What a difference 6 days makes. From the shambles at home to London Irish where the backs looked like they had never met each other to a fantastic statement of intent against Gloucester. The match had been billed as Gloucester’s backs vs Leicester’s pack, but Tigers backs found their stride in a 22-17 victory at Kingsholm.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves; there was still plenty of rust on the engine, plenty of rough edges needing sanding down, plenty of French polish for Cockerill to still apply. Both their tries game from loose play. The first an interception by Freddie Burns. Flood’s heir apparent and in Tigers sights, apparently, he picked off a flat Flood pass and streaked away in the 9th minute for the opening score. Flood was aggrieved with a short advantage from referee Greg Garner.
It was Burns's only contribution on the night. He had a shocker with the boot, as did replacement kicker Rob Cook, and it killed a lot of Gloucester’s momentum, it stopped them building a lead at any stage. In contrast Flood responded to his mistake well. It didn’t cow him and he kept playing aggressively and close to the defence. He kicked his goals well, 6/9 is a fine return if not spectacular, though the misses will grate.
The second Gloucester score was just as opportune but did require a touch more skill. Tigers by this stage were 13-7 ahead after 2 Flood penalties and a terrific score from Dan Bowden. While we're here let’s talk about that; it all came from a scrum.
And that scrum came from an exhilarating piece of forward interplay down the left touchline. Flood found Deacon on the half way line, his inside line drew the man and he offloaded to an on rushing Waldrom. Waldrom then Kitchener passed a little early for my taste but Ayerza now had it on the 22, in the excitement of all that passing and running he lost his head and threw the miracle off load about 10 meters forward.
Some more context, we’d just pushed them off the last scrum, we were in their heads. This time Gloucester got the heel but was under pressure. Robson just wanted to get it out, just get it away. He panicked and Ben Youngs was in like a shot intercepting his pass.
With the Gloucester defence in disarray he found Salvi then brother Tom Youngs on the charge. The Cherry ‘n’ White defence never re-set properly and Flood was against Nick Wood and lock Lua Lokotui, he danced in off his right foot to almost break the tackle but Dan Bowden, so anonymous last week but so impressive this, was on his shoulder for the back of the hand pass and the easy dive over for the try.
Back to Gloucester’s 2nd try; you can see why we were confident, why we had our tails up and trying silly things. Confidence was seeping into our play and visibly draining from Gloucester.
Quick hands down the backline and a good Tom Croft impression from Jamie Gibson saw the Tigers go from halfway to inside the 22 with clock as good as gone 40. Tigers were pouring forwards but all the backs were in the ruck, Miles Benjamin ran a perfect line and was through the hole looking, seeking, searching for the killer off load. But it wasn’t there. But he threw it any way.
Taken by Dawiduick he sent it to Trinder, only Dan Cole, Marcos Ayerza and Kitchener were between Jonny May and the try line all 90 meters away. Trinder kicked forward. The bounce was perhaps fortuitous but there was no Tiger near enough to take advantage if we had got the bounce.
The second half was a nervier affair as Tigers tightened up and Gloucester desperately tried to hang on. Gloucester pushed to 17-13 after Blaine Scully was adjudged to be holding on; Billy Twelvetrees the third Gloucester kicker to have a crack at the posts after Cook had missed an earlier attempt.
Time was beginning to run down, with 16 minutes left Gloucester took Ben Youngs out at the back of a ruck following a Graham Kitchener break and Toby Flood reduced the arrears to a point.
Four minutes later Tigers should have been in the corner but an early pass from Hamilton, a poor hand off from Scully and a great effort in defence from Cook combined to keep Tigers out.
But Tigers moved ahead anyway, Gloucester fumbled the lineout and disintegrated in the scrum. A quick word here on advantage. When the scrum wheels like that why is it not advantage, letting the number 8 pick it up and score the try? We had committed no offence so why can’t we walk over the line and score a try? Another question for another day.
19-17 now to the visitors. And it became 22-17 when the scrum wreaked more havoc with 5 minutes to go. Tigers executed the current fad “choke” tackle through Kitchener, Ayerza and Waldrom then marched the Gloucester pack to gain the penalty reward.
Tigers had the chance to deny Gloucester the bonus point after Gloucester pulled down the Tigers maul but Flood missed the kick. Gloucester had one last chance for victory. Gloucester needed to be perfect and go from behind their own posts. They were for 3 minutes with the clock dead. Then the mistake, a crossing penalty and Tigers had won.
Graham Kitchener and Dan Cole were outstanding with their contributions whilst Jamie Gibson had his best game in a Leicester shirt, I’m still not a fan but he certainly played well here. Miles Benjamin has really found his grove; his floating style is predicated on an understanding with the fly half and rest of the team, after 4 straight starts he is finding that now.
There was such a vast improvement from 6 days previously how much better can we get in the 9 days before we face Montpellier?