Saturday, 3 August 2013

7s Heaven Tiger Cubs Win Through to Final Stages

In the week that the RFU dismissed their efforts as meaningless the Tiger cubs showed just what wearing the famous jersey meant to them as they roared to not only their first ever victory in this event but also into next weekend's final series in Bath.

Michael Noone and Oli Bryant had pulled out from the initial selection injured and were replaced by David Williams and Tahir El Mahdi.

First up were the Sale Sharks, the aggregate score over the last three years between the sides was 130-15 to the Cheshire side.  With Canadian international Phil Mackenzie and regular first team player Nathan Fowles leading Sale no one gave the young Leicester lads much chance.  

To begin with the doubters were being proved right as Sale dominated territory, pinning the Tigers back in their 22m cage, and possession, starving the Tigers of the ball.  From a quick tap Nathan Fowles had the Tigers back pedaling and USA 7s specialist Blaine Scully could do nothing as Fowles stepped about 5m laterally to round him for the try.

But the fighting spirit so often associated with the club was once again to the fore as the Tigers fought back valiantly to keep a toe hold in the competition.  

Scully made a long striding break to get up to halfway, the ball was spread to Pasqualle Dunn the school boy Kiwi Rugby League International who stood still, inviting, daring, challenging the Northern hordes on to him to tackle him, to down him.  They came at him but beat one man, beat two, beat three to set the Tigers up on the 22.  The 7 minutes was now up, one mistake and its was Nil Points at half time,  and Tigers lost it.  All Sale needed to do was win the ruck and kick it out.  But they couldn't.  Harry Wells was on top of them jackaling the ball away and putting Jake Farnworth into the corner for the score.

Tigers started the second half brightly, with Scully almost freeing Perry Humphrys but failing to free his hands from the tackle.  Lucas Guillaume went close but was turned over inches from the line.  Will Cliff, Sale's experienced Premiership operator, took out George Tresidder late and earned himself a 7s-style 60 second sin binning.  With the Sharks down to 6 men the Tigers had an attacking scrum on the left hand flank.  The ball was centered to late call up Tahir El Mahdi, with a continental football style nickname of "Cookie" on his back.  He did an underrated tactic in 7s.  He ran at the defence with commitment and pace.  "Tackle me, if you can" he said.  One little brush off against Tom Brady, another Premiership campaigner, and he was through for the winning try!

Victory!  For the first time in the J.P. Morgan 7s Tigers had returned with a win.

Leicester had no time to rest on their laurels though as they had to back up with a match against 2011 Champions Newcastle.  Harrison Collins stepped inside Harry Wells for Newcastle's first try and dove straight through a ruck a meter out for the second.  Tom Catterick made it 19-0 at half time after bludgeoning over from a quick tap penalty.

Normal service resumed?  Not a bit of it.  The Cubs came out fighting and won the second half 10-0 as they showed they were no pushovers.  Good pressure defence from the Tigers forced the Newcastle error and George Catchpole was on hand to turn it inside to Pasqualle Dunn who trotted to the line for the score after only 30 seconds of the second half.  Newcastle are a quality 7s side and attacked again, Blaine Scully the Californian on trial at the club pulled off a miraculous classic cover tackle to force the Falcons into touch, before a NFL-style throw released Henry Purdy on the far side of the posts to break out and turn defence into attack.  Leicester's competitiveness at the breakdown went too far once too often and Jake Farnworth was shown the yellow card.  Newcastle couldn't take advantage of the 6 man Tigers though as it was Leicester who had the final word.  

Henry Purdy pilfered the pill at a midfield ruck, allowing Tresidder to race away down the right hand flank.  He passed inside for Jake Farnworth to scuttle his way over from the 22.  Tigers had a conversion to earn the bonus point but with no kicker in the team it was not to be.

That meant the final game against Northampton was winner takes all.  The victor would move on to the Finals Series played at the Wreck, Bath, whilst the loser would go home to think again.  

The St.James crowd was in fine voice as the match began but it was Tigers who started better with Jake Farnworth wrestling the ball free in the first tackle.  Watching on from the stands were first teamers Julian Salvi, Graham Kitchener and Niall Morris and they looked on approvingly as Tigers benefited from a classic piece of 7s rugby.  It was Northampton on the attack and they looked all set to score after rounding El Mahdi, but scorching across the August turf was the American Scully to put in another trademark cover tackle.  Scully and Steele turned it over and Tresidder played it outside to the rapid El Mahdi.  He turned the defence inside out as he raced away for the try. 

El Mahdi was the man again for Tigers second try, Purdy picked and went through the middle of the ruck drawing defenders like flies to honey, Tresidder drew the last man and it looked like an easy run to the line.  But "Cookie" had other ideas as he turned back towards and the posts and monstered past three defenders before reaching out and grazing the line with ball on the limits of his finger tips.  He'd have been shot if he'd messed it up but when you score there are no questions to answer just praise for the finish.

Northampton pulled it back to make it a one score game as Alex Day pounced on Ryan Glyn's chip through to make it 10-5.  The Saints had their tails up now and were sniffing a finals place. 

Tigers defence hassled, harried and hustled the Saints into a litany of errors.  Disruptive breakdown work from Purdy allowed captain Scott Steele to steam through the middle of the ruck and kick the ball loose.  George Catchpole was on hand to clear up the mess and he found David Williams, a 17 year old from the city's Lancaster Boys School, who sealed Tigers place at the Rec with the try.

Afterwards Tahir El Mahdi impressed us all with his singing voice in an interview with Craig Doyle:

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