Sunday, 29 March 2015

Parling Try Moves Tigers into Top 4

Tigers moved into the Premiership’s play off places with a solid 25-18 win at home to Exeter.  Tigers took advantage of poor Exeter discipline with Freddie Burns landing 6 penalties; Geoff Parling’s first try at Welford Road for 5 years sealed the win but a very controversial try gave Exeter a way back before a soft penalty with the 80 minutes up let Exeter steal a thoroughly undeserved losing bonus point.

Tigers were never behind in the game; taking a 3-0 lead in the 10th minute after their first attack was halted by a Chiefs penalty.   Exeter’s rising star, so the papers tell me, Henry Slade was wide with two earlier chances and refused to take a shot at levelling the scores instead pumping it to the corner.
Tigers defence turned them away with Dan Cole surging through the maul and Seremai Bai holding the ball up.

Burns doubled the lead after Geoff Parling was taken out without the ball and Slade was finally on the score board in the 22nd minute; Jamie Gibson the transgressor after picking up the loose ball from an offside position following a Tigers charge down.

Exeter had the best of the next ten minutes, dominating possession and territory after Tigers failed to deal with the kick off.  The Chiefs strung together almost 30 phases of possession, but produced nothing to threaten the Tigers defence.  With the inevitable penalty against the defence, a travesty in this case as Salvi was on his feet and should have seen the whistle blow the other way, Exeter again refused a drawing kick instead going to the corner.

In contrast to a fortnight previously Tigers again turned Exeter back, forcing them wide until Matt Smith’s ferocious defence took Ian Whitten and the Chiefs into touch.  Tigers cleared the pressure and were rewarded with two penalties before half time.

The first followed a devilish break from Miles Benjamin, unfortunately his last involvement before a knee injury, with the front five also prominent creating the space on the blindside.  The second followed a smart line out move with Ben Youngs breaking onto brother Tom’s quick throw.  Ben returned the ball to Tom but he was unable to finish.

Tigers showed no patience in attack, with the ball flung 20 yards backwards to try and exploit a marginal overlap on the other touchline, rather than continuing to drive through the forwards.  Thankfully there was an advantage and Tigers went into the break 12-3 up.

Into the 2nd period Tigers first attack of the half was ended when Exeter took the man early again.  Tigers fifth entrance to the Exeter 22 and the fifth Exeter penalty did not seem to interest Doyle with a yellow card but Burns made no mistake to earn a 15-3 lead.

In Exeter’s first attack of the second half, and in stark contrast to Tigers rushed approach, they scored the game’s first try.  Thomas Waldrom was the scorer as Exeter picked and went round the corner until they exposed the weak shoulder.  There was no video evidence of the grounding but referee JP Doyle was on the spot and happy to make the award.

Despite the score being almost under the posts Slade missed the simple conversion, under pressure from Gibson’s charge he skewed the kick horribly into the post.

This seemed to stir Tigers into action, with Goneva become much more prominent, breaking through the middle of a ruck before popping up on the outside later.

Goneva was almost in at the corner following a string of Tigers attacks but was forced into touch by Nowell.  Exeter overthrew the lineout allowing Dan Cole to claim possession but the burly prop was held up in his attempts to ground the ball.

Tigers attacked from the collapsed scrum finding De Chaves on the left flank who drew the last Exeter defender and freed Parling to scoot in by the touchline.

Exeter’s second score had controversial origins, their replacement hooker Elvis Taione playing the ball from a clearly off side position to secure one of the game’s rare turnovers, with the Tigers defence disorganised Slade cut through the left side and found Chudley in support to dart under the posts.

Tigers missed the chance to extend the lead when Tommy Bell’s estimate of his kicking range proved optimistic but Freddie Burns was able to push the lead out to 10 points after Dean Mumm played the half back from within the ruck.

Tigers looked to be cruising to the win and so it proved but not before a soft scrum penalty with the clock dead gave Exeter their losing bonus point.

