squad who got the tries for the home nation in the first half, with Gloucester’s Jonny May scoring the first of the match and Northampton Saint’s Courtney Lawes the second, on his 50th cap.
With South Africa tiring after the break Youngs came to life, first he dummied his way through the green and gold shirts to set-up George Ford for an easy finish,before doing almost exactly the same for Owen Farrell. Farrell finished with 19 points, kicking everything bar one penalty which debutant Elliot Daly knocked over from half way.
South Africa fought back to make the score respectable, touching down through Johan Goosen and Willie le Roux after the break to add to Lambie’s eight points and a conversion from Ruan Combrink. But it was a historic win for England, who can still get considerably better.
There were two other Tigers in action at Twickenham on Saturday with Dan Cole having an excellent match at tight head prop and JP Pietersen on the wing for South Africa.
All three men look set to be missing for their club this weekend because of international duty, when Leicester face Harlequins at Welford Road on Sunday back in the Aviva Premiership.