Sunday, 17 May 2015

Top 4

Tigers secured a third straight win, their 15th of the Premiership season, to claim an 11th straight ticket to the play off lottery.  The opponents will be Bath, at the Rec, the last visit drew Tigers largest ever reverse.  45-0.  As if you could forget that.  I know I've tried.

To the match.  Northampton had drawn criticism for resting many players, Myler, Manoa, Lawes and more, but this is criticism is beyond stupid.  Northampton had to way up the chance to knock Tigers out against the chance of injury to their players.  Exeter, Saracens or Premiership Rugby have no right to make that decision it is Jim Mallender's alone.

Tigers started brightly earning a penalty converted by Freddie Burns; Tigers maul was strong and progressing at a rate of knots when hauled down.  It was the maul again that earned the first try, Ed Slater rose to claim the lineout and Jordan Crane squeezed down the blindside to score in the corer.

Saints had tied the scores at 3-3 with a James Wilson penalty and two soft penalties allowed them to go into the break ahead.  All Black Brad Thorn sometimes struggles to remember he no longer possesses the black cloak of invisibility and was pinged for the laziest of rolls away whilst Wilson poked Northampton ahead following a scrum penalty that many in the Crumbie felt should have gone the other way.

Tigers were unlucky to go into the break behind as they controversially had a try ruled out, the referee ruled Freddie Burns was "in at the side" at the ruck following Ben Youngs sniping break.  If Youngs had passed better moments before however Tigers would surely have scored.

After half time Burns notched Tigers quickly into the lead with a long range penalty before The Scrums.

Well first a bright spell of Tigers possession; Logo Mulipola peeled round the front of the lineout to get onto the front foot with Ben Yougs keeping the pace high we zig zagged up the pitch to within inches of the line.  After battering the door down for several phases Youngs thought he spied a gap and burrowed at the base of the post.  The TMO was asked if there "was ay reason I cannot award a try" and despite finding no clear pictures of held up or short (or a grounding to be fair) decided he couldn't award the try anyway and we had The Scrums. 

The Scrums.  Anyone who was there will know the story, anyone not will quickly recognise the tale.  Northampton were under the cosh and collapsing on the engage.  There was one scrum where a reasonable shove was put on but that one was re-set and not penalised, therefore the referee had his hands tied and felt unable to award the penalty try.  Instead he sin binned both Northampton tightheads causing uncontested scrums when Corbiseiro refused to play tighthead and meaning Tigers had to be content with just 3 points.

Most have said the referee could not award the penalty try as we were not shoving them backwards, but surely the referee can decide that where Saints not collapsing on engage the pushover was inevitable and still award the score?  After all just because Saints were collapsing before they could go backwards this does not stop that penalty preventing the try.

Either way Northampton played some bright possession rugby to run down the clock but were unable to totally keep a baying Tigers attack out.  Niall Morris eventually burst through to score Tigers second try.

Tommy Bell, on for an injured Freddie Burns, slotted an long range kick for Tigers to stretch the lead to 13 and all but securing the game.

Northampton did make a game of it with a try for Tom Stephenson but Sam Olver, son of John, shanked the conversion wide.

As after most games this season there was has been criticism of the Tigers backs however there were two great opportunities taken only to be ruled out by the officials, if these had stood we would likely be looking at a bonus point win.

For all the gnashing of teeth on the blog throughout the year our win/loss record is as good as it has been in many years.  The lack of tries has held us back but the reality is we have won 15 games and Bath and Northampton have won only 1 more.  

We are contenders now.  We just have to do what we have not done this season and win against a top 4 side.  We have to do what we have only done once in four years and win in Bath.  That was a semi final too.  And our fly half that night was George Ford.  What ever happened to him?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Tigers Power to Local Win

Tigers title ambitions remain alive after a nerve jangling 26-21 win away to newly local rivals Wasps.  Tigers went into the game knowing that only a win would do and responded to the knock out rugby pressure with a fantastic performance bristling with power but married with the patience needed to break down modern defences. 

Tigers raced into a 10 nil lead in the first ten minutes and kept it the whole game with a Freddie Burns penalty followed up by the first try.  Tom Youngs and Graham Kitchener combined down the front of the line out, an old Wasps move we have been tricked by more than once, gaining good ground inside the 22 and skilfully keeping the ball in play.  Jordan Crane recycled possession and set an off side line before Mulipola and Tom Youngs trucked it up again.  Mat Tait and Adam Thompstone squirmed their way through tackles before Ben Youngs spotted Niall Morris one on one against Christian Wade.  Goneva drew the last man and Wade was powerless to prevent the Leicester full back shrugging off his challenge to score in the corner.

Goode got Wasps onto the score board after a soft offside 40m out by Seremaia Bai; Burns nibbled another three points after Wasps full back Andrea Masi was caught by a terrific Tigers kick chase only for Goode to score another 3 points following heavy pressure in the 22, Tigers lasting 14 phases before conceding the penalty to bring the score to 13-6 to Tigers.