A fifth league win in a row has lifted Tigers into the top 4, currently 3rd but expected to drop when Bath face Welsh today, and with games against Saracens, Wasps and Northampton to come we hold of destiny in our own hands.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Tigers don't pass Semi Chance

Tigers were dumped out of the LV Cup by Exeter, losing by 8 points at the semi final stage.  Tigers shot themselves in both feet, several times, conspiring with the referee to hand the match to a bemused Exeter who did next to nothing to earn the win.  Just stand back, let the referee whistle the opposition off the park and watch them implode when he didn't.

In essence you can boil the game down to two crucial decisions.  Two crucial pass.  Two ex-rugby league forwards.  Laurence Pearce, with turnover ball, didn't raise his head, didn't look around and fed Exeter wing Vainakolo with a simple interception pass.  About an hour later Brad Thorn, after a scintillating Miles Benjamin break, was the last but one man with a single defender in front of him he didn't raise his head, didn't look around and this time didn't feed the Tigers winger waiting for his chance.

14 points swing right there.  And with that we wouldn't be micro analysing Tim Wigglesworth's joke shop refereeing, we wouldn't be asking where, exactly, the Hull based offical feels the middle of a maul is if it isn't where the ball is and we wouldn't be steaming mad for two weeks but playing Saracens in a final.

Tigers started the game with real ambition and married it to perfect execution.  Benjamin cut through on a terrific line before Catchpole kept it alive.  Mele found Michele Rizzo running a perfect line back towards the ruck and the Italian dove over for the opening score after only 4 minutes.

But after that beginning Tigers decided to retreat to their shell.  With penalties galore Tigers decided to kick for goal, to enter into a tight niggly match when they could have pushed on and blown a shaky Chiefs out of the water.

Exeter leveled the score through hooker Tainoe, unlike Tigers they kicked for the corner.   Tigers, having seemingly forgot how to defend lineouts, stood off and let Exeter form the maul.  Once the maul is set a referee like Wigglesworth is not going to let them leave without a penalty at least and a try at worst.  And they did, driving the hooker over off the side of the maul.

With one of Tigers penalties giving us a 10-7 lead Exeter kicked off.  With ball bouncing loose Mele swept the ball to Whetton, with an over lap begging he passed on to Pearce.  We've already discussed what happened next.  14-10 to Exeter and we never saw the lead again.

Tigers were seemingly happy with tit for tat penalty goals for much of the match.  Showing no ambition to play and executing their kick and chase very poorly, it was not a combination for a happy crowd with the boos starting from the Crumbie.

Tigers slowly began expanding their game though, with Thorn breaking through the middle.  Exeter offended, offside and never onside they killed the momentum and lost a man for ten minutes.  In the ten minutes Tigers added the 3 points from that penalty and should have killed the game.

Miles Benjamin eschewed the rigid kicking game to gloriously counter, finding Neil Briggs in support.  The Sale bound man had neither the pace nor the support to finish the move but it was quickly swept left towards the Crumbie.  But Thorn did not find Catchpole, who followed him up into the ruck.  Illegally according to Wigglesworth.  The only in at the side by the attack all game.  Apparently.

With that the momentum seemed lost.  Tigers tried to play the tight game but were stymied by a referee who simply refused to ping the Chiefs.  For their final try he may as well have put on a white shirt and joined the maul.  Sam Harrison spots the ball carrier at the front of the maul and latches onto him.  This, according to the man who has refereed hundreds of games and has presumably read the rule book at some stage, is in at the side.  Where can you come from then?  What can you actually do once you don't disrupt the set up?

From the second lineout it was inevitable.  Tigers can only blame themselves for this one.  They didn't compete for the ball, they didn't hit the man the moment his feet touched the floor and drive them backwards.  These days with any referee, a good one or one like today, you will concede if you passively let them set up then try to hold the drive.  I know that, you my millions of readers know that, why don't the players on the field?

