It’s fair to say this was a fair old thrashing Tigers got given by a strong London Irish side in the Premiership Cup semi-final. Whereas in previous rounds, Leicester’s mix of youth and experience had been able to stand up to most tests, this side sadly crumbled. Some will argue that it wasn’t in the spirit of the competition for Irish to field as strong a side as they did. To say it was the London sides’ first team was a little bit of a stretch though. Ultimately, our pack was underpowered and unable to give us a platform into the game. Our backs, where we had more experience, also underperformed and there were a host of defensive lapses that gifted Irish far too much space.
This will be a chastening experience for the young players. That may be no bad thing. We all know that many of Leicester’s current young first team players emerged out of some dismal losses two years ago. That said, there was a slight feeling of them being lambs led out to slaughter with no experienced heads in the pack. You wonder if the coaches considered holding back a Callum Green or Harry Wells from the weekend game to both beef up and lead the pack.
3️⃣ Three positives
1) Saumaki is a superstar
After a brutal first 60 minutes, Tigers were able to make a few inroads during the last quarter of the match. And much of that was thanks to Hosea Saumaki. His try scoring record this season is incredible and he scored a stunning try towards the end of this game, grounding in the corner when he had absolutely no right to. He had one mesmerising run too that left Irish scrambling. There were a few defensive lapses, but with a player like Saumaki you have to focus on what he adds. He is a devastating player, strong and fast. You suspect he may be on the brink of plenty of first team minutes next season.
2) Jansen looks like a real find
After starting against Quins on Saturday, Sean Jansen was back in the starting lineup again for this game. Played the full 80 minutes too. In a match where our pack was outplayed throughout, he was one who still stood out, constantly put his body on the line, kept making hard yards. There’s definitely a bit of Jaspe Wiese about him. You feel that he’s only going to grow and grow as a player and will add real strength in depth to our back row.
3) Archie Vanes boosting Tigers’ hooker ranks
As soon as Archie Vanes came on as a replacement for Tom Cowan-Dickie, you felt he lifted the side. His lineout throws were accurate and he was a menace across the pitch. You can’t help but feel the future is bright for him if he stays fit and continues to develop. You suspect he might not be far off being added to the senior squad for next season.
2️⃣ Two areas for improvement
1) Developing our front row
For the second match running we had scrum troubles. Last time out it was van Wyk who struggled, this time the whole front row seemed up against it. It’s the first time I’ve seen James Whitcombe not hold his own too. To be fair, the issues were probably largely the result of the underpowered five behind them. Whitcombe has looked like a real prospect all season and one awkward game doesn’t undermine the reality of his clear potential. It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen Nephi Leatigaga struggle in the scrum this season though. Within the squad as a whole we feel a little short of top-level props. Genge, Cole, and Heyes are top class. Whitcome is working his way to that level. But if we had to go into a big game with van Wyk or Leatigaga as starting or bench options, I would be worried. Definitely an area for improvement—probably via a mix of coaching and recruitment. Especially as we won’t have Genge next season.
2) Disjointed defence
Though this was a side that haven’t really played together before, it was hard not to be disappointed at how disjointed and fragmented our defence was. It’s always hard when your pack can’t get parity with the opposition pack, but our backline—where we had some experienced players—gifted Irish opportunities with poor positioning and missed tackles. No one seemed to be leading, setting the tone, managing the positional play. It looked like individuals operating alone rather than any sense of being a unit. Again, can’t be too harsh on the players—they were thrown together with little time together. But this section is about areas for improvement, and this was one.
1️⃣ One talking point
1) Can anything be learnt from losses like this?
Do you really learn much from getting a good old fashioned walloping? Yes. There’s always lessons to learn. And Borthwick has been good at framing everything—win, lose, or draw—as an opportunity to learn and get better. As Nemani Nadolo tweeted this morning, ‘we don't lose, we learn.‘ This will be something that will live with the players and it will reveal the level you need to be at to compete against strong, Premiership sides. At the same time, I still think you need to give young players enough around them so they have a chance. It felt almost unfair on the pack to not give them one or two more experienced heads to help guide them through a game like this. Sure, injuries and suspensions make that hard, not to mention the playing schedule, but these players would have been able to take even more from the game if they weren’t on their own out there.
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