Sunday, 20 January 2013

Snow way past Tigers, Toulouse crash out

Tigers secured a place in the Heineken Cup quarter finals with a 9-5 win against Toulouse in arctic conditions.  The game was extremely sloppy, with Tigers poor hands being out matched by Toulouse’s shocking display with the boot.  If Toulouse had got any two of their 6 kicks (4 penalties, 1 conversion and 1 drop goal) they had won the game and still be in the cup.  But looking at the positives Tigers defence was outstanding completely smothering Toulouse’s decent enough attacking game.

The game’s only try was not one for the scrap books; only the scrappy ones.  Mat Tait, under no pressure, had his poor clearing kick boomed back over his head by Lionel Beauxis putting Tigers back on their own 22.  Tom Youngs and the Tigers forwards compounded that error by not securing our own lineout ball before Luke McAlister put up a huge Garryowen.  For a tactic named after a Munster club side it is currently only really used by French sides, Brock James did it to Alesana Tuilagi last year too.  Mat “safe hands” Tait, as no one calls him, juggled with the ball before finally getting his hands on it.  If only that was the end.  He tried to clear the ball, clearly the right decision to his credit, but produced an air shot as he was tackled by Thierry Dusautoir.  With the ball squirting away Yohan Huget slide through the sludge to claim the try.

Tigers had the best of the early exchanges, winning a scrum penalty on half way before an Adam Thompstone break looked to have put Niall Morris in for a try.  It was not to be, his own arm dislodging the ball as he went for the grounding, but Tigers forwards were dominant again and won a penalty from Toulouse’s own feed.  Flood made the difficult touchline kick look easy and Tigers had the lead they would never surrender.

Tigers lost Steve Mafi on 15 minutes to a pulled hamstring as he chased through a kick ahead, at the time it was a big worry but JC stepped into the breach man fully to disrupt at the break down and carry fantastically, he saved our bacon on more than one occasion sweeping up a loose ball on the floor.

We rode our luck at times, Toulouse hit the post twice within 4 minutes during a purple patch in the first half but so did they, along with Niall Morris muffing the grounding he also dropped a clear run to the line and kicked straight to touch when Ben Youngs was shouting for it on the inside again clear to the line.

The second penalty was a tale of Toulouse errors mounting.  An overthrown line out was hacked down field by Waldrom, under his pressure Doussain fumbled the ball and Beauxis found a short touch.  Parling was found in the middle of the lineout and came up again to take an inside ball from Crane for good metres.  Tigers spread the ball wide and the Toulouse backs came off their feet at the ruck.  Flood made in 6-0 from in front of the posts.

On 35 minutes Toulouse gained two debateable scrum decisions; winning a put in then a free kick.  Picamoles went for the line, Louis Deacon and Jordan Crane went for his legs whilst Ben Youngs was at his terrier like best to get under the ball, the call went to the TMO that completely missed Picamoles being stripped of the ball by Flood before re-gathering, thankfully it also saw Youngs holding him up.  At the next scrum Johnston dropped it and Tigers could relieve the pressure.

The score moved to 9-0 with a monster penalty by Toby Flood from within his own half.  Geoff Parling was taken out in the air by Gregory Lamboley during a lineout.  Perhaps crucially the referee got the mark massively wrong, giving the penalty just behind the half way line rather than on the 10 metre line where the offence occurred.  Those 8 metres were crucial with ball sneaking over the bar.

The second half was really all about Toulouse’s attempts at attack and Tigers’ defence snuffing them out.  Luke McAlister missed another penalty, after Niall Morris was left with no option but to hold on, after the conversion for their try; in the end that was crucial.  Needing the try for the win Toulouse had to turn down a host of kickable penalties in the closing minutes and Tigers could defend to the edge of laws and often beyond. 

Tigers could have been in real trouble in the 67th minute; Toby Flood was charged down and in the melee was fingered by referee George Clancy for a deliberate knock on.  For me it was a genuine attempt to catch the ball, or at least deflect it backwards, but the refs are consistently over strict on this so it was not too surprising to see the yellow card come out.  I do wonder about our game when a knock on is a yellow card but taking a man out in the air, which can end players careers, is just a penalty.

From the penalty Toulouse turned down the kick at goal and went for the corner, this is the advantage those missed kicks gave us.  It told immediately as we managed to hold the maul up and get the scrum put in.  From the scrum Ben Youngs’s box kick was touched in flight and we had cleared our lines.

The final three minutes was a great piece of backs to the wall play.  Two penalties for Toulouse had marched them 70 odd metres from their own 22 to 9 out from our line.  Flood rejoined the action in time for the final stand.  Another penalty, this time for an in at the side unseen by anyone else, led to another lineout.  The crowd were roaring them on and Tigers came up with the goods.  Geoff Parling leapt like a Salmon to disrupt the ball and Deacon made sure it was Tigers ball with a poacher’s eye for the loose ball. 

Toulouse came again left to right, sweeping forwards from the halfway line to the 22.  One dropped ball, one loose pass, one moment without support and Toulouse were out.  So who do you want carrying you forward at these times?  The inspirational Dusautoir, the titanic Picamoles, the Johnsonian Argentinean Albacete?  No, it fell to Yohan Montes the reserve tighthead prop.  He spilled it.  They get a bad press props, but you have to wonder at that time and in that moment why was he the one holding his hand up for the work load? 

Time for one more scrum, ruled referee Clancy.  Déjà Vu of Gloucester from the last home game a month ago.  Again the opposition pack run wildly round the outside, again the referee doesn’t spot it or at the very least doesn’t give it but this time he just lets it play.  Youngs is caught short and knocks it on, visions of some Toulousain miracle are flooding the mind but no, my nightmare is shattered by the piercing blow of the referees whistle.  It’s over.  We’ve won the game, we’ve won the group.

Onwards and upwards to the quarter finals where Jonny Wilkinson and his Toulon chums lie in wait. 

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