RUGBY: Inside the Tigers’ Den - Narrow win for struggling Leicester
Leicester Tigers have yet to find their rhythm so far this season but they are just about getting results.
Sunday’s 14-13 victory over Newcastle was ugly, robotic and lucky. Quite simply Tigers should have lost at Kingston Park, but Falcons’ replacement fly-half Joel Hodgson missed a drop-goal from 10 metres out with the last kick of the game in the 85th minute.
Once again Tigers had to come back to get a result, having recovered from going 24 points down against Gloucester on the opening day of the season to win 38-31, and then going 21 points down against Wasps before eventually losing 34-22, they quickly trailed Newcastle by 10-0 in the first half.
Juan Pablo Socino cut through the Tigers midfield for the first try of the game but midway through the first half Ben Youngs fed man of the match Mike Fitzgerald to use his hefty frame to crash over the line.
Freddie Burns missed the conversion but kicked three penalties to put Leicester one point ahead, however Falcons rallied late in the day and when Peter Betham pulled off a try saving tackle, but then illegally slowed the ball at the ruck to earn a yellow card with 10 minutes reingmain, Newcastle looked on the verge of taking the win.
But fortune favoured Tigers whose second win of the season means they sit in fourth place in the Aviva Premiership table behind Bath, Saracens and Wasps, with the former visiting Welford Road on Saturday.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “It was very disappointing from our point of view,”
He added: “Credit to Newcastle, they could easily have won the game and we are very lucky to be going home with the four points.
“We had lots of opportunities to manage the game and do things better but we didn’t and we are lucky to win.
“The effort the players are putting in to try and solve the issues they are putting themselves under is credit to them so there is no lack of effort, we just need to be smarter.
“There was a period at the start of that second half where we should have controlled the ball better. Our ball control was poor and the scrum was a mess.
“Newcastle were very good and created a lot of opportunities which they will be disappointed they did not take.”
It was not all bad news though. The plus points from Tigers’ performance was: the break down, their line out and the defence.
The game was scrappy to watch but that is because Leicester made it that way, their forwards counter-rucked and caused messy ball all afternoon, slowing down the Newcastle attack.
That in turn allowed the defence to set itself much better, allowed the tight five forwards to get closer to the ruck - reducing the miss-matches on the outside.
That’s a big improvement as Tigers are shipping far to many points this season, and if they continue to miss-fire in attack they will need to become harder to score against if they are to continue getting results.
While Cockerill may not have been happy with the scrum the line out was perfect, quite literally, recording a 100 per cent success rate, with 16 from 16, with England Saxon George McGuigan bringing stability to that set-piece area, which could be a problem long term with club captain Tom Youngs Cockerill’s first choice in the position.
McGuigan had a fine game as did another summer signing JP Pietersen who topped the metres gained stats for Leicester.
However with Manu Tuilagi sidelined indifferently, to prevent a repeat of the groin injury which kept him out of action for 15 months and has flaired up again, Leicester’s backline is still lacking a little bite to it.
Newcastle were always going to respond after being embarrassed 58-5 against Round Four opponents Bath, plus they were at home, but Leicester looked a long way from scoring the eight tries the West Country marched in a week earlier.
The real test of where Leicester are will be on Sunday when two former Canterbury Crusaders coaches go head-to-head, Tigers head coach Aaron Mauger, and new Bath director of rugby Todd Blackadder.