It wasn’t to be. Despite getting into a second half lead, and bringing on a host of high impact players off the bench, Tigers were unable to get control of the game against Harlequins on Saturday at The Stoop. A mere losing bonus point leaves us sitting just four points ahead of Saracens now and still needing to secure a home semi-final.
It wasn’t a poor performance by any stretch. But we struggled to impose ourselves on the game. We looked like a side who had mixed and matched somewhat with our selection. Nothing major. But not going full strength against a full strength Harlequins side was always going to be tough ask.
Frustratingly, you sensed we had enough in the tank to have won the game still. We couldn’t quite get everything to click though. That, coupled with a rare off day from George Ford, left us struggling more than we usually do to dominate territory.
Our scrum struggled too, costing us penalties and territory. Francois van Wyk couldn’t compete with Will Collier and what has been an area of strength all season, was suddenly a weakness. The arrival of Dan Cole and Ellis Genge in the second half helped, but the damage had already been done.
Steve Borthwick rightly focused on all the lessons Tigers can learn from this game. And, in the overall context of what we want to achieve this season, the defeat on Saturday may help focus the minds for the more critical challenges to come. That said, it’s hard not to feel that this was a game that got away and could have, and perhaps should have, been another win.
3️⃣ Three positives
1) Staying competitive when not at our best
No side is at its absolute best week after week. Sport doesn’t work like that—it’s played by humans, not robots. When not at their best, a team has to find ways to stay competitive and know how to rely on well-established systems and processes to help ensure their game doesn’t fall apart. The Leicester side of two years ago would have got crushed by that Quins side. As Borthwick has said numerous times, Tigers had a habit of falling away in games. So, though it was far from a vintage performance, and though it wasn’t a first-choice side, the way they gave Harlequin’s first team such a close game is something we can draw positives from. Though we underperformed, and though the media are saying it’s Quins on their late-season run again, I actually came away thinking our first team would have their number.
2) Dan Cole
Joe Heyes is developing into a world class tight head. And though the scrum as a whole struggled in the first half, Joe Heyes was not the weak spot. Battling against Joe Marler, neither player seemed able to get on top of the other. The issues were on the other side. That said, the way Tigers were able to bring on someone of the quality of Dan Cole to replace Heyes is such a huge positive for Tigers. He may not be considered for England any more, but he’s still world class. Having him back from injury for the end-of-season run in is going to be key for Leicester, whether starting or from the bench.
3) Hanro Liebenberg’s skillset and range
Hanro Liebenberg is up there in my mind as one of Leicester’s top five players of the season. His standards never drop and his impact on games is consistently high. He’s one of a growing number of players who are regularly delivering 8/10 performances. Or more. His ability to play all three back row positions is a massive asset for Tigers, especially as we have to adapt to injuries. Though unable to captain us to a victory on Saturday, his dedication and drive were unparalleled. He’s a vital player for Tigers.
2️⃣ Two areas for improvement
1) George Ford’s place kicking
I should probably make the effort to properly check it out, but I always get the feeling with George Ford’s place kicking that he’s either 90% or 30% with his success rate, nothing in-between. Some days I’d settle for a steady average of 70–80% without the highs or lows! It was definitely an off day for Ford, so much so that Burns ended up taking over the kicking. There’s an argument for saying his misses were a key factor in us losing too. That extra scoreboard pressure if he’d made his kicks could have been telling. To be fair, it was windy, but both Marcus Smith, and Freddie Burns took over, didn’t seem as affected by it. Tigers will be hoping Ford doesn’t have an off day like this in one of the upcoming games that really matter.
2) Poor tackling of Louis Lynagh
After the game on Saturday, I tweeted, ‘Lynagh is one of those annoyingly slippery players! Got away from tackles far too often today.’ One the one hand you have to credit the player. He’s really hard to pin down. You think you’ve got him and, whoosh, suddenly you haven’t. But other than one massive blunder early in the game when he scored, you have to say Quins did a far better job marshalling Namani Nadolo, than we did marshalling Lynagh. Two or three times he escaped, the last of which was a direct factor leading to their try that got them back in the game. We need to get better at handling this type of winger—we had similar struggles when we played London Irish. We can’t afford to give them any time or space.
1️⃣ One talking point
1) Nearly another red card
This is the third game running where this talking point has focussed on red cards. Thankfully, for Leicester, Callum Green was saved what initially looked like a certain red card thanks to the match officials noticing a push by Alex Dombrandt. Wayne Barnes, in conjunction with TMO Tom Foley, deemed that the Dombrandt push of Joe Marler into Green was the cause of the incident. It was a good piece of officiating. That said, you could also argue Green was a little lucky too as he did look far too upright. That would have been a suspension we could ill afford, so Tigers will be grateful for how it played out.
Thanks for reading,
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