Top of the table Tigers crashed to their first defeat at the Stoop since 2003 and fell to third in the table. The final score was 25-21 to the Londoners with Ben Botica slotting 7 kicks to compliment Danny Care’s try. Tigers actually out scored their hosts 2-1 in the try stakes with Toby Flood and Adam Thompstone touching down but a litany of penalties were their downfall.
Touching on the referee it is rather amazing that Wayne Barnes (incidentally living in Twickenham) didn’t give a single penalty against Quins defence after the first 30 seconds. With nice disdain for the fans he also didn’t signal what that was for nor did the ref mike pick it up. But hey why would we need to know what he’s actually thinking? We’re only paying his wages.
Tigers had actually started rather brightly, in a change from their usual sluggish beginnings this winter, getting plenty of good possession in Quins 22 before Barnes blew for obstruction against Manu. Things were looking decidedly up when Nick Easter threw a terrible floated pass and Toby Flood darted in to steal the ball; nobody could catch him as he raced away for his second intercept try of the season.
Quins’ first penalty was quickly registered though when Logovi’i Mulipola was adjudged to have bored into Mark Lambert at a scrum. Flood and Botica then traded penalties as Danny Care was off side from a kick and Tigers were called for handling the ball off their feet when Quins were attacking. Mulipola was then the villain again as he was fingered for collapsing a maul; the fact that the maul didn’t collapse apparently didn’t bother Barnes nor the countless times that Quins “disrupted” possession on the other side. Another set of penalties, with Mulipola again being the Tigers penalised, were traded before Tigers got their second try.
After another 50/50 scrum call, this time in Tigers favour, the visitors had a lineout in the Quins 22 on the left hand touchline. Allen made a strong burst through the middle before play was switched the right hand touchline with Rob Hawkins. Strong carries from Slater, Mulipola and Manu Tuilagi took play back to the left with Sam Harrison doing well to secure the ball at the final ruck. After maintain possession he fed Flood who dinked through a chip with the outside of his right boot, Thompstone won the race and after an age for a TMO review the score was given.
Flood missed the extras and the halftime score stood at 18-12.
That was about as good as it got for Tigers.
In the second half Mr. Barnes (of Twickenham, coincidentally) whistled Tigers off the park whilst only the intervention of touch judge Ashley Rowden saw Barnes rule out a Quins score for the most blatant of blocks.
That was later though, straight after half time Tigers were still playing well and had the momentum. A sliced kick after strong Tigers pressure fell into Harrison’s lap and he jinked his way to within yards of the line. When Quins’ Ugo Monye released his man is perhaps a mystery only Barnes will ever be able reveal as rather than penalise his fellow south-west Londoner he ruled Leicester’s Sam Harrison was holding on. From the kick to touch Barnes again harshly penalised Tigers for a lineout offence. Watching it back I just can’t fathom what he has seen to blow his whistle. Quins two lifters form a block ahead of the ball carrier, so he could have blown for us, but after that nothing else happens.
His next penalty was also crucial. Tigers had been attacking reasonably brightly with Flood content to kick behind Ross Chisholm when nothing was particularly on. Joe Gray and Jordan Turner-Hall steamed round the side of a ruck to take out Harrison, turning the ball over after Barnes again didn’t see fit to punish his neighbours. Staggeringly he decided that Toby Flood, lying a good yard from the ball at the next ruck was committing some sort of offence. Care sensed his opportunity with Tigers defence all over the place from the turnover and went quickly. Salvi could have taken him early but in the mood Barnes was in he probably would have been red carded, Care then ran straight through Mat Tait. Strong carrying no doubt from the Leeds man but Tait should be disgusted with his effort. If he had made any impact on Care’s pace at all, even the smallest road bump, Rob Hawkins and Anthony Allen were on hand to tackle Care well short of the line instead he made as much impact as a door mat.
Tait may be bright and pacey in attacking but his defence is atrocious and his body language is possibly the worst I’ve ever seen in the game. His head literally drops whenever he makes a mistake and he exudes weakness and frailty. Geordan Murphy is not retired yet, in the same no-sentimentality mindset that saw Deano edged out for Eric Miller we should play the better man and at the moment that is the elder statesman from Dublin.
That try gave Quins they were never to lose. About ten minutes later Barnes again showed his disdain for the public by not signalling what a penalty was for; Quins were only 10 meters short of the Tigers line and it was in a ruck is all that I can tell you. Quins looked to be battering us in that next spell and were in the process of scoring their second try when Tigers were saved by the Touch Judges flag. Matt Hopper took out Matt Smith to make a hole for Ben Botica to race into, somehow Barnes wasn’t watching (didn’t want to watch?) and it was only the intervention of Ashley Rowden from the touchline that saved the day. Even then Barnes couldn’t actually bring himself to rule against his fellow Londoners so had to check with the TMO.
Reminded that Quins could actually infringe the laws of the game he finally awarded Tigers another penalty himself when Manu Tuilagi was prevented from a turnover by Ollie Lindsey-Hague holding on. Flood cut the gap to a solitary point. Tigers were now bearing down on Quins and had a scrum on Quins 10 meter line. Danny Care was clearly tackling Sam Harrison without the ball and was also past the ball so offside. Barnes surely saw this; the whistle was in his mouth set to blow. But no he didn’t even put out an arm for advantage. Flood might not have got the kick of course but now we’ll never know.
Flood kicked to the corner to put Quins under huge pressure as their lineout had been shaky all game. But once again Mr. Barnes had to intervene on behalf of Quins. Ed Slater went up for the ball and got a hand on it, it was only strong hands from George Robson that stopped it being a crucial turnover. But Barnes wasn’t interested in players only himself and his whistle. Tigers were resolute and turned Quins over from the next lineout once again only for Barnes’s whistle to pierce the air for a twentieth time. This time we’d come in from the side apparently. Where had Gray come from before Care’s try?
From the resulting lineout Quins Garryowen was contested by Scott Hamilton and Ugo Monye. Barnes ruled that this was a mess and Quins were going forward rather than Hamilton had caught a kick and had no time to do anything with it. That is a 50/50 call, you aren’t going to get all of them but this time we got none of them. Quins scrum marmalised a tiring Tigers front row, Cockerill had in his wisdom decided not to use any front row subs, and there could be no moaning about that penalty.
There was still time for Barnes to, for the third time, blow his whistle without making any signal to the crowd or giving any hints to the TV audience about its provenance before Quins decided to not risk the win for the sake of depriving Tigers of their losing bonus point and ran the ball out.
The referee was very poor and halted our momentum time and time again, but if Mat Tait makes his tackle I don’t think we lose that game. Quins never really looked like breaking us down even with their fast paced attacking game, and arguably the difference was really the 6 points they gained from the scrum. In the long run this game doesn’t really affect our chances of winning that elusive 10th title, we know we can beat Quins and we know that we can lose to them too. What we have to do now is focus on making sure all our key players are fit and firing for Toulon then the Premiership play offs.