Tigers stormed to their 7th successive win again the Saints and the second consecutive bonus point win at Franklin’s Gardens after a dashing second half performance saw them score 4 tries to win 36-8, a record victory at the Gardens in the Premiership era. Tigers lead 12-3 after 4 Toby Flood penalties in the first half but really cut loose in the second half as we look to cement a 5th straight home Premiership semi final.
Mat Tait was excellent throughout, his dab through at the end of the first half would have been genius if it worked but was folly as it failed. There was much mirth in the week as Tait was described as “fast improving” by the Leicester Mercury, well I’m still not convinced about fast but he certainly is improving! Claiming all the high balls that came his way he was also crucial to winning several of the rucks outwide and his sweeping behind the attack help keep the ball alive and create the 3rd try before grabbing the final one for himself.
The real difference between today and last week was the intensity of the attacking ruck and the speed of the ball that followed. With fast ball on a dry track the Awesome Foursome of Youngs-Flood-Allen-Manu was devastating as Tigers attacked both inside and out with both the forwards and the backs.
The forwards were superb today, they stopped Northampton’s rolling maul, which devastated Wasps the week before, without much bother and edged a tight scrum battle. But there rucking was amazing and their carrying Stakhanovite. With Ed Slater, Jordan Crane and Tom Youngs the pack does not want for carriers, and with Cole, Parling and Ayerza it is not short of ruckers either; though I would not want to pigeon hole either group as incapable of the other. The hands by JC and Ayerza for Manu’s first try were a joy to behold as they drew in 3 men to leave Manu with an easy finish, or at least an easy for Manu which is not quite the same thing!
Tom Croft and Julian Salvi were both supreme in the loose today; Croft rolling back the years by standing up Manoa and going round him in the proverbial phone box in the first ten minutes, as well claiming the kicks with imperious authority. Salvi was his usual hog at the breakdown, even if our first turnover didn’t come until the second half, and his line cutting back through a gaping dog leg set up the ruck before JC and Ayerza’s hands put Manu through for that first try.
The second was a classic example of Tigers ball control as we went through 12 phases in 2 minutes with the play moving from a line out on the left hand 10 metre line to the right hand corner flag before Youngs and Flood whipped the ball out to Tuilagi who brushed off the attentions of the greying Tom May before diving for the line. Tuilagi’s burst was clearly the most important but huge emphasis must go to Waldrom who carried 5 times in the move and Ed Slater who carried twice and rucked every other time too. I think Waldrom the definition of an impact replacement!
All that whilst down to 14 men too.
The third try was sloppier than the 2nd but perhaps more fluid as a ruck barely formed and the ball was kept alive at every opportunity. Youngs tapped a penalty quickly before Tuilagi fed Mulipola who came like a steam train on a cracking slightly inward angle; he in turn fed Flood on his shoulder as Tigers swept into the 22. Tait swept the ball up to Youngs who passed to Waldrom taken the ball into contact. But not for long as it rolled out to Salvi before a ruck could be formed; the Australian feigned to go right then beautifully stepped Courtney Laws with his left and the merest hint of a dummy too. Tait was then on hand again to take the ball at the base and draw the last man allowing Niall Morris a dance round the side to confirm the score.
In truth the 4th should have come quicker than it did. Crisp passing from Smith and Tuilagi gave Croft the room to spread his legs and out gun Ryan Lamb, a familiar and with next season in mind worrying sight, if Croft had looked around/not been so greedy he’d have seen Matt Smith roaring in on a support line that surely would have ended under the posts. It mattered not as James Wilson missed his attempted interception on Ben Youngs’s huge billowing pass and Mat Tait could pick up the crumbs and finish the move.
In many ways the game wasn’t so different to the Exeter one last week, this time we took our chances and never looked back whilst last week we were slightly sloppier and it allowed the Chiefs to envelop us. We will need the same domination of the breakdown and the gainline next week as well as the same accuracy if we are to do for Toulon the way we’ve just done Northampton.