Sunday, 31 August 2014

Burns kicks Tigers to win in the rain

Tigers finished a mixed bag of a preseason with a tight 21-17 win against Cardiff in the Welford Road rain.  Freddie Burns slotted 11 points with tries from Bob Barbieri and Ben Youngs; Cardiff’s points came through a Lloyd Williams try, a Rhys Patchell drop goal and 3 Patchell penalties.
Tigers debuted their new bright orange away kit, “Cherry Tomato” as the manufactures have it, and their new bright orange new big screen sponsors Sthil.  Equally eye catching was the opening 10 minutes; Tigers attacked with pace and vigour to score two tries of good quality.

First Manu Tuilagi took the ball down the Crumbie blindside; with his path blocked, belying the internet intellegencia who decry him as a bosh merchant without a brain or skill, he fancied his chances with a grubber kick.  The bounce deceived Wales 7s international Dan Fish and let Bob Barbieri claim the loose ball for his first try in Tigers colours.

The second was an all time Welford Road classic.  Burns threw a fantastic long pass to find Tuilagi, the Samoan burst powerfully through the middle before passing to Goneva.  The Fijian freed the arms and found Ben Youngs sweeping behind in support, who beat the last man to score.

Burns was on target with the first conversion but elicited the famous Crumbie groan when his second attempt sailed wide.  Welcome to Leicester, Freddie.

Cardiff had looked out of sorts in the early stages, as if Warburton and co. had celebrated the week’s long awaited peace deal between the WRU and the Regions a little bit too much.  The visitors eventually found their feet and scored from their first real attack.  Fly half Patchell made an outside break, his pace taking him away from a despairing Barbieri lunge, with the defence broken he committed Goneva before passing to Williams, the Welsh scrum half just eluded the covering defence to score.

Patchell missed the conversion but chipped further into the lead when referee Mathew Carley ruled Salvi offside from a contested high ball.  4 minutes later Patchell landed a second penalty for a half time score of 12-11.

Cardiff made a raft of substitutes at half time including a whole replacement front row; it made little difference as Tigers possessed superior power all game.  Patchell gave Cardiff the lead after half time with a superb drop goal and then stretched the lead following a bizarre penalty against a rampant Tigers scrum.

In a heavy down pour Tigers tightened up and started to utilise the forwards much more to bring the game under control.  Tigers produced a sustained period of pressure in the Cardiff half with the Welsh side giving away a penalty for Burns to reduce the arrears to two.

Some of the Tigers fans were disappointed that we didn’t try for the corner and the 5 points from the second half penalties, but I can’t agree with this.  Burns needs to get used to kicking at Welford Road and kicking under pressure.  The first priority has to be to win and kicking the goals was the way to do that.

Burns missed his first chance to go ahead after a fierce driving maul but just moments later a scrum penalty gave him a second chance which he took.  The coup de grace was applied after a towering Garryowen and a superb chase by Manu Tuilagi.

Tuilagi really was the difference between the two sides, the two times in the first half we gave him the ball in the opposition half we scored.  Manu's injury badly affect us last season, we failed to gain a single try bonus point during his abscence, so Cockrerill will hope to have Hinckley's favourite Samoan fit and firing all season.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

40m Mele kick saves Tigers' blushes

Tigers required a last second penalty from second half replacement David Mele to spare their blushes and return from Melrose with an 11-8 victory over Edinburgh.  Tigers were wasteful in possession but committed in defence; two Goneva tries ruled out by a Scottish referee providing a gentle reminder of why serious games have neutral referees.

Cockerill named a multicultural starting line up with 9 different nationalities represented, if we count Barbieri as Canadian, and the globally assembled Tigers started brightly.  The borders were bathed in sunshine as Tigers attacked through the forwards into the Edinburgh 22.  Interplay between backs and forwards, Croft particularly to the fore, allowed Niall Morris to scythe towards the posts.  The Irishman was tackled short but good retention by Sio & Croft let Ben Youngs whip the pass out to Seremaia Bai whose pop pass out of a dump tackle gave Mulipola an easy finish after just 10 minutes. 

