What a difference a week makes. Last Sunday Tigers played under clear blue skies, in a beautiful modern stadium and seemed to actually give a stuff.
This week the wind was howling, making the rain fall sideways. The ground is at best half finished. Last week I paid £20 to sit on the back row of the steepest stand in Europe, the view was terrific one of the best I’ve ever had; this week I paid £22 to stand on a running track slightly below pitch level.
Right from the off the signs were bad. The pack didn’t come out to warm up until 10 minutes to kick off. I know short warm ups are back in fashion but it doesn’t fill me with confidence to see half the side gently trot out with only 10 minutes to kick off.
With only 6 days since that epic in Montpellier Tigers had made 9 changes. The entire front row was switched and Louis Deacon missed out in the engine room. Ryan Lamb replaced the injured Toby Flood and we saw Mat Tait for the first time this season.
Saracens played with an attacking spirit throughout and were rewarded early when winger Jack Wilson used his knowledge of the slippy artificial turf to beat Pablo Matera in the corner.
Farrell extended the lead to 10-0 with a penalty before Lamb nailed a 50m effort into the gale to reduce the arrears.
Farrell had made it 13-3 on the half hour and Tigers had been blunt offering nothing in attack but defending for their lives. As the clock ticked towards half time Tigers finally got back into it. Graham Kitchener was fast off the line to charge down Owen Farrell’s low clearance then won the race to touch it down too. Tigers were back in it.
Though not for long.
The TMO had a decisive and destructive impact on the match. First he sin binned Graham Kitchener. Kitchener had tackled Farrell, after he passed but nothing in that element, he had taken Farrell slightly off his feet and dumped him on his arse. The referee saw it. The touch judge saw it. Both thought it fine. But Farrell’s footballer like reaction, rolling on the floor holding his face then badgering the touch judge got its dirty rewards.
We’re not playing tiddlywinks and in the wet like that players won’t always be perfect. Sin binning Kitchener was flat out the wrong call and wreaked the game.
Though not as bad as the next decision.
The clock was up and Saracens, from the position gained from the ill gotten penalty, were attacking. They went left, the Tigers defence over committed leaving Chris Ashton in acres of space. But the pass was forward. You could see it in real time. Barnes went to the TMO. The video evidence was clear. The hands were forward. The pass was forward. Clearly. Surely? Why is it taking this long? What is there to look at?
He gave it.
It was disgusting. Why have a TMO when he is so clearly incompetent that he can’t see what is in front of his face?
If a ref misses that pass I have sympathy, it was close and he has several players blocking his view. But the TMO has no excuse. He is supposed to be in a truck and immune from the home fans influence. As it was we might as well have had a Fez head with the whistle.
As Farrell lined up the conversion Barnes could be seen arguing with two groups of Tigers fans on the “terrace”, not exactly the height of professionalism.
The calls were massive. Instead of going in only 3 points down Tigers were 8 points and a man down.
Sarries took immediate advantage after the break with a Billy Vunipola try putting the contest to bed. There was still time for more Barnes incompetence however. Tigers attacked solidly for 10 minutes in the 22. Saracens conceded 6 penalties in that spell. No yellow. Saracens got into the Tigers 22 and Waldrom was binned for the first offence. If it wasn’t so serious this level of sheer incompetence would be laughable.
Last week we had “let it play” Nigel, this week we had “star of the show” Wayne. The contrast of there interpretations of the ruck could not be more different.
And then basically we collapsed. No spirit. Nobody tackling and we were knocked backwards in every collision. Lamb had yet another of his special moments. Gloucester’s answer to Ramiro Pez had tried to be clever, always a dangerous game, and take a penalty quickly. There was no defender back so the ambitious touch kick was on. But he skewed it badly. Badly. It didn’t just go wrong and be touch in goal, it went wildly straight and off the back.
After a lengthy injury break Neil De Kock broke of the back of the scrum, outpaced the slow witted Jamie Gibson and after a few passes put Jackson Wray in for the bonus point try.
To add insult to injury Richard Cockerill revealed the papers were right and that Toby Flood was leaving. I’ve had better days as a Tigers fan.
Cockerill’s team selection certainly failed to achieve its goal but whether this season is a total write off or has only suffered a minor prang is still to be seen. The quintessential 10 pointer decisively went Saracens way and Tigers are now 12 points from 2nd and in a battle for 4th. Cockerill knows that he lives of dies by these calls so won’t have made it lightly but that doesn’t make it right.
With Sale at home next I would have thought mixing the rotation around a bit more would have been better.
With Flood now confirmed as off question need to be asked of how Simon Cohen, our chief executive, has allowed in the words of Chief Scout Ged Glyn “the top two fly halfs in the country” to leave in consecutive seasons. What did that famous Tigers fan Oscar Wilde once say? To lose one top fly half may be regarded as misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.