Tigers were knocked out of the LV Cup on Friday night after conceding the try bonus point to a rampant Bath side at Welford Road. Coming swiftly on the back of the defeat to Ulster and the Premiership draw with Bath Tigers are yet to register a home win in 2014. Three games winless at home ties Tigers worst home record in competitive fixtures.
Not wanting to sensationalise the loss but those are the bare facts of the current run of form.
Needing a bonus point win to stand any hope of progression Tigers started pretty well. Young Argentine flanker Pablo Matera, on his home debut, did well to stretch out and score the try under heavy pressure. Matera made a proper nuisance at the breakdown and carried well all night. Surely he has earned himself a place in the Premiership match day squad.
Bath’s first try had more than a bit of luck about it. Thomas Waldrom lost his footing in the wet conditions giving Nick Abendanon room to run. The ball spilled loose from a solid Tigers tackle and was quickly passed to flanker Alafoti Faosiliva, he chipped the covering defence of Sam Harrison then won the foot race for the grounding. Courtesy of our new big screen we could all see that the Bath man had his foot in touch before he kicked it, as the boos rang round the ground Wayne Barnes ignored the evidence and awarded the try.
The rain had now started, both teams’ tactics changed and the kicking game was to the fore. Tigers’ second score was directly from a good old fashioned Up ‘n’ Under. Owen Williams displayed his Rugby League background with a booming Garryowen, terrific height and just enough length; it looked like Tigers had over chased it; Hepetema and Abendanon waited underneath for the ball to land. But they hadn’t counted on US Eagle Blaine Scully. Showing great hustle he challenged Abendanon for possession, grabbed the loose bouncing ball and raced away under the posts for the try.
It was the kind of try that anyone could score but only a few ever actually do. That bravery, work rate and willingness to do something a bit odd is a product of his less than usual career path. After Adam Thompstone’s less than stellar game for England ‘A’ perhaps the American is another who has enhanced his First XV prospects in this disappointing loss.
This was about as good as it got for Tigers.
Williams and Henson traded penalties for a 17-11 lead but Bath struck back before half time.
The West Country side attacked with good precision, Scully got sucked in too tight on his inside man which let Banahan round the outside. A cracking side step from Leroy Houston on Owen Williams put Bath inside the 5 metre line. A try saving tackle from Tom Price was all for nought as Scott Hamilton could not deny Banahan who went in at the corner. Suspicions of his back leg being in touch were not investigated as Barnes awarded the try without going to the TMO.
Tigers were kept scoreless in the second half.
George Chuter, after no warning, only one penalty and outside the 22 was sin binned for coming in from the side after 51 minutes.
Those ten minutes were crucial. Bath brought on their big guns, like Francois “Elbow” Louw and Carl Fearns and gained 10 points. The third try was scored by Ollie Devoto after smash runs off the back of a scrum by the Bath back row. A scrum Bath only had because Boris Stankovich was throwing in.
A bonus point try came for Bath from another driving maul. Tigers just couldn’t defend this tactic on the night. The usual tactics of driving them back, using physical players to disrupt the opposition wasn’t working when Barnes refused to call a maul stationary.
Going early and risking the in the air penalty was the obvious next tactic but we never tried it; catching the ball carrier and dragging him straight to ground was another unexplored option. We seem very poor at adapting when referees won’t enforce the laws properly; we rarely take advantage of a blind spot and continue when they give penalties against our legal tactics.
There have been the usual excuses of a more experienced opponent, injuries and players missing but we need to worry about the players we did pick playing badly. If we had played well and Bath bettered us then those factors could be in play.
A light at the end of the tunnel is that next week away to Worcester we should have a full team out. Ayerza, Mulipola, Deacon, Kitchener, possibly Slater, Mafi, Salvi, Matera, Crane, Youngs, Flood, Allen and Tait should all be available. Only Cole and Tom Youngs should be missing. We’ll either improve and win or the excuses will have to go out of the window for some forthright honesty.