Vereniki Goneva celebrated signing his new contract by grabbing a try as Leicester beat Wasps 27-15 at Welford Road. The Flying Fijian was given a rapturous welcome by the Crumbie terrace as he came out to warm up and he showed why Tigers fought so hard to keep him; on the stroke of halftime he held off two tacklers to squeeze in at the corner for his 12th try of the season.
Manu Tuilagi had an influential game and bagged a brace with two trademark powerful finishes. He opened the scoring for Tigers in the 18th minute when he crashed through the Wasps defence from 5 yards following a powerful driving maul.
Not content with scoring tries he saved one at the other end. He had the strength to wrap up Tongan international Will Helu and prevent him grounding the ball following good build up play from the Wasps forwards.
His second came in the second period where he brushed off the attentions of Italian international hooker Carlo Festuccia before a brutal hand off of James Short.
In between Manu’s first score and Goneva’s on half time Wasps had taken the lead following a brilliantly taken try from Guy Thompson. Flanker Thompson was the Jersey’s top try scorer last season and showed tremendous finishing ability after Tom Palmer’s borderline knock on in midfield was ruled a clean catch.
With Manu’s second try taking the score to 19-10 Tigers extended the lead again as Owen Williams slotted a long penalty following Festuccia’s ruck offence. Williams struggled kicking in a stiff breeze hitting only 50% of his kicks at goal and often being wayward with his punts.
Wasps defence was spoiling Tigers ball, Fijian No.8 Nathan Hughes particularly to the fore, successfully utilising Andrew Small’s immediate call of maul rather than tackle. Small’s assessors might like to remind him that once he calls maul both sides must enter from the back and it cannot be collapsed.
Tigers’ fans were starting to sweat when Elliot Daly’s delightfully angled kick rounded Mat Tait and found Tommy Bell perfectly in stride. The Devonian got the score but Andy Goode could not find the conversion leaving Tigers 7 points ahead.
Tigers had switched their midfield around as Toby Flood replaced Matt Smith, with Manu shifting back to 13, and struggled for fluency in their new formation. Ben Youngs was struggling to deal with the slow ball caused by Wasps and was replaced by David Mele.
A bonus point required one more try and that extra point could be crucial in the fight for a home semi final. Tigers were pressurising the Wasps line with a series of pick and goes but couldn’t make it count, Hawkins knocking on under heavy pressure.
With just 4 minutes left Tigers got a penalty after Blaine Scully’s progress was stopped by a high tackle. With Toby Flood walking away from the spot time was lost as Owen Williams ran across the field before kicking to touch. It didn’t matter though. Tigers drove the lineout and David Mele snuck in the side to secure the ball, secure the grounding and secure the bonus point.
Job very much done but Tigers will be worried by Logo Mulipola’s withdrawal, hopefully a precaution, and by the lack of fluency in the performance. Wins away to Quins and Sale in the next two fixtures will require better than this.