Tigers missed their chance of securing a home semi final as they slipped up away to Bath surrendering an 8 point lead at one stage to lose 27-26. Francois Louw crushed Tigers’ hopes with his break away try for Bath to take the lead with 5 minutes remaining. Tigers still had time to get camped into Bath territory but referee Tim Wigglesworth deemed Louw’s counter rucking legal and rather than a kick to win the match Bath had the ball with the clock past 80.
Bath started the game with real purpose and good territory although Tigers got on the board first as Flood converted his penalty whilst Donald had skewed wide his attempt for Bath. It wasn’t long before Bath did on the scoresheet however. A slipped pass between Mat Tait and Manu Tuilagi in a maul gave Bath good field position on the left hand touchline of the 22. A strong right shoulder from the impressive Davy Boy Wilson took Tigers back row that crucial 3 or 4 yards further away from the first break down and Bath were on the front foot rampaging through the 22. Stout defence from the Tigers meant it still took several phases but with the defence retreating at every ruck it was only a matter of time until the departing Simon Taylor plunged through to score on what will be his last time in Blue, Black and White at the Rec.
Donald was down injured so youngster Ollie Devoto slotted the conversion.
Tigers roared back though with a well finished try. For Tigers Tom Croft was the hero as he took a superb line through a gaping hole in the Bath defence before rounding young Devoto to score under the posts. Davy Boy Wilson was this time the villain for Bath as his laziness in defence opened the door.
Tigers now had all the play and with the more open pack selected were enjoying the conditions and playing a lovely game. But playing loose and wide has its risks just as much as any other strategy and Fijian winger Semesa Rokoduguni took advantage of a loose pass from Mat Tait to intercept and speed home. A touch of inexperience or perhaps the atmosphere getting to him meant he failed to get under the posts, though Donald should still have slotted the easy conversion it was harder than needs be.
The score was sent up stairs to the TMO before it was awarded however as Tim Wigglesworth felt he had seen a no-arms-tackle but Rob Webber in Tigers attack before the interception. It would have been a poor reason to bring back a try but once it has gone to the TMO that should not matter. Needless to say I saw no attempt to wrap the arms at all, and neither could I even fathom what the TMO did see to rule it a fair challenge. Wigglesworth was letting plenty go, and Bath were making hay whilst the sun shone, but there clearly were no arms in the tackle and the try should not have stood.
Tigers though were not flustered and not put off from their daring attacking play. Bath had their tail’s up and were attacking into our 22 when Flood forced a holding on penalty against his opposite number. Bath, presuming Tigers would try to slow the tempo and kick for touch, turned their backs and stopped; the ESPN camera man and commentary team had presumed a break in play and were begging a piece of analysis. Suddenly we hear Nick Mullins, son of the mighty Birstall and dyed in the wool Tigers fan, crying “He’s through” and the camera try to catch up as Ben Youngs is slaloming through the ragged Bath defence. Poor Ollie Devoto was again left with too much ground to cover as Youngs raced in for an 80m solo score of the highest calibre. Flood slotted the conversion for an 8 point lead.
The last 5 minutes of the first half proved crucial. Tigers scored a beauty of a try with Mat Tait putting Adam Thompstone through a tiny hole before he drew in the full back and put Matt Smith through. There were no cries of forward from crowd, no murmurs from the commentary team either. From the angle above and behind the play the pass looks perfectly timed and a beauty. From the angle in front the play it looks forwards. This is a clear example of why forward passes shouldn’t be reviewable as cameras show different things depending on their perspective. The camera that is in front of play makes the pass look forward because the ball is coming towards the lens. We can’t tell the depth from the 2D rendering on the screen only that the ball is moving left to right towards the camera. This is A level physics stuff so I don’t expect the unwashed masses and referees to know this but surely the rule makes should take it into account and not put them in that situation.
Let’s be clear the pass was close and if the referee had given it in play there wouldn’t be any mardiness about the decision, maybe a call of let them play but referees have to make calls and you’re not going to like all of them.
But when he’s let it go to have the TMO rule the pass out because of essentially an optical illusion is wrong. Especially when half the league’s games don’t have the TMO so there is a fair case to say that try would have stood if ESPN had fancied Gloucester v Saracens instead of our game.
The momentum was all with Bath now as was the referees favour. Two very soft, and out of character, calls from the referee gave Bath first a line out deep in Tigers’ territory then a free play on advantage. Donald used the free play to pull an old Pat Howard or Andy Goode move on us as he cross kicked for ex-Tiger Horacio Agulla. Tait couldn’t decide whether to accelerate and try to take him man and ball, or back off and hope for inside cover. In the end he did neither and was left in no man’s land as Agulla round him for the try. I think Cockerill accepts it was a big mistake to release Agulla but there’s no point crying over spilt milk, you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube. Insert own cliché here.