A very frustrating day for Tigers.  We were good enough to win, with a competent and fair referee we would have won, if we hadn't quite literally thrown the game away we would have won.  I think this will be the last we see this season from a number of today's players.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Tigers win in Newcastle

Regular readers will know I am no Premiership rugby puff boy; not a fluffer who writes endless articles about how, like, utterly amazing the Premiership is and how it's super duper competitive.  Better Than Ever.  The kind of site who either posses a memory that would make a goldfish's wife worry her husband has dementia or genuinely only started watching rugby in 2008 and has never really bothered to find out what happened before.

The kind of "independent" blogs suspiciously well promoted by BT Sport and Premiership rugby on twitter and facebook.

But this season's run in is turning into a remarkable tale.  It's March and four sides will have the domestic double as a realistic goal and Northampton & Saracens will internally be targeting the elusive beast.  The Treble.  Bath still have ambitions for the Premiership & European double that Tigers won in 2002 and Wasps won in 2004.

Tigers dream of only their second ever domestic double.  Despite the spite directed at the team.  Despite 45-0 at they who shall not be named.  Despite only scoring 25 tries in 17 games.

Despite what was a pretty poor opening hour on Sunday.  Tigers were toothless in the first half.  Blunt.  Lacking incision.  We had plenty of ball in the opening exchanges, dominating the first 10 minutes of possession and territory.  But a series of poor kicks were replied to with exquisite Falcons replies, eventually forcing Mat Tait to lamely limp into touch just 5 metres out.

With Newcastle's formidable maul hardly a secret the result, whilst hardly inevitable, was no surprise.  Scott Lawson the baldy nuggety hooker from Scottish borders claimed the spoils.  You have to question the thought process from Tait.  He had options.  Kicking gains a few yards, often crucial in defending mauls; standing up and trying to stay in play would have gained us a ruck and again a better clearance; and controversially, dotting down behind our own line would have given a scrum.  And from a scrum, often as not, we were getting penalties.

Deliberately conceding a 5m scrum is a cardinal sin.  Usually.  But with current interpretations making maul defence impossible against well drilled units the lottery of the scrum has a certain attraction.

Tigers chipped into the lead with a Burns penalty after a collapsed scrum, reading the wind or getting lucky with the swerve as it carved its way left to right and through the middle.  

Newcastle caused problems every time they attacked.  Catterick was an impish threat reminiscent of Healey in his pomp, the evasion, the visions, the ahem, "tactical" kicking.  Sinoti Sinoti was equally dangerous with ball in hand.  A hitchkicker defenders naturally stand off him afraid of over committing.

Tigers cut back to 7-6 following an impressive Tait break down the left and a Newcastle penalty in the ruck but it was not long before Newcastle extended their advantage.  With Tom Croft down injured Tigers had the ball slightly outside the 22, unable to kick directly to touch Burns heaved the ball down centre field.

Alex Tuilagi, needing no introduction, bulldozed his way through the Tigers defence.  Morris nailed him and with the help of Pearce kept the behemoth out.  Newcastle quickly swung the play to the opposite flank and Sinoti.  Sinoti stepped in, he stepped out.  He wriggled his way over, freeing his arms to slam the ball home as his body was being dragged into touch.

The wide conversion was dragged wider and halftime was quickly signaled.

The second half was different.  Salvi was introduced for Croft, Bell for Morris and Crane for Pearce all in the first ten minutes.  They made an impact as Tigers firstly subdued Newcastle's attack.  Catterick had their one golden chance in the second period, after some neat interpassing of the Falcon's pack he broke free only for a Sam Harrison lunge to dislodge the ball.

Tigers forwards were introduced to each other at half time and told, it seems, that they were in fact allowed to pass the ball and that despite the smells it was probably a good idea to get close and support the man in possesion of it.

These revolutionary tactics bore immediate rewards as Tigers became noticeably more fluent with Crane a real influence on proceedings.  New leaf freshly turned over, along with the ball, Tigers attacked through Goneva and Mulipola.  The momentum building until Newcastle offended Tigers closed the gap to 3.

