Tigers roared back into the Premiership’s Top 4 with a stunning bonus point win away to Dean Richard’s Newcastle Falcons. The 41-18 win was secured with a 3 try second half blitz that saw Tigers storm away from Newcastle who had closed the gap to 20-18.
Manu Tuilagi made only his second start of the Premiership season as Tigers recorded their first Premiership bonus point victory since September, also against Newcastle and notably the last game Manu started.
Lee Smith opened the scoring for the hosts with a monster 50 meter penalty only for Rob Vickers to block Marcos Ayerza on the kick off and let Tigers level up straight away. Newcastle controlled the possession well during the opening stages and took advantage of some rusty Tuilagi defence for Noah Cato to step the centre and Ayerza for a try.
Owen Williams closed the gap to one point with two more successful penalty attempts. Tigers were growing into the match; Jordan Crane’s pick and go through the middle made huge yards as did Marcos Ayerza who collected the off load. But Ayerza was unable to find Ben Youngs with the try line begging. Youngs was again at the centre of the action after his tap and go split the Newcastle defence. His ambitious pass to Scully was under cooked and the Californian knocked on.
Maverick Fijian genius Vereniki Goneva unlocked the Newcastle defence late in the first half with a body swerve and forceful hand off followed by a gloriously delicate chip ahead; winning the foot race to ground the ball.
Goneva received the ball after a break from Ed Slater. The captain ran an inside line to burst between two defenders and gain 20 yards. Quick ball to Dan Bowden was shipped on to the Fijian for his magic finish. Owen Williams was off target with his conversion making it 14-13.
A single point advantage at half time was quickly expanded to a 7 point lead after two Owen Williams penalties. The first was after Scott Lawson failed to release the tackled man and second came straight from the kick off. Newcastle’s kick off failed to go 10 meters and they conceded the penalty from the scrum.
Newcastle came back strongly though with good bursts from their forwards pivoting around Mike Blair. Noah Cato looked dangerous again but Alex Tait couldn’t hold on to his pass under pressure from Ben Youngs.
Bafflingly referee Greg Garner saw fit to sin bin Youngs for defending his own line. Apparently because he tried to tip the ball up and catch it that is now illegal and considered more damaging to the game than late tackles that injure fly halfs out of Grand Finals.
The rule book actually states that players must not intentionally knock the ball forwards. Nothing about number of hands. Just intentionally forwards. The fact we have a generation of referees that have never played the game is clear from instances like these.
Why wouldn’t Ben Youngs be trying to catch that ball? The referees seem to think they are being clever and that the players are cynical when most of them just see the ball and go for it.
Then to see a deliberate knock down punished more strongly than dangerous play that injuries people out of action is not only wrong but offensive to all those that play the game.
Newcastle profited from Garner’s mistake as Scott Lawson burst round the side of a ruck to sprint in on the blindside corner.
The Tigers though were only made more determined by the Coventry raised referee’s anti-Tigers officiating after he ruled out a good try for a forward pass. The ball was spun wide left and after Owen Williams’s pop pass Pablo Matera straightened his man, got his hand round the back and rolled the pass to Blaine Scully. No debate about it the try was good.
In Ben Youngs’s absence Dan Bowden stepped into the scrum halfs shoes to great effect, keeping the tempo high and even setting up Goneva’s second try. Straight from the incorrectly ruled out effort Tigers had an attacking maul. The set up was superb as Tom Youngs handled the ball at the back.
Bowden broke round the side and popped the pass to Goneva wrapping around from the left wing. Goneva did well to hold the pass and broke the arm tackles of Noah Cato and Mike Blair. Relief was palpable as Tigers were clear again.
Goneva almost secured a hat trick 3 minutes later but couldn’t hold on to an interception attempt. Thankfully Garner seemed to apply some logic to this chance and it was only a knock on. With Tigers back to full strength it was Thomas Waldrom who next crossed the white wash.
Good ball retention in the Falcons 22 saw Tigers probe to the left and right. Goneva set up a ruck from a classic switch and Waldrom ran a tight line back towards the ruck. A ballet dancer’s side step saw him clear of the last man and under the posts.
Garner yellowed Manu Tuilagi for the imaginary “deliberate” knock on 3 minutes later, because obviously Manu wanted to knock it on on the half way line when had he held it a bonus point try would have been a walk in.
A man down Tigers were still pushing for a bonus point to put us level on points with Bath. It looked like time was draining away after Ed Slater dropped Toby Flood’s close contact pass. But as ever it was Tigers scrum that came to our rescue when Gary Strain couldn’t take the power of Fraser Balmain.
With 79 minutes now showing on the clock it was now or never. Flood kicked to touch and Tigers set the line out. Tigers drove the lineout before Tom Youngs and David Mele broke to the open side. Pablo Matera following play decided to test the fringe defence of the Falcons and it was found wanting. After an initial repulse the Argentinean tyro was not held so surged again to power forward for his 2nd try in Tigers colours.
With the bonus point secure there was only just time for Greg Garner to further embarrass himself with the sin binning of Toby Flood despite getting both hands to the ball on his interception attempt. This was the first time Tigers have suffered 3 yellow cards in a single match since 17th March 2007 at home to Bath; that day we also secured a bonus point victory as Tom Varndell, Henry Tuilagi and Alex Tuilagi all saw yellow.
A fourth victory during the international window and Tigers shift into a share of 3rd place. A home semi final is still a long way away but more results like this and we just might make it.