Tigers concluded their pre-season with a bonus point win at home to Sale, but the away side still walked away with the crown “Kings of the North” as Tigers failed to beat their points difference. Whilst Tigers would have preferred to claim the title the coaches will be satisfied with the performance.
Mike Williams and Peter Betham were particularly impressive as Betham, Croft, Bell and Odogwu crossed for tries.
Tigers were hunting a 35 point victory and started impressively. Running with intent Betham slid between two tacklers and burst through to touch down in front of the Crumbie. Burns was successful with the conversion and a penalty after Tigers had attacked from their own 22.
Sale were attacking themselves and went close in front of the Met RX stand twice. On the second occasion Greg Bateman over threw his jumper and opposite number Tommy Taylor was on hand to collect the poor throw and pounce for the try. Sale levelled after a penalty against Mulipola for being Samoan, when Courtney Lawes is penalised for tackles like these I believe it’s not bias against Islanders.
Anyway Tigers prioritised with win over chasing the points difference too aggressively and Burns nailed two more kicks. The first though should not have been taken by him as he was off the field for a “Head Injury Assessment” when the penalty was awarded.
A second penalty was earned and the score 16-10 at half time. Sale were on the attack early pushing for the victory but as a contest the game was over following Peter Betham’s goal-line intercept and break. The Australian picked off Cipriani’s pass and raced away, unable to finish he smartly passed from the floor to find Adam Thompstone in deep support, Thompstone’s intelligent quick pass to Croft saw the flanker exhibit his pace and finish from the 22m.
Tigers now did chase the tries, bonus point and points difference kicking penalties to the corner but struggled to convert some excellent positions. Eventually Tommy Bell was given a clear run in from Betham’s pass down the Crumbie touchline.
Sale were fortunate to see Harry Thacker binned when he thought he had pilfered a ball at the back of a ruck and ran clear. Decisions like this from referee Craig Maxwell-Keys is why England do not produce world class 7s. The ball was out, and if it was in it was marginal, but rather than settle for a penalty due to a difference in interpretation he must feed his ego by flashing the cards about. A poor referee that I doubt we will see in the Premiership this season, he has learned nothing from his grilling after the Hughes affair.
The Sale try was hard earned as Tigers defended stoutly, Mark Jennings burgling himself over in a similar position to where Betham scored the Tigers first try.
With the title gone but the win secure Tigers relaxed slightly and played better. Fonua carried prominently but his ball control requires work. For the final try he was the decoy as it was spun wide with Odogwu the man on the end scoring.
Williams and Betham were the standout men with Fitzgerald also adding to his reputation. Burns seems more settled, his first step was usually forward and there were two classic matador breaks from his own 22. Odogwu and Fonua showed glimpses in their cameos while Tom Croft is looking back to his best.
With three bonus point wins in pre-season and the defence stiffening markedly since the reverse fixture Tigers will go to London Irish full of confidence for a decent start.