Rugby. It’s a funny old game. I must start off by admitting I didn’t go to the Rec so settled in to get my Tigers fix on BT Sport instead. Apparently BT Sport is new best thing but at least when Sky covered the Rugby they covered the Rugby. They didn’t spend 10 of the 15 minutes of build up talking football, they didn’t constantly run football scores across the top and they didn’t offer us the piercing insights of Marouane Fellani at half time. Though to be fair he probably knows as much about Rugby as Dewi Morris.
And for those that don’t know I quite like football. Been going to LCFC all my life. But I do not accept Fife v Brechin Athletic score updates are needed on the top of my screen during the Rugby. Any Rugby. Let alone Tigers!
Anyway. The Game. The Rugby.
As Jake Humphreys might say it was a game of two halves; 21-3 to Bath in the first half, 17-6 to Leicester in the second. Tigers really had the majority of the attacking play all day, spinning the ball wide and gaining ground round the fringes. David Mele was the preferred kicker ahead of Ryan Lamb this week and put Tigers 3-0 up early on after Bath sealed off in the shadow of their posts.
Unfortunately that good start did not last long for Mele. A free kick awarded to the Tigers was turned into a penalty for Bath by his behaviour. At the next scrum the packs wheeled, as they do under these new rules, somehow Garner discerned that this was deliberate and Bath levelled.
Tigers were still on top with Scott Hamilton have a great chance of a finish but refusing to back his pace. It’s an old stick to beat Cockerill with but would Purdy have had the pace to finish? That dominance was dissipated in a sliding doors moment.
Ryan Lamb threw a classic long floated pass and classically he’d got it wrong. Jonathan Joseph stepped in front of Sebastian De Chaves to intercept the pass and raced away for the try. If the ball had got past Joseph Tigers had a 4 on 1 and would have surely scored themselves. Small margins our sport at times.
One of the things Martin Johnson used to talk about was compounding mistakes. And the rest of the half saw Tigers compound and composite their mistakes in a goulash of awfulness.
It starts with Mulipola. He goes a bit high on Dave Attwood. Garner mistakenly thinks there are no arms but there is little difference in terms of a penalty. But he produces the yellow card. Now. I’ve got no problems with that as a yellow. None at all. But if we’re playing to those rules where were they last week? Maybe a case for Geraint Ashton Jones in his new rule as consistency czar.
Then a scrum. With Boris “the finger” Stankovich manning the fort the scrum was better. We looked like we’d won a penalty. But no. Mele, already in a bad mood and aggravating the referee, shoved Peter Stringer over. Hard work nullified. Mistake compounded.
Ford makes a poor cross field clearance that Thompstone catches; he then collects his own grubber before being held up over the line. Mele feeds the scrum. Penalty. Mistakes compounded.
By the by one thing I fail to understand in this brave new world of scrums is the penalty for a second feed. They downgraded feeding from a penalty to a free kick in 1977 because it was spoiling the game and having too big an influence on major matches. Now we seem keen to unlearn the lessons of history and spoil yet more games. It’s also inconsistent within the game; we don’t start awarding penalties if a hooker throws two line outs not straight do we?
From the lineout Ed Slater and Jordan Crane are deemed to have entered the maul from the side. Penalty. Mistake compounded.
Brilliant touch finder from Ford puts Bath 10 meters out. That’s an 85 meter territory loss through indiscipline. Youngs brilliantly stops the maul with an incredible drive. But Garner has Tigers in his sights now after Mele’s antics and other sloppy penalties. He sees the end result of the maul stopped and gives the penalty; instead of seeing the brilliant play of the how he only sees the cynical of the result.
It’s a referee management issue as without the sloppy pens and the histrionics of Mele the referee won’t see the maul collapsing he will see the brilliant play by Youngs to stop it completely legally.
This time the referee compounds the error with a very harsh yellow card.
Back to Geraint Ashton Jones to explain how last week’s 17 penalties gained only 1 yellow card for Worcester but the 9 penalties here are worth 2 yellows for Leicester.
Ford makes it 16-3.
Mulipola is due to come back on. Take the time for the lineout and we’ll be back to 14 at least.
But Lamb takes it quickly. Down to 13 for longer than necessary. Mistakes compounded.
A lovely passage of play for Tigers over 14 rucks to the left and the right get us to within 5 yards of line. Mele is caught at the base by Rokoduguni. He clearly knocks it forwards out of Mele’s hands but that is missed. Ford hacks clear.
Now this is the worst passage of play in the whole match. Hamilton could kick it out. He doesn’t. Lamb could kick it up or out. Bafflingly he doesn’t. He grubbers it along the line on the floor. Why?
What is he thinking?
He can’t play his forwards on side with the grubber. He’s put it nowhere near touch. We’re down to 13 men at this point and his kick has left 5 of them offside and out of the game.
