Saturday, 8 February 2014

Muddy Hell: Tigers scrap past Worcester

Tigers got their first win in almost a month on Friday as they snuck a 23-22 win away to basement boys Worcester.  The Tigers did not so much roar as whimper as they were unable to break free from a dogged Worcester side. 

Two tries from Flying Fijian Vereniki Goneva and 5 kicks from Toby Flood were enough to see the Champions home despite 5 penalties from Chris Pennell and a conversion of Josh Drauniniu’s try.

The Tigers started the match very well.  Goneva stole a march on the Worcester attack when he flew in from miles back to pick off Paul Warwick’s loopy pass and storm under the posts.  It was only 5 minutes later when a lovely short pass from Flood freed Goneva through the middle again.  This time he linked with Allen and Waldrom.  Tigers were now only 6m out but a thoughtless wide pass from Flood, when a single miss cut out pass to Slater would have put him in, gave David Lemi time to step in and disrupt the move.

This was butchery of the highest order from our experienced 10 and he will be disappointed with it in the review.

Worcester got on the score board after a penalty for failing to roll away then doubled their tally after Ed Slater was caught marginally in front of the kicker.  Both were sloppy penalties to concede.  The second was a confidence booster for the impressive Pennell.  Worcester’s captain is a strong leader from the back.

The third Worcester penalty was more controversial as it was not a penalty offence.  Closing the gap is clearly stated in the IRB laws to be a free kick offence but Small in his wisdom disregarded the rules of the game.  You have to feel enormous sympathy for the players when referees make howlers like this.  How are they supposed to play the game when the man with the whistle demonstrably doesn’t know the rules?

This penalty but Worcester ahead for the first time.

It didn’t last long.  From another controversial Small decision, this time against Mariano Galarza for in at the side, Tigers had gained good line out ball in the Worcester half between the 22 and 10 meter line.

Slater claimed the lineout cleanly and popped to Youngs as he was hitting the ground.  Passing from the ground rather than air is key; the dummy drive holds the Worcester back row in for a second longer.  Youngs finds Mulipola on the rampage through the middle  attracting both Betty the openside and Creevy the hooker.  A fast ruck gives Toby Flood the ball with plenty of time and space. 

With dummy lines from Mat Tait and Matt Smith attracting attention it is US Eagle Blaine Scully who receives posseion.  He soars past Alex Grove and dummies past Drauniniu, fixing Pennell his pass to Goneva is inch perfect and the Fijian is in for his second score.  This was our backs moving like clockwork and as every piece was perfectly in time.

This was the last time it worked like that.

A Pennell penalty closed the gap to 14-12 after Ayerza was caught offside making two quick tackles. 

Two penalties inside the Worcester half were kicked to touch as Tigers looked for the third try. A strong maul and carry from Ayerza was backed up by a lovely pass out of contact by Ed Slater, Flood flicked it quickly through the back of his hand but Allen chose to truck it up back into the forwards rather than get it one wider into what looked like a 3 on 1 with Scully also wrapping round. 

Worcester’s forwards were back inside too though and Allen was driven backwards losing Tigers' momentum.  Thankfully Worcester were caught offside at the next phase and Tigers gained some reward for their endeavour. 

A quick tap from Ben Youngs got the Tigers onto the front foot, being highly critical he has to hold onto the pass longer, either beat the wing himself or make him commit to the tackle.  Goneva muffed his kick and Worcester had good turnover ball that they turned into attacking ball in the 22.  As the clock turned red Pennell made his one and only miss, hitting the post before the half time whistle blew.

The second half was a more turgid affair as Tigers couldn’t break free from the Worcester stranglehold.  An early penalty from half way was skewed wide by Flood.  Worcester then got their try.  The initial break was by the eventual scorer as Drauniniu spotted Jamie Gibson being lazy in the defensive line and cut through.

Tigers will be disappointed with the try as Anthony Allen did at one stage get a rare Andrew Small approved turnover, but it was spilled in the ruck and Worcester had possession again.  As the ball went wide Drauniniu simply stepped countryman Goneva who had left himself too much to do to cover the last man.  Pennell got the touchline conversion as Worcester edged back ahead.

A penalty quickly restored the lead but Tigers had now been dragged into a close tit for tat game and decided they had to secure the win rather than look for tries for the bonus point.  This is a tough call for the coaches and senior players to make but I think trying to break Worcester’s spirit with another try would have been the way to go.  The penalty just kept them in touch.

This was compounded with our kicking strategy.  It is worth thinking on the fact that both halves were won by the side playing into the stiffish breeze.  With the wind at our backs our kicks were all drifting too far from the chase in the second half, whilst Worcester’s were holding up allowing the defenders to put real pressure on the receiver. 

When you have the wind there is a temptation to kick too often and we fell into that that trap, which is disappointing when we have such experience at the two half back positions.  We did not dominate territory like we should with such an advantage in conditions.

Worcester set up a tense finale with a 68th minute penalty from Pennell.  A harsh penalty against Waldrom for not rolling away was smack bang in front of the posts and Pennell put Worcester in the box seat for a first win of the season.

Again it did not last long as Argentinean test flanker Leonardo Senatore gave away the penalty for hands on the floor.  I have great sympathy for the great man, simply put that penalty would not be given in any other league in the world. 

Flood nailed the penalty just 2 minutes after Pennell had given Worcester the lead.  Worcester had one final chance to win after an Alex Grove break but David Mele was back to force the holding on penalty from Sam Betty and kill off any danger.

Some people have been disappointed with this result, bemoaning the lack of try bonus point.  After the opening stages Tigers will be frustrated to have got drawn into a battle but historically we have only twice won at Sixways with the bonus point.  I struggle to see justification in the claim of point lost.

Tigers lacked intensity and the stodginess of the backline is best emphasised with the stat that Matt Smith did not make a single pass in the match.  The only other player to do that was Logovi’i Mulipola, the tighthead prop.  A quick word at the end for debutant hooker Harry Thacker, covering Rob Hawkins for 4 minutes whilst a cut was dealt with, he made 6 tackles in his brief cameo almost as many as the back three managed in the whole match.

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