It wasn’t to be. Tiger’s biggest game in six years came to a disappointing end in their semi-final defeat to a powerful Leinster side.
Though there can be pride in the way Tigers fought back, they’ll be frustration that they let the game get away from them in the first half.
20–0 down was always going to be too big a mountain to climb against a team of Leinster’s quality. Tigers deserve credit for winning the second-half 14–3, but they never looked like actually turning the game around.
That said, Tigers were not ‘blown away’ as some national press suggested. Both sides scored two tries. And if the Leicester lineout hadn’t malfunctioned, it might have been a different story. Leinster had a dominant eight-minute spell in the middle of the first half that took the game away from Tigers. The two tries they scored in quick succession felt like sucker blows when, otherwise, the teams were competing pretty evenly.
Though the Leicester side had its own share of international players, only five of them had ever played a European quarter-final. The Irish side had 13 internationals and a wealth of European experience. That ultimately told. Tigers lacked their usual composure. Things didn’t click. And then they tried to force things which led to more errors.
To be clear though, this was not a bad performance. If I was Steve Borthwick I’d be encouraged because Tigers have the toolkit to have beaten that side. With that experience now bagged, you can be sure Leicester will be stronger for it come games like this next season. Truthfully, losing may well turn out to be better for Tigers’ long-term development.
3️⃣ Three positives
1) Tigers fight and never-give-up attitude
It’s easy to forget how it really isn’t long ago that anyone and everyone was putting 30 or 40 points on us, home and away, whenever we played European teams. I’m sure some fans were fearing the worst when we shipped 20 points in the first half. But Tigers came out fighting and carried on right until the final whistle. Winning the second half 14–3 wasn’t enough, but it showed fight. It meant that Tigers fans went home proud of their team who never gave up for a moment. That fight, that attitude, is at the heart of this Borthwick side. We won’t always win every game, but this team always leave the fans proud of their efforts. And, inevitably, that fight, that never-give-up attitude, will lead to far more wins than losses. This team has heart. Keep that heart, stay humble, continue learning and growing, and this team will go far.
2) Competing well with Europe’s top side
Considering where Tigers were a few short years ago, just to be in a quarter-final of Europe’s premier competition is progress. To be competitive with, probably, the top side in the competition is something that should be celebrated. Sure, we didn’t look like winning on this occasion. But there was no gulf between these side. A little more experience, a little better execution of the basics, and this game would have had a whole different feel to it. We may not yet be at Leinster’s level, but I came away hugely encouraged. We have a really good team! We’re not there yet. We have plenty of growing to do. But we’re a bloody decent side!
3) Weise and Steward are truly world class
On a day when things didn’t go to plan, Jasper Weise and Freddie Steward still managed to look like the world class players they are. Though there’s clamour for the likes of Arundell and Malins, the level of security Steward offers, along with his carrying threat and growing attacking game mean that he’s unlikely to lose his England starting 15 jersey any time soon. He oozes class. Similarly, on a day when it seemed the pressure got to Julián Montoya, Weise stood out when the pack as a whole struggled to get their usual supremacy. And his track-back to save a certain Leinster try following the charge-down of Potter’s kick showed off his relentless work rate and willingness to give everything to the cause.
2️⃣ Two areas for improvement
1) Composure under pressure
That Leicester weren’t as composed as we’ve come to expect from them isn’t that surprising. Most of the players have never played a game like this. We have a lot of young players. There was an intensity from the opposition and a pressure from the occasion that was a new experience for this developing Tigers side. And it showed. We looked hurried and flustered, we dropped straightforward passes, our lineout collapsed, the basics let us down. The only way you get better at that is playing more games like it. Borthwick will no doubt be ensuring we learn all the right lessons from this defeat. Clive Woodward’s old t-cup mantra of ‘thinking clearly under pressure’ is relevant here. The pressure came and we stopped thinking as clearly. We’ll be better as a result of this experience. It’d be great to see us use this a meaningful stepping stone to a much less flustered performance come the Premiership semi-final and, hopefully, final.
2) Not switching off
Tigers were 17–0 down, half-time was approaching, and Leinster put up a high ball. George Ford slipped leaving Freddie Steward to take the kick. Which he did. However, Ford’s slip meant he wasn’t able to support when Steward went into a tackle. That should have been fine, but the backtracking from other Tigers players was poor. It was slow for one. But there was no structure to it either. Steward got pinged for holding on. Leinster kick for goal and go into the break 20–0 up. A daunting lead suddenly, psychologically, feels a whole lot bigger. Those little details, not being totally switched on, plagued Leicester throughout the game. Against lesser teams you get away with it sometimes. Not against a side like Leinster. It cost us.
1️⃣ One talking point
1) The referee wasn’t so bad afterall
I was unable to watch the game live on Saturday. Sat in a taxi crawling through central London, I followed along via Twitter. It’s fair to say, Tigers fans were not happy with the referee! That said, watching the game back, without the emotion stemming from not knowing how the game would end, I didn’t think the referee had a shocker. There were marginal calls that didn’t go our way, but nothing that could lead anyone to conclude the outcome of the game would have been affected. I don’t think the French refs are as good as our top English refs, but Mathieu Raynal did fine.
Thanks for reading,
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