Freddie Burns was skew-if with his conversion attempt and generally failed to impress on his Leicester debut.  Two promising positions were wasted with his indulgent chip kicks and a further simple penalty was cuffed right in the second half.  Owen Williams will surely start against Newcastle unless Burns can find some better form against Cardiff next week.

Tigers fans will be worried as Geoff Parling was withdrawn after only 14 minutes with another head knock.  It seemed innocuous at the time but so did last season’s that ruled him out of the semi-final.  Harry Wells replaced him and impressed, taking full advantage of his second chance at Tigers.  Bedford will be wondering when they will be getting their man back.

Tigers scrum struggled in the first half as Aniseko Sio seemed unable to stay low and was popped up more than once.  Edinburgh missed a 17th minute penalty after Tigers struggled with an advancing Scottish scrum.

Burns made it 8-0 after 26 mins with a simple kick 5 metres out and in front of the posts.  Tigers had turned down an earlier penalty to go for the corner and were rumbling well towards the line before Edinburgh refused to roll away.  Ben Youngs wasted the advantage with a speculative wide pass to no one in particular.

The forwards were taking a battering from the Scots and Edinburgh was able to take their first real possession inside the Tigers 22.  Stout defending denied them and Goneva looked to have grabbed a crucial interception, racing 95m for a second Tigers try, only for the Scottish referee to rule out his length of the field effort for a phantom offside.

Edinburgh took full advantage of their home based referee’s reprieve; Roddy Grant crashed over for a try following an impressive Edinburgh maul.  A 14 point swing on the stroke of half time meant the home side trailed by a solitary point, 8-7, rather than 15-0.

As the sides swapped ends at half time the heavens opened and what had been a glorious day turned grey, wet and sodden.  Edinburgh rang the changes, most notably Tom Heathcote at fly half, whilst Tigers replaced the ineffectual Sio with Riccardo Brugnara.  The Italian shored up the scrum and made some noticeable carries in his 23 minute cameo, before giving way to Tom Bristow for the final efforts.

The rain badly affected the game, what had been a tight but high quality game descended into more handling errors and scrums as both sides struggled for their first half fluency.  Tigers were again first to make waves with a neat grubber kick from Burns finding a charging Goneva to dot down.  Again the home side were saved by some lamentable refereeing.  Goneva’s score chalked off again for the phantom offside offence. 
It is worth remembering that marginally better execution (or better refereeing) would have put Tigers 22-0 up rather than scrapping around at 8-7.  

More subs were now made with Briggs, Balmain, Crane and Mele replacing Ghiraldini, Mulipola, Croft and Youngs.  The new front row found more favour with the refereeing earning 62nd minute penalty bang in front of the posts and 22m out.  As mentioned above Burns had left his kicking boots at home and shunted the ball right of the sticks.  

Burns and Morris were subbed in the 64th minute to be replaced by Pohe and Smith, Fijian Bai moving to fly half.  Without being harsh on Smith or Pohe both are more physical players and the back line suffered from the lack of subtlety and from the lack of kickers to clear the lines in defence.

The rain and reported gusting wind made life difficult for Edinburgh’s kickers too.  The home side by now had their tail up and were asking Tigers all sorts of searching questions.  Old fashioned fast paced forwards ruck play was to the fore for the Scots as Tigers defence struggled to turn ball over or stem the flow. 

The home side missed a penalty on 68 minutes when Tigers were ruled to have gone off their feet then on 72 minutes Edinburgh were awarded a penalty for a midfield offside (not for Briggs excellent turnover at the same ruck it should be noted).  Using his earlier effort as a length finder Tom Heathcote showed fellow Bathonian Burns how to do it nailing his kick through the middle from 35m out for Edinburgh to take the lead for the first time 10-7.