Tigers’ second try came after 30 minutes, from a lineout Mulipola, Cole, Crane and Thorn smashed forward into the 22 before Seremaia Bai isolated Andy Goode on the fringe of the ruck and drove him back to within inches of the line.  Once again Ben Youngs was the architect of the score phase, a fast whipped pass cut out 5 Tigers and 4 Wasps to leave Burns and Goneva with a two on one against a hapless Wade.  The Wasps wing could do nothing as Burns drew him in before sending Goneva over for his first try since December.

Goode quickly reduced the arrears with a penalty for something in a ruck, Barnes explanation is cut off and BT never bother to show a replay.  Off feet against Gibson I think?

Tigers were playing with real intent, running the ball from within our own half and the forwards passing to each other just before or just after contact.  Go forward rugby.  Smashing the rucks to clear out the men, not relying on the officials to give us quick ball.

And then it all boiled over.  Just before half time Nathan Hughes was off his feet and killing the ball the penalty was due to us, but Barnes was not signalling and Seremaia Bai decided to ruck him out.  The contact looked jarring at full pace and Barnes produced a yellow card.  Then renowned Tigers fans Sean Davy made him watch again, with unclear camera angles in super slow motion, to wrongly decide Bai had made contact with Hughes’ head.  

On the replay he clearly smashes into Hughes shoulder, but Davy and BT show the angle from in front of Hughes many times where we cannot see the point of impact and only see Hughes head move only once showing the wider angle from above where you can see the impact is on the shoulder and the head only moves because of a glancing blow from Bai's arm.

Bai has a right to ruck Hughes out there and his technique whilst arguably illegal was no different to any other player on either side at any other ruck.  When Hughes kicked George North’s head and injured him out of the season BT commentator Laurence Dallaglio led the media campaign to clear him.  Does our own Austin Healey do the same for a piece of legitimate play that ends with no injury to Hughes?

No he does not.  Instead he bleats for a card prompting the replay on the big screen, it takes the BT Sports feed, which causes the red card.  Thanks Austin!

On half way what should have been a chance for Tigers to stretch their lead ended up with Goode reducing the deficit to only 6 points.

In the second half Tigers did not let the man missing affect their game.  Wasps had more of the territory and won scrum penalties where Tiger chose to pack only 7 men.  On our first entry to the Wasps 22 Mat Tait was pile drived head first into the turf by Alapati Leuia, though Barnes seemingly has no problem with this potential neck breaking tackle or the no arms tackles from Wasps’ hooker Festuccia, he does spot Ashley Johnson off his feet and Burns slots the penalty to stretch the lead back out to 9.

With the extra man and the impetus in their favour Wasps were slowing gaining more chances, Adam Thompstone winning the foot race to a ball kicked in goal, Burns being charged down then Wasps bursting through the left wing.

None came to much but Wasps dug into Tigers lead with two penalties, the first for holding on just outside our 22, the second for a harsh off feet call on Salvi when Haskell clearly enters the ruck from the side.

With the lead trimmed to 3 points Tigers knew they couldn’t just dig and hold on any more.  With Sam Harrison, Ed Slater and Christian Loamanu on Tigers took the game back to Wasps.

A lineout was won scrappily on half way but Tigers kept possession grinding out 18 phases, driving into the Wasps 22.  On the 18th ruck Burns broke right towards the touchline, smashing Andy Goode in the tackle, on the front foot and with quick ball Loamanu times run to the line perfectly to slip between Johnson and Goode.  Stopped agonisingly inches short the ball again quickly recycled and flung wildly to the wing where Adam Thompstone was on hand to dot down in the corner.

Onto the TMO and whilst Loamanu may or may not have reached the line there was no question of a double movement so the try stood.  Tigers could question though why we were not awarded a penalty try, as there was a clear attempt to kick the ball out of Loamanu’s hands.  After recent events you’d have thought Wasps might know better than that.

With Burns pushing the kick wide Tigers had an 8 point advantage.  Wasps quickly cut the advantage to 5; Alex Lozowski slotting a long kick after a very tight call for an early tackle against Salvi.  On slow motion replay the decision is wrong but was so tight you cannot complain about the real time call.

That made the closing moments tight.  Tigers ran down the clock with a number of scrums and looked to earn the winning penalty at least 3 times, only for Barnes to blow the other way and keep the game alive.

Wasps were game and played the ball wide getting to the edge of Tigers 22 but in a clash of Marcos Ayerza, fuming after the last penalty, and James Haskell it was the Argentine who came off better forcing the ball loose to end the game.

With the shock Exeter victory over Saracens on Sunday we know that a win, any win, over Northampton will confirm Tigers as third in the league and face a trip to Bath whilst a loss will almost certainly see us miss out on the play offs for the first time in over a decade.  Pressure brought out the best in us this week, can we really keep it up for another 3?