Catterick's kick off drifted on the wind directly into touch.  Tigers replaced the entire front row to immediate effect as Rizzo had Newcastle's loan prop Rogers in all sorts of trouble.  Burns was short but the momentum was with Tigers as Gibson rose to deny the Falcons' clearance.

Tigers were now rampant and Newcastle badly retreating into their shell.  A Tigers attack or two were denied for attacking penalties but the collisions and the rucks were only going one way now.  It was Michele Rizzo who burst through, with Balmain joining to create the maul that Newcastle dragged down, Burns kicked cross field but to noting.  To the corner and another maul.  Dragged down again.  Another advantage.  Another cross field kick.

But this time it worked.  Mat Tait leaped into younger brother Alex, knee high in the traditional style he could not claim the ball but did enough to disrupt his sibling.  The ball spilling loose on the plastic turf.  Bell swept forward and applied the finish.

It went to the TMO.  And he looked. And we looked.  And I couldn't see anything at all as it was at the other side of the ground.  But he gave it.  On reviewing the highlights he could hardly have done anything else, Mat Tait does not touch the ball but he is clearly trying to.

Burns was faced with the crucial conversion.  Miss and Newcastle would have ample time to pressure Luke Pearce into finding a penalty against us, whether one existed or not, but succeed and we are immune to the penalty and can defend with the extra edge that a 4 point cushion allows.

From the same spot that Catterick missed the Bath born fly half made no mistake, the wind mercifully quiet as he struck it elegantly through the posts.

In the end Tigers should have been awarded another try.  Burns swopped on a free ball and an ingenious kick pass from Mele to Thompson brought Tigers onto the goal line again.  Jordan Crane picked his spot through the ruck and went for the try.  One camera showed him well over the line, but unsure on the grounding, and another showed him on the ground but not where he was in relation to the line.  Apparently it is beyond the wit of Trevor Fisher to add these images together to make a try.

With a bizarre penalty at the resultant scrum Newcastle had a lifeline but never looked capable of the unlikely 90m try.

And Tigers remarkable season of utterly unremarkable games carries on.  Despite the first hour.  Despite a points difference of +7.  Despite ourselves.  The dream of the double lives on.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Tigers munch Sharks

Tigers moved to within one point of second place with a comprehensive 28-8 victory at home to Sale, stretching their winning run against the Sharks to 12 games and almost 6 years.  After two tryless games Tigers fell just short of the bonus point despite a frantic final minute searching for the point that would have put us joint second.

Tigers opened the scoring after just 5 minutes with a Freddie Burns penalty; Seremaia Bai had made a telling break up the right touchline that set the tone for the performance.  Tigers will be disappointed that 10 minutes in the Sale half ended with the opponents leveling the score.  After a contentiously awarded Sale lineout the Sharks surged forward 10 meters in a driving maul before Neil Briggs collapsed it as it passed halfway.  Nick Macleod nailed the 50m kick for 3-3.

Tigers roared back through Laurence Pearce; breaking the long tryless spell.  First Parling made ground before Pearce squirmed and squeezed his way over.  Pearce twisted and turned his body, keeping the legs driving, so that despite Sale full back Mike Haley's tackle he slammed the ball down over the line as he landed on his back.

Sale were fortunate to avoid a yellow card just 3 minutes later; Tigers were rampant again inside Sale's 22, Jordan Crane burst through a gap and had options either side taken out early by the Sale defence.  Pearce was to his left and Ayerza to the right.  With only the full back to beat the early tackles surely warranted a penalty try and yellow card but Welford Road was left baffled as referee Greg Garner, from Coventry, refused to give more than a penalty.

To make matters more bizarre 2 minutes later Sale wing Tom Arscott was sin binned for a marginal deliberate knock on a full 50 metres out as Tigers were again breaking through.  Arscott was hard done by to concede a penalty let alone spend ten minutes thinking about his troubles.