Donald converted for a 1 point half time deficit.
Tigers were still intent on attacking from deep as the half started; a thoughtless dink through by Donald was claimed on his own 5m line by Thompstone who centred it to Youngs, Tait put it through the hands to Tuilagi who powered out of the 22 up to half way. Tuilagi found Youngs who flipped it over Mat Tait’s head, somehow knocking it forwards as it went over his head according to Wigglesworth who to be fair was so up with play it had hit him and would have been a scrum down anyway.
A classic Mat Tait moment almost cost Tigers dearly as he dithered under a high ball, eventually he did the right thing and let it go to run dead but got extremely close and the home fans were baying for a 5m Bath scrum rather than a scrum back inside their own half for Tigers. They were only more riled up when Tigers pack, with Ed Slater now in the engine room, smashed the scrum and won a penalty. Francois “Bare faced Liar” Louw then scuffled with Croft; I swear I saw a punch in there but as we know the angelic Mr. Louw would no more hit a man in the face than lie to a disciplinary committee as if he was an Osprey.
Flood made it 23-19 before a high tackle on Ed Slater by opposite number Dom Day gave him the chance to make it 26-19.
Tom Heathcote reduced the arrears when Dan Cole was caught in a ruck and unable to roll away. This is a trope of modern rugby that annoys me slightly but is at least consistent across referees; we have in the rule book a scrum for when a player is trapped and can’t roll away but instead we give penalties. It’s a fine line between can’t and won’t of course but that is what the referees are paid for. Still that’s how the game is ref’d these days so no complaints about the decision.
Tigers went into lock down mode after this with Ben Youngs kicking the leather off the ball. If we’d made our tackles it might have worked but I’d much rather us have kept playing and kept pushing for that next score. It was clearly a next score wins type of game and we shut down half our options; we played to stop them rather than playing for ourselves. It’s a brave call to keep tempo and keep it going when you are only 4 points up but often fortune favours the brave.
Manu Tuilagi defended like a Trojan with one try saving tackle on Agulla a particular beauty and like the mythical Turks we were only undone when we let a rather bulky figure slip through our walls. The horse in this case was the super sub Samoan prop Anthony Perenise. As well as having a name that sounds like a nasty STI he is a bullocking presence in the loose.
It was from a Ben Youngs box kick; Rokoduguni claimed it safely and stayed on his feet, Perenise folded round into the maul before ripping it from the Fijian’s grasp. Comparisons could be made between the Tigers non-try “forward” pass and Perenise’s position relative to Rokoduguni before he took the ball off him, but nobody seemed to give that much thought. With the ball now beyond several of the Tigers defenders Perenise could slip through unseen for too long.
His footwork to keep Ben Youngs honest was top draw as was his one handed pass to Francois “Truth teller” Louw. Hawkins will be disappointed with his effort to take the burly and righteous South African down especially as it was he who Perenise slipped past at the side of the maul. Flood did well to keep him wide and make the conversion as hard as possible, which bore dividends when Heathcote missed it hooking left.
There was still time for Tigers to make it back into position to win the match and they looked to have earned a chance to win it with the last kick off the match. But despite Wigglesworth very clearly calling “leave it” to honest Francois Louw he failed to award the penalty when the flanker quite clearly took out the half back Ben Youngs. I honestly have no idea how he can think that was legal, you are quite clearly not allowed to play a player waiting at the back of the ruck for the ball but this is what he did. Many other referee’s might also question whether he was not in at the side too, but Wigglesworth had consistently allowed a wide “gate” as they call it so that was a fair decision.
Wigglesworth is of course the referee Cockerill once described as a “fucking useless cunt” during a particularly dodgy Anglo-Welsh cup game with Newport but he was generally very good in this game. On the Rugby Club a few weeks ago Cockerill picked him as his favourite ref, perhaps ironically but who knows? The controversial calls were by the TMO in the main, obviously a Bath fan might claim these calls even out over the match but the final call is always so much more controversial because there is no chance for the players to make amends and win despite him.
Tigers didn’t match Bath’s intensity in the later part of the second half but I don’t see that as too much of a worry. Tigers have bigger battles to fight and we have learnt the lesson to keep our powder dry and avoid pointless bans after being burned time and time again. That was their cup final; we should have a real one in a month’s time.
Tigers go into the final game of the season needing 2 points from the home game against London Irish to secure a home semi final. In what will be our 500th league game hopefully Tigers will mark the occasion with a suitably dominant display.