A sublime game from former Tigers hero Andy Goode gave Wasps a 22-12 victory today at Adams Park. In wet and windy conditions Goode's judicious use of the boot gave Wasps great territory but it was two long range drop goals when the hosts were down to 14 men that made the difference.
Tigers were poor and a pale shadow of the side that won the title last May. The forwards were largely ineffectual; their carrying was often static and the scrum, despite early successes, was neutered by Wasps tactics of stepping out and pushing across. The half backs failed to shape the game, in stark contrast to master tactician Goode, as they couldn't seem to decide between playing a wide game or a tight forward one.
The conditions certainly contributed to handling errors from both sides but Mele's slow and loopy delivery put constant pressure on debutant Williams. Without a strong carrier in the backline it was often up to Bowden or Hepetema to take the crash ball; it is not their strength. The backline was in some way cobbling together what we had left and was unbalanced and not reflecting the tactics we were trying to play, but we have an academy bursting with strong physical ball carriers who can punch a gap. Dunn, Pohe or Purdy can carry all day and despite their tender years take some stopping.
The match started fairly well for Leicester. Williams missed an early penalty from wide right then another from well within his own half as Tigers played with the wind. Tigers had all the possession and territory.
The Wasps try came from a scrum on our own put in. Andrew Small, feeling the pressure from what few Wasps fans had bothered to turn up, whistled David Mele for feeding. With Jamie Gibson taking a wander to roll around on the floor with Ashley Johnson the Tigers back row was bent out of shape. Neither Mele nor Waldrom prevented the quick tap nor got back into position.
It was star man Goode who spotted the gaping hole in the tigers pack and went quickly. Tigers held out on the first phase but when play came back towards the left hand touchline Adam Thompstone went A.W.O.L. from the defensive line to give Christian Wade an easy run in. So poor from a first choice player.
Tigers attack was often rushed and where it could find fluency Wasps were quick to kill the ball and stop the flow dead. Before half time Williams nailed 3 penalties to Goode's 2 making the score 13-9. Wasps second penalty deserves greater analysis as it was simply bizarre refereeing.
First Simpson kicks the ball out of the scrum, then he runs into Mele. How this sequence of events ended with a Wasps penalty is completely beyond me. Small was being badly influenced by the home fans at this point. He may as well have given the whistle to Frank Adams Stand as they seemed to be the sole arbiters of whether a throw was straight or not.
Tigers started the second half with renewed resolve. A surging maul gained some 20 yards before Wasps opted to cheat and pull it to ground. Williams seemed to be deliberately slicing his touch kicks, the main effect of which was taking a good 10 meters off the distance. With the lineout between the 22m and 10m line, it was an interesting position to attack from but Tom Palmer's challenge in the air was ruled excessive.
Small refused to speak to the multi-capped England lock and insisted on only speaking to the captain. This kind of high handed arrogance from referees is so disrespectful to the players it amazes me they have the cheek to demand respect in return. What he could possibly be saying? "Don't do it again" is the jist, just say it the player! He is an adult for god's sake!
Not wanting to get dragged into a tit for tat penalty battle Tigers opted to again kick for touch. From the lineout Mulipola wrapped around the front but lost the ball in the tackle. A poor lineout from Wasps resulted in a turnover though and Tigers continued to charge for the line.
After the 5th penalty inside the home 22 Small finally lost patience and Carlo Festuccia was sent to the bin after not releasing his man after the tackle. Again Tigers spurned the chance for three and went for a scrum. It squirted out after a lack of control from Waldrom and Mele. Tigers retained the possesion and went left then went right.
They went up, they went down they went every way but forward. Panicked and rushed passes drew no defenders, forwards getting the ball standing still were driven back until eventually Joe Simpson stripped the ball and cleared his lines.
This was for me the defining spell of the game as Tigers seemed to slip from going for the win to simply keeping in touch. Wasps snuck into the Tigers half and Goodey stepped up to welly the drop goal. He had missed every single one of his attempts in the warm up but made no mistake with his second attempt either. Just a few moments after his first drop goal, this time from further out on the angle, after Tigers had failed to deal with Elliot Daly's high ball.
Clive Woodward used to talk about T-CUP, Thinking Clearly Under Pressure. Body on fire, mind in the fridge. Maybe our Director should dust off the power point and get down to Oval Park next Tuesday. He could start with David Mele. As regularly readers will know I'm never one to shy away from a cliche and Mele certainly seems desperate to show his latin temperament. More like body in the fridge and mind on fire.
After flapping his arms about and a cathartic bit of stamping he decided to try and get in on the drop goal act. Why? Good question. We have plenty of time. We need a try at some point to win the game.
It missed. It wasn't even close.
Eventually we did trouble the scorers as Williams slotted his 4th penalty. A smart break from Mele had finally got Tigers running forwards at some pace and into the broken field. With the Wasps defence stepping in man after man the gap would surely appear on the end of the line. But before it got there Tom Lindsay stuck his arm out to halt the ball's progress and paid with a penalty.
It looked like we would at least escape with the losing bonus point, but Small intervened once again. Mele's box kick was inch perfect and Blaine Scully showed his trademark effort to get under it. He and Goode rose to contest the catch, both clearly went for the ball but it was the Wasps man who won it.
Small gave the most dreadful of decisions. It's not tiddlywinks. What was Scully's option? This is a competitive game. He is allowed to try and catch the ball. It cost us the point when Goode's long range effort sailed through the posts but we were so poor I can't say we were robbed.
Tigers attack was constipated for much of the match, with Mele particularly struggling to energise the forwards. Yet, again, Cockerill kept most of his subs unused. We've seen what impact a fresh scrum half can have on a game, so why not let Harrison have a run out? The forwards aren't making an impact and are struggling in the scrum, why not try Balmain or Stankovich? Balmain would give absolutely everything. Look at Slater to see what sheer effort can bring you. It energises the other players too.
For next week we need a coherent team and tactics. Playing a physical game is fine, but you have to pick physical centres to make it work. Trust the young players to start and keep a guy like Mulipola back to smash their resolve on 50 minutes.