Tigers opened their A league campaign with a disappointing loss to local rivals Northampton in front of a big crowd at Welford Road. A 79th minute penalty try dubiously awarded by Leicestershire referee Martin Fox gave Northampton a 23-15 win and denied the Tigers even a losing bonus point.
An heavy mid afternoon shower left the pitch in a greasy condition which combined with some poor basic skills made for a scrappy match. There was a lack of quality moments in the game; for Tigers Sam Harrison showed that he has an eye for a gap from 10 and Henry Purdy put in a physical performance despite heavy strapping on his right arm; Northampton's star backs of Paul Diggin and Vassily Artemiev failed to shine as it was their forwards that dominanted proceedings.
Australian test prop Salesi Ma'afu and Ethan Waller dominated at the scrum, with James Craig and Rob Verbakel in the engine room Northampton had a very strong tight five and it proved the difference. Tigers were simply unable to even retain their own ball at times as the Northampton 8 drove them backwards at a rate of knots.
With the likes of George Chuter, Jerome Schuster, Tom Price and Sebastian De Chaves in the pack there was no excuse. This is the second time I have watched Schuster and the second time he has struggled badly in the scrums. He came here with over hundred games at loosehead for Perpignan and only 3 at tighthead, time will tell but a shift back to number 1 would seem the best course of action for the Frenchman.
The evening started relatively brightly even though Northampton got on the board first on 11 minutes when Tigers were ruled offside. Straight from the kick off and with a mighty whiff of a knock on from Jamie Gibson the Tigers scored. Sam Harrison raised a steepling kick off that was contested by Gibson, the ball ran loose towards the Crumbie touchline and Henry Purdy chipped the loose ball through. Purdy's pace saw him soar past the motionless Northampton defence, winning the foot race to touch down for the try. Sam Harrison knocked over the touchline conversion with amplob.
But Tigers lead was to be short lived. Another fumbled kick off gave the Wanderers great position but they thought they had blown it knocking on inches from the line. But that mighty pack got them out of trouble as a huge shunt caused 18 year old George Tresidder to loose the ball under pressure and Ben Nutely was on hand to sweep up, making it 10-7 to Northampton.
Tigers had chances to close the gap but Sam Harrison couldn't replicate his early form missing two kicks from in front of the posts and another outwide, meanwhile Northampton fly half Sam Olver kicked his attempt in the 33rd minute to make it 13-7 at half time.
In the second half the game was breaking up a bit more. Tigers gained a penalty in the midfield from the Northampton defence and kicked it to the corner. The line out was taken by Tom Price and as the Crumbie stand roared them on the Tigers set to work driving. HEAVE. The cry went up. HEAVE. The pack responded. A superbly constructed maul gave Northampton no chance of disrupting and Michael Noone was awarded the try, though it could have been anyone.
Another Harrison miss left Tigers trailing by a point.
Northampton attacked well and had the option of going for the pushover try but strangely decided to go for the posts instead making it 16-12.
With Tigers finally realising that both set pieces were falling apart and that their best two players were clearly Harrison and Purdy they started to work the ball to them more often. Sam Harrison was like a matador as the Northampton defence charged and he skipped away to find a gaping hole through the middle. Henry Purdy came storming through on his right and stepped the Full Back on the inside going for the posts. The cover defence was excellent though and he couldn't quite wriggle free to ground the ball.
With Tigers set to try and score from 5 meters referee Fox suddenly decided to call feeding against Tresidder despite allowing it all game previously. These are the decisions that infuriate spectators and players alike, are we playing this law or not? Why only give it when 5m out from the line?
Shortly after Harrison was pulled off for Peter Osbourne, seemingly Tigers weren't interested in winning match after all as Harrison had been toying with the Northampton mid-field all match. His goal kicking was well askew but there were 6 other backs on the field to sacrifice if we wanted a kicker that desperately.
Osbourne succeeded with his only attempt at goal 8 minutes later but seemed to panic and kick too much and too poorly. Our set pieces were shot but our outside backs were causing problems.
But then Northampton turned the screw with a series of line out drives and scrums. Eventually the referee got bored and, despite Tigers certainly driving them back in the mauls and pretty much keeping the scrums even, he sided with the earlier dominant pack.
Tigers Man of the Match was Purdy but Salesi Ma'afu was the difference between the two sides as he stopped Tigers having any kind of platform to play from, just emphasising why Tigers played Julian White in this competition for all those years.
Humphreys; Catchpole, Hepetema, Dunn, Purdy; Harrison, Tresidder; Bristow, Chuter, Schuster; Price, De Chaves; Wells, Noone, Gibson.
Subs: Cain (h/t-60 mins De Chaves, 71 mins Chuter), Williams (50 mins Hepetema), Guillaume (53 mins Gibson), Farnworth (60 mins Cain), Pasquale (63 mins Schuster), Osbourne (63 mins Harrison); Subs Not Used: Brugnara, Prince.