Tigers took home the inaugural Premiership 7s Plate on Friday night following victories over Northampton and London Irish.
Tigers made two changes to the squad that earned qualification; George Catchpole rested a minor knock and Tomi Jones was dropped. In their place Tigers called up Stourbridge's Gary Dipple & Tynedale's Ben Frankland.
Tigers looked set take their place in the night's blue ribbon Cup competition as tries from Andy Bulumakau and a scything break from Oli Bryant gave them a 14-5 lead over Cardiff with just 2 minutes remaining. But a break away score by Welsh 7s international Dan Fish gave the Blues hope before Tom Williams shattered Tigers' hopes.
Tigers started with Farnworth, Frankland, Tresidder, Fowles, Bulumakau, Woodhead and David Williams and conceded early as Cardiff broke down a large blindside from a midfield scrum. Cardiff dominated the first half, two try saving tackles from David Williams kept the score to one before a crucial intervention from Fowles on the goal line not only prevented a certain try but created one; Bulumakau racing the length of the field for a half time lead.
Cardiff started the second half well but the first clear cut chance came to Tresidder; spotting a hole in the Welsh defence the field opened up before him, but the Derbyshire native did not have the pace or the support to finish the break. Sub Dan Rundle also had a great chance following his chip and go but muffed his fly hack; under pressure Cardiff knocked on and from the scrum Tigers' Oli Bryant cut back through the breaking up pack to race under the posts.
9 points up with 2 minutes remaining Tigers will be frustrated with how they threw the game away. A simple missed tackle inside the Cardiff 22 gave the Welsh side an inch, they took a mile simply drawing the full back for Dan Fish to race away for a 90 metre score. Tigers earned a penalty with the TV clock showing 14 minutes but the referee's time had 14 seconds left. A poor ruck let Cardiff turn Will Owen over at the base and Dan Rundle's turnstile defence let Tom Williams in for the heartbreaking score.
With the Cup spilled Tigers were left to the Plate and an intriguing derby match with Northampton, who had been over run by eventual champions Gloucester. In torrential rain Tigers started with Owen, Farnworth, Tresidder, Fowles, Bulumakau, David Williams and Bryant. Much like the Cardiff game Tigers were down early; Sam Olver's delicate chip was gathered by Hutchinson and despite Fowles attentions was ruled to have scored. Saints made it 12-0 after first team flanker Teimana Harrison picked off Will Owen's sloppy off load.
Tigers were facing an early and chastening exit but another top draw intervention from Bryant gave hope. Receiving the ball on half way he broke through a Saints tackle before possessing the pace to round the full back and score under the posts. Tigers then scored straight from the second half's kick off to take the lead 14-12. First Tresidder went up the right before it was spread wide left to Fowles whose pace stretched the defence, he off loaded to Bulumakau; the Fijian's footwork beat the last man and he was clear to the line.
Bulumakau created the last score for Rundle; he swept up the loose ball and beat his man to crack the middle of the defence. Rundle's support play earned him the easy finish as Northampton chased Bulumakau back hard. Tigers had a 21-12 lead and managed to see out the remaining 3 minutes to secure a place in the Plate final against London Irish.
Tigers started the final with Owen, Frankland, Tresidder, Fowles, Bulumakau, Woodhead and David Williams. Tigers took the lead as Fowles pounced on Woodhead's chip through, smashing the ball onto the line to ground it. Tigers defence and poor discipline from both sides made the game fairly slow, Irish earning a yellow card for killing the one clean break in the first 6 minutes.
Tigers took the full 2 minutes to take advantage of their superior numbers, Will Owen's pass cut out half the Irish team, allowing Frankland to draw the final man and give Woodhead a run to the line. Tigers defence suffocated the Irish attack and created turnover ball that Tigers exploited for the final try. George Tresidder's excellent catch and pass under pressure created the space for Dan Rundle to score. Fatigue effected Irish badly as Tigers managed to keep them out and secure a rare clean sheet.
Oli Bryant was the stand out attacking player on the night with his two tries excellent, David Williams will be pleased with his defensive contribution but disappointed with a high profile knock on as he took a quick penalty. Of the specialists Andy Bulumakau has already secured a deal with Doncaster and surely Josh Fowles talents will see him move on from Longton in the 6th tier of English rugby.