Tigers’ in­spir­ing spirit car­ries them through

The Rugby Paper - - Aviva Premiership - ■ By ROGER PANTING

AS THE bomb­shell news about Ben Youngs’ with­drawal from the Lions and the mis­ery en­gulf­ing his fam­ily be­came ev­i­dent, one could only won­der at the in­dom­nitable spirit of th­ese Tigers.

Ben played his usual struc­tured game, Tom scored a try and Le­ices­ter moved into the Premier­ship play-offs on the back of Fred­die Burns’ 23 points from a fault­less kick­ing per­for­mance.

Le­ices­ter now face a semi-fi­nal at Wasps where they will be hop­ing to im­prove on their last two play-off ef­forts when they were beaten 47-10 by Bath in 2015 and 44-17 by Sara­cens in 2016.

If Tigers are to progress to the fi­nal, they are likely to have to rely on an­other im­pres­sive per­for­mance from Burns for their backs of­fered pre­vi­ous lit­tle in this en­counter and were outscored by three tries to one de­spite hav­ing a to­tally dom­i­nant scrum and the bet­ter line-out.

Le­ices­ter’s head coach, Matt O’Con­nor said: “Fred­die’s game man­age­ment was bril­liant.

“He’s a tremen­dous Tiger and I’m dis­ap­pointed at not hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to work with him as he’s still got a lot of growth left in him.”

Burns will be at Bath next sea­son but he has been in­stru­men­tal in Le­ices­ter’s late sea­son re­vival, in stark con­trast to de­part­ing play­ers at other clubs. Le­ices­ter-bound Ge­orge Ford has been rel­e­gated to the bench by Bath and Ex­eter’s new re­cruit, Matt Kvesic, has been frozen out by Glouces­ter.

Worces­ter im­proved as the sea­son pro­gressed but still fin­ished 11th and can be thank­ful that bot­tom club Bris­tol were so poor. The early sea­son in­juries to Ben Te’o and Fran­cois Hougaard were ham­mer blows but Gary Gold trans­formed the club when he was ap­pointed in Fe­bru­ary.

Be­fore the South African’s ar­rival, War­riors were star­ing rel­e­ga­tion in the face with some strange se­lec­tions and spine­less per­for­mances at Ex­eter and Glouces­ter but have re­grouped with great spirit em­pha­sised by the ef­forts of Hougaard and 38-yearold skip­per Don­n­cha O’Cal­laghan.

Both play­ers were at the fore­front of Worces­ter’s ef­forts on the day and had War­riors not made sim­ple er­rors and missed three vi­tal kicks, they could eas­ily have been vic­to­ri­ous.

Phil Dow­son, led the War­riors out for his 262nd Premier­ship ap­pear­ance be­fore tak­ing up a coach­ing po­si­tion with Northamp­ton and he saw his side dom­i­nate the open­ing ten min­utes but lack of ac­cu­racy al­lowed Tigers to keep their line in­tact.

Two penal­ties from Burns to one from Ryan Mills were the only scores of the open­ing quar­ter be­fore both sides opened their try scor­ing ac­count.

First Tom Youngs fin­ished off a line-out drive for Le­ices­ter be­fore the hosts re­sponded with a flow­ing move­ment, which cul­mi­nated in a try for Chris Pen­nell.

Burns and Mills ex­changed penal­ties to give Tigers a 16-13 in­ter­val lead but within two min­utes of the restart, Worces­ter went in front when Mat Tait was un­able to col­lect an up and un­der and Bryce Heem col­lected the loose ball to run 30 me­tre to score.

A drop goal and two more penal­ties from Burns put Le­ices­ter back in charge be­fore Wy­nand Olivier landed a splen­did solo try to set up an ex­cit­ing fin­ish but Burns had the fi­nal say with his sixth penalty.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

No go zone: Worces­ter’s tryscorer Chris Pen­nell is tack­led by Bren­don O’Con­nor and Jack Roberts

The long haul: Fred­die Burns takes aim

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