Tigers 1880

September 13, 2022

Chiefs 24 Tigers 20: The 3–2–1 post-match review

After Leicester’s fairy tale unbeaten run at the start of last season, culminating in winning the Premiership, it’s not a surprise that there were high hopes for the start of this season. Sadly, any dreams of a long, unbeaten run to kick things off, ended on week one with our narrow defeat to Exeter Chiefs.

Being brutally honest, we didn’t deserve to win this one. Despite a spirted second-half fightback – even taking the lead midway through the half – we allowed them over our try line at the death, and came away with no more than a losing bonus point. 

It was a disappointing, disjointed performance in many ways. But, with only five starters in the side from the final in May, that’s not a surprise. All our England players were rested too. It’s much too soon to read anything into our season from this one fixture – and our defence, set piece, and spirit were all exceptional – but it was not the performance the players or fans were hoping for. 

3️⃣ Three positives

1) Our basics look good

Except for a wonky first throw, our lineout was a reliable source of possession for Tigers throughout the match. So too our scrum; it was stable on our own feed and often caused them problems on theirs. Also, despite conceding three tries, our defence looked immense. The intensity of our hits, our willingness to put bodies on the line, all bodes well for the season. We might not win every game, but we will always stay in the fight. We played dreadfully at times, but somehow were seconds away from coming away from Exeter with a win. Our basics are what we have to thank for that as nothing else really fired.

2) Dan Cole is still being Dan Cole

The man of the match always goes to the winning side, but my man of the match was Dan Cole. He shows no signs of slowing down with age. He was everywhere throughout his long stint on the pitch. He tackled hard, charged down kicks, made quick passes, got back on his feet lightning fast, and was a rock in the scrums. We’re lucky to have him. With Joe Heyes growing season by season, and surely likely to compete more than ever for the starting jersey, along with Will Hurd putting in a strong cameo against the Chiefs, our tight head prop stocks are looking good. 

3) Freddie Burns can deliver the tactical kicking we need

Though things didn’t work out from aspects our kicking strategy, I thought Freddie Burns’ tactical kicking was excellent. There were a few kicks that, had they come from George Ford’s boot, we’d have all been purring about. It filled me with confidence that Burns can play that more strategic kicking role for us. 

2️⃣ Two areas for improvement

1) Improving our kicking strategy

We seemed to bring the same tactical approach we used against Saracens in the Premiership final to this game. In a final, with all the tension, the fact that amount of kicking can be boring gets lost in the thrill of the event itself. Not so in a league game! Let’s be honest: we kicked too much, and it was bloody boring at times. If we are going to be competing for the top places in the league this season, we will need to add more variety to our game. The lack of variation in our game plan was alarming. Teams will have developed plans for dealing with our kicking game – like Exeter did – and so we have to have other approaches up our sleeve. 

2) Not relying on individual spark

There were two or three stand-out moments in the game from an attacking point. Hosea Saumaki nearly scored a stunning try with a mesmerising run, kick, and chase. Ben Youngs and Chris Ashton nearly worked some magic on the right wing with a quick thinking, quick lineout. And there was one other kick to Harry Potter that, with a luckier bounce could have been a try. Three moments that, with a little luck, could easily have been 15 to 21 points for us. But, as a team we didn’t look threatening in attack. Our backs didn’t look like they’ve ever met each other. And, to be fair, that was almost the case to a degree. Even though our pack worked hard and tackled hard, the subtleties around lines of running, presentation of the ball at rucks, working in units, was all a little off. We couldn’t create team pressure as a result.

1️⃣ One talking point

1) Freddie Burns head injury

I was disappointed at how the match officials, and BT Sport commentators, glossed over the head injury to Freddie Burns in his collision with Olly Woodburn. Since Woodburn was going for the ball, it was deemed that there couldn’t be foul play. I’m not sure I buy that. Players have a duty of care for other players. The way he turned away, knowing his body would slam into Burns, was, for me, reckless. I don’t think it was deliberate, malicious, or anything like that. But I do think players need to carry a responsibility for the players around them in those high ball contests. One of these days we’ll end up with a life-threatening injury if ‘going for the ball’ is licence to not have a duty of care.

Thanks for reading,
—Sam

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