Leicester’s record in France in recent years has been dismal. In this season of seasons though, Tigers pulled off a second win on French soil. Most Tiger’s fans would probably have taken a narrow loss as acceptable from the first-leg, trusting that a win at home in the return would carry them through to the quarter finals. As it is, this dominant away win all but assures Tigers a place in the next round. Something would have to go horribly wrong at Welford Road on Saturday for Tigers not to progress.
This was one of the great Tiger’s wins on the road. One for the history books. To go to Clermont, one of the toughest places to play rugby, and come away with a such a comprehensive win was hugely impressive. To do it with a side where the average age was just 24 will leave fans hopeful of many glorious years to come.
That Leicester didn’t concede a single point in the second half was incredible. To do that with 14 men for much of that half all the more so. Tigers were relentless with their defence. They bullied Clermont, constantly killing any momentum that might have given the French side hope. This was a performance the players, the coaches, and the fans can be proud of and that will be talked about for years to come.
3️⃣ Three positives
1) Youngsters leading the way
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Leicester’s win was the way it was many of the younger players who stood up and stood out. This was their first experience of top-level knockout European rugby and the ‘kids’ were immense.
Jack van Poortvliet had probably his best game in a Tigers shirt to date. He gave a masterclass with his kicking and took his try brilliantly.
Ollie Chessum was everywhere. All match. Whether he was playing second row or flanker, it made no difference to the level of his impact. What a player he is becoming.
Then there’s Tommy Refell. Twice he saved Tigers from what would have almost certainly become Clermont tries. His fitness levels, work ethic, and technique are all of the highest calibre.
And let’s not forget Dan Kelly. He almost gets forgotten simply because he so consistently puts in 8 out of 10 performances as a baseline. It’s hard to believe he’s only 20.
All told, if Tigers can keep hold of this young crop of players that are increasingly at the heart of the side, and keep them developing the way they have been, things are looking very rosey for Tigers.
2) Second half shut out
Leicester’s second half performance was sensational. They scored three tries and didn’t concede a single point. To do that away in France is something to be celebrated. To do that for much of that half a man down, is incredible. They looked like the side with the extra player.
Huge credit to the players too for not trying to shut up shop and hang on to the lead they had when Guy Porter was red carded. For a young side, it’d have been easy to go into their shell and focus on trying to minimise the damage. But no, instead they kept taking the game to Clermont who couldn’t handle the relentless pressure from Tigers.
3) Freddie Steward’s aerial prowess in attack
Everyone know’s about Freddie Steward’s strength in the air. There’s probably no better player in world rugby at the moment under the high ball. We mostly think about that defensively though, when the opposition are kicking the ball. But Tigers’ fifth try was all thanks to Steward’s ability in the air in attack. Ford kicked a beautiful high ball for Steward to chase, with both arms outstretched above his head, he took the ball cleanly, ahead of the surrounding French players, and then casually offloaded to Harry Potter who turned it into a try with a superb finish.
It wasn’t the first time we’ve used Steward’s aerial prowess in attack, but it was the first time it has led so directly to an attacking score. It feels like a weapon for Tigers to use strategically as we continue towards the business end of the season.
(Of course, Freddie Steward is also only 21 and didn’t even get a mention in point 1 above. What an an abundance of riches Tigers have with their younger players right now!)
2️⃣ Two areas for improvement
1) Lineout wobbles
All sides, no matter how good their lineout, can still have the odd one go amiss. That’s how it’s been for Leicester of late. The lineout has been rock solid. The odd one lost, but fundamentally a big source of strength and a foundation we can rely on to build our game around.
Sadly, on Sunday against Clermont, three or four lineouts went astray. It’d be easy to blame Julián Montoya, the hooker, who otherwise put in one his customary world class performances. But it’s rarely one person solely at fault. Clearly there was a breakdown though and you can be sure Tigers will be hard at work on the training ground this week working to rectify whatever the cause of the problem was.
2) Missed opportunities
When a side scores five tries away in France, it’s hard to be overly critical about missing scoring opportunities. But this section is about areas for improvement, and becoming more clinical is something that feels like an area with plenty of room for growth for Tigers.
Tommy Refell’s technical maul infringement meant that an almost certain try for Nic Dolly was wasted. Another moment when Hosea Saumaki should have backed himself more felt like a miss too. On top of that, George Ford had a day to forget from the kicking tee.
A nineteen point margin should be enough to see Tigers through to the quarter-finals. If we were to lose and the points difference across the two legs be marginal though, we might end up kicking ourselves. Regardless, in the games to come, we can’t be leaving points on the table like we did.
1️⃣ One talking point
1) Guy Porter: Red card? Yellow card? Penalty? Nothing?
Half-way through the second half, Guy Porter got red carded following a head-on-head collision with Clermont No. 8 Fritz Lee. The referee decided that there was no mitigation; Porter didn’t try and lower his height, it was dangerous, and therefore a red card.
The range of opinions on this covers, literally everything. Some people saying the red card was fully justified. Others saying the accidental nature should have lowered it to a yellow card, or even just a penalty. And some saying that, since there was, arguably, no foul play, there was no offence to be ruled on.
I veer towards a yellow card being the fairest option. Porter does have a responsibility to the opposition player. He can’t just charge up blindly without an awareness of who he could end up running into. That said, this was clearly an accident where neither player saw the other. A red card felt overly harsh.
Thanks for reading,
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