Tigers 1880

April 19, 2022

Tigers 27 (56) Clermont 17 (27): The 3-2-1 post-match review

Saturday saw Clermont visit Welford Road for the return leg of the last 16 Heineken Champions cup match. Starting with a 19 point deficit, it was always going to be a big ask for Clermont to turn the tie around. And so it proved. 

It wasn’t for want of trying though. The French outfit threw everything at Tigers in the opening exchanges, testing their resolute defence to the limit. But despite that spirited opening, it was Leicester who got the first score of the match following a ruthless display of efficiency on their first visit into the Clermont 22. Hanro Liebenberg scored and his converted try took Tigers’ lead out to 26 points. And as good as Clermont gave—and, to be fair, they never gave up—the tie was over. 

The rest of Leicester’s performance had a feel of a side who knew they’d won. They did what they had to do and no more. Despite scoring four tries, Tigers never truly took control of the game. A more ruthless team might have put Clermont to the sword.

It’s hard to complain too much though about two strong wins against the French side, even if they are some way from the force they were a few years ago. 

3️⃣ Three positives

1) Reaching the quarter finals of the Champions Cup

With the season going so well, and fans dreaming of league and cup wins, it’s easy to forget that, no matter what else happens this season, Tigers have made remarkable progress. And that should be celebrated. 20 months ago, but for Saracens’ indiscretions, we would have been relegated. Now we’re top of the league and have reached the last eight of Europe’s premier competition. Yes, we want to go further. And, yes, we want to turn league semi-final qualification into a Premiership win, but even if none of that happens, the progress and development of this side is undeniable. 

2) George Ford’s world class game management

In some regards, George Ford hasn’t stood out over and above other performances from Tiger’s players in both this match and the first leg. But one of the primary reasons we are so hard to beat is Ford’s ability to dictate where the game is played. He reads the game brilliantly, knowing when to pass and when to kick. His touch-finding was exemplary on Saturday, regularly giving the Tigers and extra 10 metres more than could be expected. His step and then perfectly timed pass to create Tigers’ second try had the look of a player playing at the peak of their powers. Marcus Smith may be the England number 10 at the moment, but there’s no doubt who the best fly half in England is.

3) Chris Ashton’s commitment

Harry Potter rightly came away with the plaudits from Saturday’s game. The switch from right to left wing was the opposite of detrimental. He had a phenomenal game in both attack and defence. Here though I want to focus on Chris Ashton’s work rate and commitment to the cause. He didn’t get many opportunities in attack, but his defensive effort was immense. This was no half-hearted effort from someone merely wanting try records. It was a body on the line, ‘you shall not pass’ performance where he simply closed down all attempts that came towards his channel. To have someone of his experience and skill in the mix as we continue deeper and deeper into the season is a huge positive for Tigers. 

2️⃣ Two areas for improvement

1) Adding a ruthless and clinical edge

As I alluded to in the introduction, after riding out the early storm from Clermont, then getting a try to extend our overall lead to an insurmountable one, it’s fair to say we didn’t then set the world alight for the rest of the game. In face, it sounds like the side got a good rollicking from Steve Borthwick at half time. Captain Ellis Genge described their performance as “piss poor”. It probably wasn’t as bad as that, but this was some distance from the vintage first leg performance. Leicester have yet to reach the stage as a team of ruthlessly disposing of teams they are better than. They’re winning, but you can’t help but feel they need to be more clinical and ruthless if they want to truly sit at the top table of elite European sides. 

2) Keeping 15 players on the pitch

Two games against Clermont, two games that ended with Tigers having 14 men on the pitch. Regardless of the merits of Porter’s red card, the Chessum one is hard to argue with, and it is something we need to work on. Tigers are good enough to beat a side like Clermont a man down, I don’t think the same can be said for when we play Leinster in the quarter final. Get a red card in that game and the game is probably gone. We simply can’t afford to be putting ourselves in positions where the referees have a decision to make. Keeping 15 players on the pitch has to be a top priority and focus if we don’t want to throw things away as we get to the big, end of season games. It’s not just the matches themselves, it’s the cost in player availability too. We can’t afford to lose players to suspensions.

1️⃣ One talking point

1) Injury concerns

It’s fair to say, Tigers have been fairly lucky with injuries this season. It’s not that we haven’t had our share, but we’ve not had the volume of injuries that has ever left us looking truly exposed. This is testament in part to the world class conditioning delivered by Aled Walters and his team. And then also the squad rotation Steve Borthwick has done since he’s come in to massively improve our strength in depth. Seeing Dan Kelly go off with what looked like a hamstring tear, and having Montoya pick up an injury (apparently) ahead of Saturday’s game, was a reminder that we are not out of woods. This could become a concern as the games come thick and fast in the weeks ahead. Add in the suspension for Guy Porter, and forthcoming suspension for Ollie Chessum, and this Tigers squad is going to get heavily tested. It will be interesting, with a Premiership semi-final already assured, whether Borthwick uses that to rest some first-choice players in the upcoming Premiership games ahead of the bigger games that await.

Thanks for reading,
—Sam

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