Tigers secured their place in a second consecutive Premiership Rugby 7s Finals day with a second place in finish in Group D on Saturday night. A reported crowd of 7,057 were on hand to see Tigers secure victories over London Welsh & Sale.
Tigers opened the proceedings by facing hosts Newcastle. The Falcons’ new artificial pitch is being installed at Kingston Park which forced the change of venue to the Darlington arena.
Sevens specialists Tomi Jones, Andy Bulumakau & Dan Rundle joined academy prospects George Catchpole, George Tresidder, Oli Bryant and Rhys Williams in the starting line up; Falcons had Premiership experience in Tom Catterick and former Super League Grand Final Man of the Match Lee Smith.
Tigers opened the scoring after only 27 seconds. Bulumakau broke free through the middle and had the pace to scorch in from his own half. Falcons claimed a messy ball from the restart and played patience possession rugby until Chris Harris found a gap sniping up the side of a ruck to break free and score. Newcastle struck again as Tom Catterick seemed to have added another but it was ruled out; Tresidder's tackle forced a knock on.
George Catchpole claimed Tigers second try of the night; Coventry winger Dan Rundle, guesting for the Tigers, stretched the Falcons' defence running from his own 22, his off load found Tomi Jones who weaved his way through 3 tackles before giving Catchpole a simple run in to the line.
Newcastle’s second try was fortuitous, the field opened up after a blocked kick, but Tigers will be disappointed with the lost scrum just before. The try meant Tigers went into half time with a 14-12 lead.
Catterick showed his skills to add another try just after half time, cutting back inside Rhys Williams to expose Tigers inside defence, giving Newcastle the lead for the first time. Bryant & Tresidder were wasteful in the Newcastle 22 but a quick turnover by Will Owen gave Tigers good ball and Tresidder went under the posts unmolested to quickly restore Tigers’ 2 point advantage.
Catterick claimed his hat trick with under a minute left. Tigers were ruled to have held on; the try was inevitable, 3 men still on the floor from the ruck, a tap and go exposed the gaps. A home town decision in the final ruck gave Newcastle possession to run down the clock and secure a 5 point win.
Next Tigers faced Welsh, the Exiles had only 10 minutes rest from the end of their win against Sale. Academy hooker Jake Farnworth joined specialists Josh Fowles and Phil Woodhead in the starting line up as Rundle, Rhys Williams and Bryant made way. Bulumakau again showed his footwork and pace, beating his man in his own half and having the speed to race away to the line. Welsh responded when Chris Levesley raced past Phil Woodhead like he wasn’t there to score under the posts.
Tomi Jones’ neat grubber looked to have unlocked the Welsh defence but his second touch was too strong, booting it out the back of the in goal area. Bulumakau set Catchpole through but the centre lacked the pace or support to finish, the Fijian then had to leave the field with a head knock ruling him out for the rest of the night. Former Tigers academy man Will Hurrell looked to have scored on the final play of the first half but could not shake the attentions of Josh Fowles who prevented the grounding.
Fowles got the next try after half time, his pace seeing off Hurrell in his own 22, before some great footwork on half way beat the last man. Hurrell got his own back with a try off the back of some clever passes from Welsh, manipulating the Tigers defence and giving him an easy run in.
With less than a minute left it looked like Tigers had returned to form of previous years and were going to crash out after 2 rounds. But this is sevens after all and anything can happen. Straight from the kick off David Williams tapped the ball down to namesake but no relation Rhys Williams. He spread it wide to Bryant who gave Rundle the ball with clear ground in front of him. The former Tynedale winger went inside one man, outside another and raced away with his ears pinned back for the winning score.
The final game was against Sale, also on 10 minutes rest, with Tigers knowing a bonus point win would see them through to Finals day next Friday at the Stoop. Tigers started with Will Owen, Catchpole, Tresidder and David Williams joined by the specialists Jones, Fowles and Woodhead.
Sale took advantage of a slip in the Tigers line to pile on some early pressure but good work rate and discipline meant the Tigers got back just in time; a goal line stand forced Sale into the error but they were still first to score minutes later when George Beal went over in the corner following nice work from Nathan Fowles.
Tigers struck straight back with a try of good quality from George Tresidder. Lazy defending on the inside was ruthlessly exposed by Tresidder who simply ran straight and ran hard, bamboozling two defenders. In a see saw game Fowles put Sale straight back into the lead with a solo try, brushing off Phil Woodhead’s attentions.
With 7 minutes up it was good to see both sides continue to play the game, rather than seeking half time with touch, and it was Tigers who profited; considered build up saw the ball through all 7 pairs of hands before George Catchpole pirouetted his way through the Sale defence and strode in under the posts for the go ahead score.
The second half was more of a procession for Tigers; first Josh Fowles simply outpaced his man one on one to score on the outside, then David Williams jagged back towards the posts after good work by Tresidder to secure the bonus point. Finally Dan Rundle had a short jog into the corner following a sniping break by Woodhead.
That result meant Tigers were through unless a bizarre game between Newcastle and London Welsh resulted in an 18 point or greater win for the Exiles with Newcastle scoring at least 4 tries. Needless to say that odd result was not achieved and Tigers can look forward to a trip to the Stoop next Friday.
Sevens specialists Josh Fowles and Andy Bulumakau impressed for Tigers whilst George Catchpole and George Tresidder top scored with 14 points each. Oli Bryant was an effective cog in many of the moves whilst Will Owen showed his ability in the ruck, earning a crucial turn over in the first game.
With no friendly lined up for next week hopefully Tigers will be able to name an even stronger squad.