During the sin bin period Tigers were held up over the line twice; first Neil Briggs seemed to have capitalised on mounting Tigers pressure to drive over under the posts, only for the TMO to deny him.  With no bodies under the ball and him clearly over the line it was a very harsh call, Northampton will be thankful the same logic was not applied last May at Twickenham.  Tigers tried again from the scrum and Pearce again forced his way over, this time cute to his ways Sale made sure to clamp over the ball and deny a grounding.

The move was not yet over though as Sale's Mancunian Viking Magnus Lund, replete with long hair and handle bar moustache, was caught off side at a prior ruck and sin binned.  Tigers went for the scrum and after initial inertia worked their magic and powered forward.  Crane was prevented from grounding the ball by an illegally unbound Sale flanker and this time Garner was in no doubt about awarding the amply deserved penalty try.

Tigers had one last bash at the Sale before half time, Bai and Goneva combining to see the latter clear to the full back, unfortunately he and Adam Thompstone did not quite read each other correctly and Goneva's pass went to ground.  Sale had the last chance of the half, forcing Tigers into their own 22 for the first time and a series of concerted efforts came to naught as Judas Gibson forced the penalty for holding on.

The second half was a different kettle of fish entirely.  Sale were much better, keeping the ball and playing patiently, Tigers much worse, fluffing lineouts and handling errors creeping back in and Garner was Garner, bizarrely sin binning Seremaia Bai for a very marginally early tackle a full 50 metres from the line, where earlier he had refused to sanction a Sale player just 5 yards out, and seemingly determined to make up for some perceived pro Tigers calls in the first half by making even more just to the other side this time.

After the Bai penalty Sale went to their trusty driving maul, once again the Northerners set about marching forward but some slackness at the back enabled Sam Harrison to insert himself and steal the ball.  With Harrison then being tackled by an offside man a Tigers penalty was surely coming but instead a scrum 5 to Sale, apparently there was no maul, no offside, simply good pressure.  From the scrum the ball was spun wide, Sale were seemingly in touch with the touch judge flagging Arscott before he put the ball down.

Garner though was not to be denied and awarded the try after consulting the TMO, to me his foot was clearly in touch before the grounding but it was a nip and tuck decision; how Mark Cueto must wish this TMO was in Paris in 2007!  Now I sincerely hope that in the rest of this season we have no players punished for playing on after the whistle, as clearly in the TMO age the referee can ignore his own officiating team's decisions if he fancies and see what happens.

With Sale now back within two converted tries, and having had a decent shot at a second try rebuffed by manful Tigers defence, Tigers took their next chance to extend the lead with both hands.  Burns converting a scrum penalty from 40m rather than kicking the corner as had been the early tactics.

Tigers had a third try ruled out as Burns interception and clear run the try line was pulled back for an earlier penalty, despite Sale having at least three phases and 30 yards of progress.  Sale retained possession well to take the time away from Tigers and dim hopes of a try bonus point.

With just three minutes left Tigers kicked a penalty to the corner, our chance was here, slim though it may be, to take the try.  They lost the line out.  But forced a knock on from Maxim Cobilas, brother of starting tighthead Vadim, from the scrum Bai was unleashed and breaking a tackle he crashed over.  With just 90 seconds left Burns quickly taken drop goal conversion was wide.

Tigers attacked from the deep kick off, Burns looked for a cross field kick but it was blocked, deflected.  Straight into the arms of Thacker!  He fed Rizzo, the prop generating roars from the Crumbie as he dummied outside and stepped inside.  Running free he was looking for the pass, Whetton was on his outside and Goneva coming up the middle, but the Sale defence was blocking the passing lanes and he rightly took the tackle.

A penalty advantage gave Tigers room for an error, which they took, but promptly found another as Thacker knocked on trying to take a pass at full pace just inches from the defence.  He had already broken the line when he dropped it, such was the flatness of the ball.

Still 4 points was a good reward and the style it came in will have lifted the hearts of many Tigers fans.  It might seem as bizarre as a Greg Garner decision after some of the games this season but Tigers really are still in with a shot at an 11th English Championship!