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.

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