It’s fair to say that Saturday’s victory over Newcastle wasn’t a vintage Tigers performance. After a fast, flowing start that nearly resulted in a try in the corner for Chris Ashton in the opening minutes, we rarely clicked throughout the rest of the game. It became an arm wrestle against a motivated Newcastle side and, to be fair to the Falcons, the final scoreline flattered the Tigers. A few late scores sealed the game, and though a win never looked in doubt, it was dogged fight rather than a riveting performance.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the game is less the result, and more the loss of hooker Nic Dolly to what we assume is a long-term leg injury. He was clearly in a lot of distress, and though I’m sure it was not a malicious tackle, that kind of move has to be eradicated from the game.
3️⃣ Three positives
1) Winning ugly
They always say that the great teams have a way of winning ugly. They grind out wins even when things aren’t clicking. That’s what this win felt like. We didn’t play particularly well—and credit where credit is due, that was in part due to Newcastle determination—but neither did we ever look like losing this game. We’ll need to be a lot better if we have meaningful playoff ambitions, but sometimes a gritty, determined win when everything isn’t firing on all cylinders, is just fine.
2) Strong defence
Despite our struggles to take control of the scoreboard, the whole time I was watching the game, I was never concerned about us conceding points. Yes, they did eventually get one try out of us, but other than that we continually shut the door every time the Falcons threatened our try line. I was frustrated at times with our lack of cohesion in attack, but it was a rock solid defensive performance.
3) Our young pack
I couldn’t help but chuckle when Steve Borthwick pointed out the youthful average age of the Tigers pack, adding, ‘and that’s with Dan Cole starting’! An average age of 25 is a real positive. The fact that our pack has been able to compete against any side we’ve faced despite our youthfulness gives me huge optimism for the coming years.
2️⃣ Two areas for improvement
1) Rolling maul
At the start of the season, our hookers were scoring tries for fun. Our rolling maul was our primary try-scoring threat. It feels a while since we’ve had that feeling of inevitability of crossing the whitewash with our maul lately though. That’s in part no doubt to sides having focussed on defending us better knowing it’s a strength. But it also feels like we’ve lost a bit of an edge there. It would be nice, going into the playoffs, to have our maul back as a powerful attacking avenue.
2) Inside centre
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say. And I can’t help but feel like Tigers are missing Dan Kelly since his hamstring injury. Good a job as Guy Porter has done, he’s a few steps down from the array of options Kelly adds to the mix when he’s playing. We seem a little disjointed in our back play since he’s been out. You realise that we are better stocked out outside centre than inside—hence the value in bringing in Jimmy Gopperth for next season.
1️⃣ One talking point
1) More game time for Jack van Poortvliet
With Ben Youngs apparently rested for this game, I was surprised to see Richard Wigglesworth starting rather than Jack van Poortvliet. He’s clearly a talented player, but I’d like to see him getting more game time and more starts in particular. I don’t doubt there was thinking behind it, but from a player development point of view, more starts with 50–60 minutes of game time rather than 20 minute cameos seems like it’ll help him. It’s great that JVP is in the England squad this week. Hopefully that’ll further aid his progress. I would just like to see him getting more opportunities with Tigers.
Thanks for reading,
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