RUGBY: Inside the Tigers’ Den - Record defeat in Europe for Leicester
It’s a very football mentality but it is fair to say the pressure is growing on Leicester Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill as results continue to go against his side.
On Friday night Leicester were humiliated away at Glasgow Warriors in the opening game of the European Champions Cup, losing 42-13.
Defence has been a concern for Leicester all season, and two weeks ago they parted company with the man in charge of marshalling it Scott Hansen. But there were few changes in the way Tigers defended on Saturday night, conceding a record number of points in Europe as Glasgow marched in five tries, albeit two of them from interceptions with Leicester wildly chasing the match.
Leicester got off to a decent start, scoring the opening try of the match when they executed a well worked catch and drive lineout and powered over the line with winger Adam Thompstone, of all people, touching down.
But just five minutes later Italian winger Leonardo Sarto caught Tigers napping in their defensive duties at the edge of a ruck, spotting Graham Kitchener out of position, and raced in to score the first of a double on the night. Kitchener was also at fault for the second try, with hooker Fraser Brown running straight over the big lock to score.
Glasgow were in their element and went close to scoring a stunning length-of-the-field third moments later following a break out from Sarto which saw the winger beat four defenders. Only good scrambling defence managed to hold Glasgow up over the line.
But Leicester were not learning their lesson and when Henry Pyrgos spotted a gap in the centre of the Tigers’ defence he dived over to score the home side’s third.
Owen Williams struck a second penalty of the day to make it 22-13 to Glasgow at the break. Leicester needed a big second half performance to turn things around - instead they didn’t score again.
But the Warriors did.
Matthew Tait threw an interception to Mark Bennett, who raced in from 80 metres and then Sarto caught a Freddie Burns pass to repeat the feat and wrap up a huge victory for the Scottish side.
Australian international Matt Toomua’s debut for Tigers did not quite go to plan either, receiving a yellow card for an ugly spear tackle on Finn Russell. He was lucky to escape a red and the citing commissioner still might have something to say about it.
Cockerill said: “We made a good start to the game into a stiff breeze, we got an early lead and we managed the game well in the period where we lost Matt Toomua to a yellow card.”
“But I’m disappointed in how we let them into the game. We gave away silly penalties and made some errors. Once they got momentum, they played very well and we couldn’t cope with it. Then you start forcing it and give away two interception tries and it starts to unravel on you.
“It is pretty raw now but we’re back at home next Sunday and we have to front up and play better. We were not good enough tonight, there’s no getting away from that. If we play badly it is my responsibility, and it is my responsibility to put it right.”
At the weekend Leicester have just the small matter of French Top 14 champions Racing 92 coming to Welford Road. Racing’s game with Munster was postponed on Sunday following the devastating news that the Irish side’s 42-year-old director of rugby Anthony Foley died in his hotel room on the day of the game.
While all the attention is on Leicester’s failing attack at the moment there were also some grave concerns with their attack on Friday at they failed to pierce the Warriors’ defence.
In fact the statistic which perhaps comes as the biggest surprise, particularly with the likes of stepping sensation Telusa Veainu in the side, is Leicester made just one line break in the whole 80 minutes at Scotstoun.
It’s not necessarily going the help with line breaks but what Leicester appear to be missing this season is a couple of powerful lumps to break down the wall and run over someone if defences are too good to be beaten with fancy moves and hot-stepping.
Of course the club have paid Manu Tuilagi a great deal of money to be that man but with his groin injury flaring up again his return date is uncertain.
With Jordan Crane (Bristol), Opeti Fonua (Newcastle) and Laurence Pearce (Sale) all leaving the club this summer, and Mike Williams out with a broken arm - ending his hopes of making his England debut this autumn - Tigers are short of big ball carriers in the forwards.
Lachlan McCaffrey is a clever, agile number eight with great footballing skills but sometimes you need some grunt.
Watching Saracen’s beat Toulon in their own back yard on Saturday it was astounding to see the skill their big ball carrying forwards, like Maro Itoje, George Kruis, Billy Vunipola and Schalk Burger have. The difference between the two sides at the moment is a gaping gulf.
Leicester have addressed their shortage of back row options with the signing of Argentina international Tomas Leonardi.
Last season the 29-year-old played for Japaneese Super Rugby side the Sunwolves. He has also played for South African Super Rugby side the Kings, although only once, Toulouse and Edinburgh and has 19 Test caps for Argentina, his last coming in 2013.
The 6ft 3in, nearly 17 stone backrower is a good ball carrier and has been registered in time to play for Tigers in this season’s European Champions Cup.
How much he will play with be interesting to monitor, with Tigers letting another Argentine flanker, Pablo Matera, leave after only a handful of appearances. He has since gone on to establish himself as one of the leading players in the Pumas team, as displayed during a an impressive performance against Australia at Twickenham last week in the final game of The Rugby Championship.
Looking at last season’s accounts, which have just been published, international rugby hurt Tigers in 2015/16.
With the Rugby World Cup in England cutting the season short Tigers recorded an operating loss of £424,000, having made a £479,000 profit in the previous year.