Tigers kick off did not go 10, though Edinburgh clearly played the ball first, so they were awarded the half way scrum and when the scrum collapsed Heathcote was given an opportunity to hammer the final nail into Tigers’ coffin.  This time it was just too far though and Tigers were reprieved.

Now fully psyched up and raring to go Tigers tore into the Scottish defence but were found wanting as they could not break through.  With the clocking ticking down Goneva was held up and turned over on the far the touchline on the Edinburgh 10m line.  With that brilliant defence Edinburgh surely must have felt they had won it.  All they had to do was secure the scrum and see out a phase, maybe two, to secure the win.

But Balmain and co. were not lying down.  The Tigers pack, wary of the Scots tricks at the last scum, powered forward to disrupt the wonderfully named Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (perhaps a Spanish-Scottish ship building conglomerate?) at the base of the scrum.

Another scum and another huge effort from the Geordie bruiser and his mates earned Tigers a shot at redemption and avoiding a second embarrassing defeat in a week.  The clock had gone past 80 and it was the last play.  Frenchman David Mele stepped up to the task and drilled his kick, high and handsome it sailed through the posts to the delight of the huge travelling army of Tigers fans.

Cockerill will be pleased with the determination shown in defence and in those final scrums from the young props but will be worried by the form of Burns. 

Tigers: Morris (Smith 63); Scully, Tuilagi, Bai, Goneva; Burns (Pohe 63), Youngs (Mele 56); Sio (Brugnara H/T(Bristow 63)), Ghiraldini (Briggs 52), Mulipola (Balmian 52); De Chaves, Parling (Wells 14), Croft (Crane 52), Salvi, Barbieri.

Scoring: 5-0 Mulipoa Try 10 mins;8-0 Burns Pen 26 mins; 8-7 Grant Try 40mins, Tonks Con; 8-10 Heatcote Pen 72 mins; 11-10 Mele Pen 80 mins.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Tigers Serve up Plate

Tigers took home the inaugural Premiership 7s Plate on Friday night following victories over Northampton and London Irish.  

Tigers made two changes to the squad that earned qualification; George Catchpole rested a minor knock and Tomi Jones was dropped.  In their place Tigers called up Stourbridge's Gary Dipple & Tynedale's Ben Frankland.

Tigers looked set take their place in the night's blue ribbon Cup competition as tries from Andy Bulumakau and a scything break from Oli Bryant gave them a 14-5 lead over Cardiff with just 2 minutes remaining.  But a break away score by Welsh 7s international Dan Fish gave the Blues hope before Tom Williams shattered Tigers' hopes.

Tigers started with Farnworth, Frankland, Tresidder, Fowles, Bulumakau, Woodhead and David Williams and conceded early as Cardiff broke down a large blindside from a midfield scrum.  Cardiff dominated the first half, two try saving tackles from David Williams kept the score to one before a crucial intervention from Fowles on the goal line not only prevented a certain try but created one; Bulumakau racing the length of the field for a half time lead.

Cardiff started the second half well but the first clear cut chance came to Tresidder; spotting a hole in the Welsh defence the field opened up before him, but the Derbyshire native did not have the pace or the support to finish the break.  Sub Dan Rundle also had a great chance following his chip and go but muffed his fly hack; under pressure Cardiff knocked on and from the scrum Tigers' Oli Bryant cut back through the breaking up pack to race under the posts.

9 points up with 2 minutes remaining Tigers will be frustrated with how they threw the game away.  A simple missed tackle inside the Cardiff 22 gave the Welsh side an inch, they took a mile simply drawing the full back for Dan Fish to race away for a 90 metre score.  Tigers earned a penalty with the TV clock showing 14 minutes but the referee's time had 14 seconds left.  A poor ruck let Cardiff turn Will Owen over at the base and Dan Rundle's turnstile defence let Tom Williams in for the heartbreaking score.

