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