Match ac­tion

The Rugby Paper - - Front Page - ■ By BREN­DAN GAL­LAGHER

TIGERS kick-started their sea­son with an in­valu­able win but af­ter three tries in the first quar­ter and an im­pres­sive first half gen­er­ally, lost fo­cus and ul­ti­mately failed to col­lect the try bonus that at one time looked cer­tain.

So it was a mixed bag for coach Matt O’Con­nor to pon­der over. Le­ices­ter – dur­ing their early pur­ple patch – were sharp, very phys­i­cal and in­ven­tive. When the grem­lins set in, how­ever, their line-out be­gan to mal­func­tion a lit­tle and Glouces­ter, over the full 80 min­utes, were the more pow­er­ful scrum­mag­ing unit.

Glouces­ter’s trou­ble was a calami­tous first 20 min­utes af­ter which they were al­ways play­ing catch-up. Whether that was down to Le­ices­ter’s ex­cel­lence or a de­fect in their own prepa­ra­tion will be up to newly in­stalled coach Jan Ack­er­mann to di­ag­nose.

Frus­trat­ingly for Glouces­ter there was enough qual­ity from them dur­ing the last hour of the game to sug­gest this is a match that would have been within their scope given even a half de­cent start.

“We started the game bril­liantly, the in­ten­sity and the ac­cu­racy for 25 min­utes was ex­actly where we want to be,” ob­served Le­ices­ter head coach O’Con­nor af­ter­wards. “We were in their faces a lot more and we got our re­wards early on. But we left a bonus point out there which was dis­ap­point­ing.”

Ack­er­man, as was the case at Har­lequins last week, was left rue­ing an­other slow start which saw the game al­most be­yond reach at half-time: “The first half was very frus­trat­ing be­cause we gave them easy op­por­tu­ni­ties, easy tries, so I’m dis­ap­pointed with that but I am proud of the guys and the way they bounced back in the se­cond half.”

Le­ices­ter, in fair­ness, were al­most un­recog­nis­able early on from the team that had huffed and puffed their way through the first two matches. Their in­ten­sity was mas­sive, which you would hope would be the case in front of the Tigers faith­ful, but even more im­por­tant was the re­turn of their rugby in­tel­li­gence.

Quick think­ing, quick tapped penal­ties, coun­ter­at­tack­ing when­ever pos­si­ble and also at­tack­ing where Glouces­ter least ex­pected it. They were the key el­e­ments.

Le­ices­ter also took their cue from the likes of Aussie cen­tre Matt Toomua who pro­duced two crack­ing early hits as they threw the kitchen sink at the visi­tors.

Glouces­ter didn’t help their case by cough­ing up nine first half penal­ties – and 17 in to­tal over 80 min­utes – as they lost all shape and dis­ci­pline un­der the on­slaught. It was pretty dis­missal stuff for Ack­er­mann’s team who have flat­tered to de­ceive since that spec­tac­u­lar open­ing night win over cham­pi­ons Ex­eter.

Le­ices­ter ripped straight into the game and it was no sur­prise when Ben Youngs nipped over first from a tapped penalty which Glouces­ter as­sumed, wrongly, Le­ices­ter would want to kick. Youngs had other ideas and evaded Glouces­ter’s pan­icky last­ditch de­fence with some ease to score un­der the posts.

The Eng­land scrum-half was on the case again shortly af­ter­wards. Tigers turned down a kick at goal and went in­stead for the cor­ner. The pack rum­bled away but the move was slow­ing when Youngs spot­ted the small­est of blind­side gaps and dived over with alacrity.

Ge­orge Ford, who went into the game seek­ing his best kick­ing game, in­creased the feel­good fac­tor fur­ther by ab­so­lutely nail­ing the most dif­fi­cult of touch­line con­ver­sions. Sud­denly all was well in the Tigers’ world.

And bet­ter was just around the cor­ner. Tigers were in full spate now and scored a crack­ing third try from set-piece scrum pos­ses­sion with Sione Kala­maofni ini­tially do­ing ex­cep­tion­ally well to con­trol the ball as the Tigers re­treated a lit­tle. Out along the line it went for Telusa Veainu to skill­fully drift late on to a long pass to beat his man and re­lease wing Nick Malouf.

The 24-year-old Aussie was some­thing of a mys­tery sum­mer sign­ing, but O’Con­nor and his team had done their home­work. Malouf has been a stal­wart in the Aus­tralian Sev­ens squad for two years now, in­clud­ing the Rio Olympics, and pos­sesses both pace and strength which he demon­strated in abun­dance to score.

A deeply sat­is­fy­ing half for Tigers, with the only neg­a­tive be­ing the de­part of Toomua af­ter tak­ing a knock to the head mak­ing yet an­other tackle.

Hope­fully it won’t prove too se­ri­ous af­ter the Aussie cen­tre had the best of last sea­son writ­ten off with a ma­jor knee in­jury. He didn’t seem too in­con­ve­nienced as he re­luc­tantly trot­ted down the tun­nel but clearly the medics didn’t con­sider him fit enough to re­turn.

Glouces­ter were much im­proved af­ter the break, in­deed they had be­gun to fire a few shots of their own and de­fend more ro­bustly in the lat­ter stages of the first half as if an­tic­i­pat­ing the rol­lock­ing they were cer­tain to get from Ack­er­man at half-time.

Scarcely a minute into the new half prop Josh Hoh­neck scored un­der the posts af­ter pick­ing a nice line off Willie Heinz as the scrum-half moved spec­u­la­tively across field look­ing for an open­ing.

Billy Twel­ve­trees con­verted and added a penalty in quick or­der as the game be­came much more of a con­test. Char­lie Shap­les ran well, Ol­lie Thor­ley was up for the scrap and re­place­ment scrum-half Ben Vel­la­cott raised the tempo when he came on.

Al­though Le­ices­ter had stopped dom­i­nat­ing, their

de­fence held firm and Glouces­ter could never quite add that ex­tra score to jan­gle a few nerves.

Tigers went chas­ing the try bonus but were un­con­vinc­ing on a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions when they turned down shots at goal and opted for li­ne­outs. On the day their li­ne­out work wasn’t slick enough and even­tu­ally they opted to take a cer­tain three points from Ge­orge Ford.

The fi­nal whis­tle left both sides with plenty to pon­der, both are de­cid­edly work in progress. Glouces­ter now meet Worces­ter at home on Fri­day a game which has ‘must win’ writ­ten all over it while Tigers travel to the Stoop where Har­lequins are nor­mally so dif­fi­cult to crack.

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Eye of the Tiger: Nick Malouf goes for the line to score Le­ices­ter’s third try in their vic­tory over Glouces­ter

PIC­TURE: Getty Images

Sniper: Ben Youngs touches down Le­ices­ter’s first try

Tena­cious: Aus­tralian flyer Nick Malouf races in for Tigers’ third try

Bull­dozer: El­lis Genge smashes through for Tigers

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