Saturday, 17 May 2014

Under Pressure

The run is over.  With Tom Wood’s 77th minute try the Saints went into the lead for the first time.  For the first time in 11 matches Northampton beat Leicester.  For the first time since 2004 the Tigers will not be in the Premiership Grand Final.  For the first time since 2000 Tigers will end a season without reaching a final of one sort or another.

The pressure in the second half was huge.  The home fans were rabid, baying for the visitor’s blood, and when Leicester refused to play Christians to the Northampton Lions referee J.P. Doyle was more than happy to oblige.  With no release, no possession, no territory for large chunks of the second half the pressure of the occasion just kept rising.

A short spell of 5 minutes possession in the Saints half might have been enough to lift it.  Quieten down the home fans, prick the pressure on the ref and run down the clock more.  Maybe even score some points.
This really was the classic game of two halves.  Tigers won the first half 17-6; Saints the second 15-3.  Tries from Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs caused elation in the visitors section before the break, George North crashed over to bring the home side back into it with around 15 minutes to go.  Then Wood dealt the killer blow.

In the second half we didn’t seem sure of what to do.  A score would have killed the game, like Twickenham last year, but open the game up too much and you might gift Saints an early score to get back into the game. 
We tried crazy aggressive play in our own 22, which failed when Goneva’s quick throw was ruled forward but worked when Mat Tait scorched away for a 60 metre break.  We tried kicking the leather off the ball but couldn’t pressure the Saints lineout into turnover ball and just invited the waves of attack back on ourselves.

When Tom Youngs was sin binned for being punched in the face we didn’t seem to know what to do.  First Jamie Gibson retiring, then Steve Mafi seeming set to replace Jordan Crane before Mat Tait, of all people, gave way.  It seemed an odd call at the time.  Not keeping 8 forwards, that was a great decision, but sacrificing the versatile and on form Tait when Goneva and Bowden were already on yellow cards.

But ultimately it was one missed tackle on Wood that cost us.  It wasn’t the case that “the try was always coming”, Saints had been trying to knock the door down for an age and we had not wilted.  It is not fanciful to suggest that tackle is made and we are on our way to Twickenham. 

Saints though have been better than us this season.  The only times they have looked vulnerable is when Steve Myler has been absent.  How anyone rates George Ford or Freddie Burns above him is beyond my comprehension.  He sits deep and brings his runners onto him at such pace that they crash over the gainline, his goal kicking has been magnificent and his temperament has improved no end.

A bit like the Heineken Cup if the knock out round was at Welford Road I think we win.  And the reason we were away in Clermont and away last night?  Our home form during the campaign.  Dropped points to Quins, Saints and Bath cost us a home playoff and dropped points to Ulster cost us a home Heineken Cup quarter final.  Rebuild the Fortress Welford Road and the rest will follow.

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