I just can’t fathom why he thinks this is a good move. There is 50 seconds of the half left.
Boot it in the Avon get back to 14 men and half time will be in a matter of seconds.
This is why Lamb has never fulfilled his early promise and this is why Flood can be knocked out stone cold and be a better fly half. For all Lamb’s good play in the second half (after a thousand words on the first I promise I will get to the second eventually) his bone headedness has lost us the game. The first was a risk worth taking. Okay its gone wrong but it was the right thing to do. This one was the very worst option he could possibly take. A penalty for holding on at least gets us back to 14.
And then Banahan runs it in from the half way line. Really Morris and Hamilton should between them be able to hold him up. Mistakes compounded.
And relax. It’s mostly good from here.
More football from BT at half time. Maroune “Dewi” Fellani offers us his analysis of Bath’s narrow rush defence and how Tigers are using the wide channels to good effect.
Now back to 15 this time it was Tigers who punished Bath’s mistakes. Finally referee Garner spotted Paul James walking around the side of the scrum and Tigers cleared their lines to the 10m of their own half.
Lamb throws a lovely dummy and steps inside the Bath rush, not once but twice. He finds Ed Slater who charges past opposite number Hooper to gain good ground before passing a touch early to Thompstone. Two phases to the right and a cheeky break by Niall Morris is stopped as his shorts fall down. Back to the left and Youngs finds Lamb at second receiver. He floats a lovely cross field kick for Thompstone.
He gathers and off loads to Steve Mafi on the half hobble half swagger over the line. The TMO checks for a forward pass but as Thompstone has his back to the line it would be an impressive feat of physics to go forward.
Mele skews the conversion well wide.
Tigers are now full of confidence and Morris combines with Hamilton to set the kiwi free through the middle. He runs away from his support though and the moment is lost. But Tigers are back in business and Bath are reeling.
Goneva is next through the middle. The Fijian in his preferred position of outside centre cuts a swath through the Bath mid-field. Two phases, and a lovely switch from the impressive Slater, later and the referee calls maul then turnover from no quick ball. I feel there is a bit too much of this in the game at the moment. A ruck can take an age but a fast moving maul goes to ground and unless the ball is immediately, and I mean immediately, available it goes to the opponents. Just a quick chance for the scrum half to dig it out would be better in my view.
Tigers turn it back over but Lamb can’t find Thompstone with the ambitious pass on the outside.
But it’s all Tigers now. Tom Youngs picks George Ford out of the defensive line and drives him back 20 meters to get onto the front foot. Tigers’ multi-phase attack is in all its glory as they probe left and right, subtly pulling the defence apart over 9 rucks before Ed Slater squeezes over in the corner.
It is a credit to Bat’s defence that all the tries were scored in the corner. It is an old Tigers trick to make them score out wide as it makes conversions harder and the tries worth less than ones under the posts.
Mele converted this time and Tigers were within 7.
Morris had clashed heads with Ford earlier in the game and was withdrawn. This forced Ryan Lamb to full back and Bath were quick to test him out. He fumbled the Garryowen and Mele hacked at the ball from an offside position.
The momentum was broken and Tigers were outside winning distance again.
But freed from the pressure of going for the win they rallied yet again. More controlled possession and multiple rucks followed as Tigers moved 30 yards forward to within inches of the line then toyed with the blindside before Owen Williams, Ryan Lam and Tom Youngs span it wide for Thompstone. He turned provider again popping it up for Goneva to run it in from 5 yards out.
Mele scooped the conversion wide though so it would have to be a try to win it. If he had got that then his next kick, a scrum pen after Ford put the restart straight out, we’d have been in the lead for the first time since the 13th minute. But ifs don’t win games players do.
A poor clearout from Thomas Waldrom allowed Bath to win a penalty and Ross Batty’s lengthy injury break took the wind out of the sails a little bit. Bath’s maul earned them another penalty when Waldrom charged into the side. Ford now displaying all the talents we saw last year slashed the kick wide.
Waldrom not having best game in a Tigers shirt lost control at the back of yet another mess of a scrum and Micky Young pounced. Bath worked the ball left then back to the centre but their charge was stopped when Jamie Gibson lazily lay all over the ball at a ruck. 27-20 then and 1 point.
For the hardy souls who have battled through almost 2,000 words of battered prose well done to you. Your reward is the pearls of my infinite wisdom. This game was incredibly frustrating in isolation as Tigers shot themselves in the foot over and over and over again. But as part of the canvass of a season it was very positive. We completely outplayed Bath without a slew of our star names; we burst the hype bubble surrounding Mele before we did anything stupid like picking him ahead of Ben Youngs; we defended incredibly well only conceding tries on the counter attack and we saw players like Slater and Goneva grow in the shirt even more. We might have lost the battle but I’m still convinced we can win the war.