What a win! No matter how this win came about, after our dismal record at Sandy Park, this win was always going to be worthy of a big celebration. Exeter have been one of the top two sides in England for a number of years now; beating them on their own turf is all the confirmation needed of Tiger’s progress this season.
From the moment the team was announced, you couldn’t help but feel Borthwick was targeting this game. He wanted the win and Tigers delivered. It now sows seeds in the minds of Tigers players that they can win big games—and away from home—but it also lets the rest of the league know just how strong Leicester are. It was, as the saying goes, a statement win.
3️⃣ Three positives
1) Winning a pressure game against a top side
For all Leicester’s clear progress, they haven’t played that many ‘big’, high-pressure games. The nature of not being near the play-offs for so many years means we’re not had too many do-or-die encounters and all the different pressures they bring. Even the European final last year had the feeling of ‘wouldn’t it be nice if...’ more than any true pressure that comes with expectation. The development of the side this season now means there’s a growing expectation. And with that the accompanying pressure. In many ways, Borthwick added pressure onto Tigers with his selection for this game against the Chiefs. Unlike against Sarries, there could have been no, ‘that wasn’t our first team,’ excuse if we’d lost. No, we picked our first team and sent them to somewhere we have horrible losing record. It was a pressure game against a top side. And we delivered. Of course, come the play-offs—which we are now definitely in after this win—yay!—that will undoubtedly be a sterner test. But the memories from this win will put us in good stead.
2) 80 minutes of defensive intensity
Though it was disappointing that the game ended up being closer that it should have been, Tigers’ defence throughout the match was immense. In particular, right at the end, the refusal to let Exeter out of their 22 and the way we kept driving them back and back and back, was a display of will, power, fitness, and intensity. It must have been utterly demoralising for the Chiefs. There was a similar backs-to-the-wall moment at the end of the first half when we wouldn’t cave in despite mounting pressure on our try line. That resistance, holding them up over the line, ensured we went into the break with a healthy lead. All told, the defence held up strongly all day.
3) George Ford’s precision
Sadly, George Ford’s return from England duty was marred by an injury late on in the first half. In the time he was on the pitch though, we quickly saw why he’s been Premiership player of the month two times this season already. The cross-field kick for Chris Ashton’s try was, quite literally, perfect. A couple of his touch-finders were magnificent too. It was a timely reminder that, wonderful as Freddie Burns has been this last few months, the precision that George Ford adds to proceedings is on another level. Let’s hope the injury isn’t too serious. Tigers are going to need him as we head toward the back-end of the season and more and more big games.
2️⃣ Two areas for improvement
1) Better support to stop counter-rucks
There were three or four separate occasions in the game when Exeter managed to successfully counter-ruck and win the ball back from us. It looked like something the Chiefs had picked up in their analysis of Tigers, and they got a lot of success from it. It should be an easy enough fix. We need to make sure we have enough players supporting teammates going into contact with the appropriate intensity. It’s a little disappointing they didn’t manage to adjust mid-game to address this weakness.
2) Turning pressure in the opposition 22 into more points
Tigers came away with three tries. Not a bad return considering the opposition. That said, in the first half we had almost complete dominance and yet only went into the break 12-0 up. If we hadn’t held up Exeter on our try line right at the end of that half, it would have been just a five point lead. And that after being in complete control for much of the first 40 minutes. Yes, we got two tries with that dominance, but a lot of the time we didn’t look like we knew what to do with the ball in their 22 other than pass it to Nadolo. Which is a great option! But there’s still improvement needed in unpicking defences with our back play. This was a game that should have been done and dusted by half time. Instead, because we weren’t as clinical as we should have been, the scores were close enough for Exeter to always feel like that were still in the game. And, as we know, it ended up getting far too close for comfort.
1️⃣ One talking point
1) Back chat
Tigers are getting penalised a lot for backchat this season. Well, I say Tigers, but Dan Kelly in particular. I’m hesitant to pick out an individual who has been brilliant for Leicester this season. But he needs to cut this out. At some point, it might end up being the difference between winning or losing a semi-final or final. The bigger games are typically closer games, and we can’t be giving freebies to the opposition. Dan Kelly isn’t the only offender, he’s just probably the worst. But it’s something that as a squad we need to address before it ends up costing us.
Thanks for reading,
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