With the Cup spilled Tigers were left to the Plate and an intriguing derby match with Northampton, who had been over run by eventual champions Gloucester.  In torrential rain Tigers started with Owen, Farnworth, Tresidder, Fowles, Bulumakau, David Williams and Bryant.  Much like the Cardiff game Tigers were down early; Sam Olver's delicate chip was gathered by Hutchinson and despite Fowles attentions was ruled to have scored.  Saints made it 12-0 after first team flanker Teimana Harrison picked off Will Owen's sloppy off load.

Tigers were facing an early and chastening exit but another top draw intervention from Bryant gave hope.  Receiving the ball on half way he broke through a Saints tackle before possessing the pace to round the full back and score under the posts.  Tigers then scored straight from the second half's kick off to take the lead 14-12.  First Tresidder went up the right before it was spread wide left to Fowles whose pace stretched the defence, he off loaded to Bulumakau; the Fijian's footwork beat the last man and he was clear to the line.

Bulumakau created the last score for Rundle; he swept up the loose ball and beat his man to crack the middle of the defence.  Rundle's support play earned him the easy finish as Northampton chased Bulumakau back hard.  Tigers had a 21-12 lead and managed to see out the remaining 3 minutes to secure a place in the Plate final against London Irish.

Tigers started the final with Owen, Frankland, Tresidder, Fowles, Bulumakau, Woodhead and David Williams.  Tigers took the lead as Fowles pounced on Woodhead's chip through, smashing the ball onto the line to ground it.  Tigers defence and poor discipline from both sides made the game fairly slow, Irish earning a yellow card for killing the one clean break in the first 6 minutes. 

Tigers took the full 2 minutes to take advantage of their superior numbers, Will Owen's pass cut out half the Irish team, allowing Frankland to draw the final man and give Woodhead a run to the line.  Tigers defence suffocated the Irish attack and created turnover ball that Tigers exploited for the final try.  George Tresidder's excellent catch and pass under pressure created the space for Dan Rundle to score.  Fatigue effected Irish badly as Tigers managed to keep them out and secure a rare clean sheet. 

Oli Bryant was the stand out attacking player on the night with his two tries excellent, David Williams will be pleased with his defensive contribution but disappointed with a high profile knock on as he took a quick penalty.  Of the specialists Andy Bulumakau has already secured a deal with Doncaster and surely Josh Fowles talents will see him move on from Longton in the 6th tier of English rugby.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Tiger Cubs roar into 7s Finals

Tigers secured their place in a second consecutive Premiership Rugby 7s Finals day with a second place in finish in Group D on Saturday night.  A reported crowd of 7,057 were on hand to see Tigers secure victories over London Welsh & Sale.

Tigers opened the proceedings by facing hosts Newcastle.  The Falcons’ new artificial pitch is being installed at Kingston Park which forced the change of venue to the Darlington arena.

Sevens specialists Tomi Jones, Andy Bulumakau & Dan Rundle joined academy prospects George Catchpole, George Tresidder, Oli Bryant and Rhys Williams in the starting line up; Falcons had Premiership experience in Tom Catterick and former Super League Grand Final Man of the Match Lee Smith.

Tigers opened the scoring after only 27 seconds.  Bulumakau broke free through the middle and had the pace to scorch in from his own half.  Falcons claimed a messy ball from the restart and played patience possession rugby until Chris Harris found a gap sniping up the side of a ruck to break free and score.  Newcastle struck again as Tom Catterick seemed to have added another but it was ruled out; Tresidder's tackle forced a knock on. 

George Catchpole claimed Tigers second try of the night; Coventry winger Dan Rundle, guesting for the Tigers, stretched the Falcons' defence running from his own 22, his off load found Tomi Jones who weaved his way through 3 tackles before giving Catchpole a simple run in to the line. 

Newcastle’s second try was fortuitous, the field opened up after a blocked kick, but Tigers will be disappointed with the lost scrum just before.  The try meant Tigers went into half time with a 14-12 lead.

Catterick showed his skills to add another try just after half time, cutting back inside Rhys Williams to expose Tigers inside defence, giving Newcastle the lead for the first time.  Bryant & Tresidder were wasteful in the Newcastle 22 but a quick turnover by Will Owen gave Tigers good ball and Tresidder went under the posts unmolested to quickly restore Tigers’ 2 point advantage.

