Borthwick breathes easier as Leicester hang on
Leicester did their best to make a hash of it, but Steve Borthwick will care not one jot as he registered his first win as the club’s head coach, and their first since the Premiership’s restart.
Borthwick will have been most pleased, however, by the debut of Nemani Nadolo, Leicester’s star summer signing. The Fijian had not played competitive rugby since Feb 23, but there was no sign of rust, despite his post-match admittance that he “was blowing seagulls” after a full 80 minutes of rugby. The Leicester wing only touched the ball six times in the match, but he made more metres and offloaded more times than any other Tiger.
It was Leicester’s firsthalf dominance that saw them home, and it was largely grounded in discipline and breakdown precision. London Irish conceded as many penalties and free-kicks combined in the first 40 minutes as Leicester did in the entire match.
Leicester director of rugby Geordan Murphy was especially buoyed by the doggedness of side’s display. “Someone after the match said, ‘It was not the greatest spectacle’ – but I really enjoyed it,” he said. “It was very physical and everyone was getting stuck in. Our breakdown work was particularly impressive and defensively we did a good job.”
Declan Kidney, the London Irish director of rugby, admitted that the breakdown was a cause for concern. “Leicester got the better of us. We need to learn the balance between being honest and when to compete. Leicester were very disciplined but I know we’re heading in the right direction.”
Kidney’s side could not match Leicester’s clout, either. When the opposition have such few genuine attacking threats – wing Ollie Hassell-Collins the exception – it becomes easy for sides to focus on competing for the ball on the deck. Leicester did exactly that, and fly-half George Ford gave his side an early lead.
From an endless chapter of scrums on the Irish line, after Tom Youngs had been denied by the TMO, deft sleight of hand from both Nadolo and Ford allowed David Williams to scurry over unopposed, which extended Leicester’s lead to 10, including an effortless touchline conversion from England’s No10. Ford slotted three more points and there seemed no way back for Irish.
When Calum Green was sent to the sin-bin for preventing a quick tap penalty, the extra man gave Irish impetus. Ben Meehan squirted over to bring them to within a converted try, but Leicester just held on and Borthwick can sleep happier.
Winning way: Steve Borthwick had his first victory with Leicester