Catterick claimed his hat trick with under a minute left.  Tigers were ruled to have held on; the try was inevitable, 3 men still on the floor from the ruck, a tap and go exposed the gaps.  A home town decision in the final ruck gave Newcastle possession to run down the clock and secure a 5 point win.

Next Tigers faced Welsh, the Exiles had only 10 minutes rest from the end of their win against Sale.  Academy hooker Jake Farnworth joined specialists Josh Fowles and Phil Woodhead in the starting line up as Rundle, Rhys Williams and Bryant made way.  Bulumakau again showed his footwork and pace, beating his man in his own half and having the speed to race away to the line.  Welsh responded when Chris Levesley raced past Phil Woodhead like he wasn’t there to score under the posts.

Tomi Jones’ neat grubber looked to have unlocked the Welsh defence but his second touch was too strong, booting it out the back of the in goal area.  Bulumakau set Catchpole through but the centre lacked the pace or support to finish, the Fijian then had to leave the field with a head knock ruling him out for the rest of the night.  Former Tigers academy man Will Hurrell looked to have scored on the final play of the first half but could not shake the attentions of Josh Fowles who prevented the grounding.

Fowles got the next try after half time, his pace seeing off Hurrell in his own 22, before some great footwork on half way beat the last man.  Hurrell got his own back with a try off the back of some clever passes from Welsh, manipulating the Tigers defence and giving him an easy run in.

With less than a minute left it looked like Tigers had returned to form of previous years and were going to crash out after 2 rounds.  But this is sevens after all and anything can happen.  Straight from the kick off David Williams tapped the ball down to namesake but no relation Rhys Williams.  He spread it wide to Bryant who gave Rundle the ball with clear ground in front of him.  The former Tynedale winger went inside one man, outside another and raced away with his ears pinned back for the winning score.

The final game was against Sale, also on 10 minutes rest, with Tigers knowing a bonus point win would see them through to Finals day next Friday at the Stoop.  Tigers started with Will Owen, Catchpole, Tresidder and David Williams joined by the specialists Jones, Fowles and Woodhead.

Sale took advantage of a slip in the Tigers line to pile on some early pressure but good work rate and discipline meant the Tigers got back just in time; a goal line stand forced Sale into the error but they were still first to score minutes later when George Beal went over in the corner following nice work from Nathan Fowles.

Tigers struck straight back with a try of good quality from George Tresidder.  Lazy defending on the inside was ruthlessly exposed by Tresidder who simply ran straight and ran hard, bamboozling two defenders.  In a see saw game Fowles put Sale straight back into the lead with a solo try, brushing off Phil Woodhead’s attentions.

With 7 minutes up it was good to see both sides continue to play the game, rather than seeking half time with touch, and it was Tigers who profited; considered build up saw the ball through all 7 pairs of hands before George Catchpole pirouetted his way through the Sale defence and strode in under the posts for the go ahead score.

The second half was more of a procession for Tigers; first Josh Fowles simply outpaced his man one on one to score on the outside, then David Williams jagged back towards the posts after good work by Tresidder to secure the bonus point.  Finally Dan Rundle had a short jog into the corner following a sniping break by Woodhead.

That result meant Tigers were through unless a bizarre game between Newcastle and London Welsh resulted in an 18 point or greater win for the Exiles with Newcastle scoring at least 4 tries.  Needless to say that odd result was not achieved and Tigers can look forward to a trip to the Stoop next Friday.

Sevens specialists Josh Fowles and Andy Bulumakau impressed for Tigers whilst George Catchpole and George Tresidder top scored with 14 points each.  Oli Bryant was an effective cog in many of the moves whilst Will Owen showed his ability in the ruck, earning a crucial turn over in the first game.

With no friendly lined up for next week hopefully Tigers will be able to name an even stronger squad.