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Tigers v Bath Match Report

By RichW
January 9 2014

Close but no cigar – further exercises in frustration…                                                So old enemies Bath rocked up at Welford Road on Sunday. A somewhat revived Bath after a decade and a half of mediocrity and worse; but not, to most neutral observers, a team ready yet to challenge at the top. Earlier in the season ill fortune and an all too familiar plague of injuries for a visiting Tigers side had aided them in securing a narrow victory at the Recreation Ground. The question on Sunday was would that ongoing injury list provide a similar dénouement.

It seems to me that every time I write a match report I spend time dwelling on refereeing dysfunction and I find myself growing fatigued of the weekly displays of near comedic inconsistency and incompetence shown by officials. I tire of walking away from games scarred by refereeing whimsy and guesswork; by the simple failure to apply the laws; by the constant inability to impose the same judgement and sanction at successive incidents; by the determination to impose themselves at times when they cannot possibly have seen what they purport to have. 

Stop guessing. Referee what you can see - consistently and enough of the ‘responsibility to keep the game moving’ guff. That’s the players’ job – and if they don’t want to do so within the laws – act. And act constantly and coherently. That’s all. I’m not saying it’s easy – god knows it isn’t that – but at least that should be the intent. And if the RFU/IRB won’t support that – because they’ve got much more important things to do what with all the functions and free booze – to hell with them. 

So enough – the standard on Sunday was poor – even by those we normally expect highly of – and in watching it back there will be red faces among this week’s tetrarchy. Suffice to say – to this observer the course of the game was clearly affected by the inability of those in charge to see basic infringements and to act consistently in relation to those they did. It wasn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough and I for one am bored of it! 

I’m also heartily bored of Tigers constant defensive failures this term. Where, for years, they have prided themselves on their defensive security and where, even when occasional blips have arisen, they have been eliminated as seasons have worn on, this year continues to feature a veritable succession of defensive howlers. That this is undeniably, in part at least, a consequence of the disruption arising from the seemingly interminable injury list especially in the key Inside Centre position is small, cold comfort. 

However, on Sunday with Toby Flood filling in at 12 (thus far this term we have seen: Anthony Allen, Dan Bowden, Matt Smith, Javiah Pohe and now the Skipper in that shirt – did I miss anyone?) the defensive organisation finally seemed to have a little more – well – organisation to it! What was not up to muster however, was the first-up – and indeed at times – ‘second-up’ tackling! Simply put, there were basic skill failures aplenty – mistimed tackles; lack of leg drive and sliding off tackles; poor feet position allowing defenders to be stepped; the inability to wrap and drop the ball carrier too often let attacking players through holes that really weren’t there. Simple stuff poorly executed hurt Tigers’ ‘D’. 

And two first half tries by Bath came directly from such basic failings. For the first it was a compounding of multiple errors that allowed Abendanon and Watson to ease past Goneva and Benjamin as both failed not only to complete their tackles but to so much as delay their opponent’s attack – Benjamin was particularly culpable in not dropping his man having got arms to him. Morristhen, sweeping for Tait, had only to complete a simple full-back’s one on one but he over-committed to find himself stepped allowing Watson past with frankly ridiculous ease, to go under the posts. From his sublime early season form and involvement in the Irish national set-up Niall has declined to a shadow of the player he was. I won’t blame the Irish… 

But in all fairness there was enough blame to go around and to spare. It was something of a corporate horror show; a horror show compounded shortly after by Julian Salvi of all people who missed George Ford’s step in tight midfield space to slide haplessly off the tackle to allow the erstwhile Tigers 10 in behind the defensive line. I can perhaps forgive Marcos Ayerza who moments earlier had been bamboozled by the feet of Kyle Eastmond, but Salvi’s atypical failure after the former Rugby League man had been closed down, forcing the offload to Ford, was distinctly sub-par. While the home side scrambled it was too late and moments later Louw was crashing over. 

Which, all in all was a shame – the defensive largesse outweighing the home team’s earlier good work that had seen patience and pressure rewarded with a well worked and well finished on the wrong wing by Miles Benjamin  who got through the final tackler with a combination of footwork and power. He looks increasingly dangerous going forward week by week although his defensive work still requires polish. While Owen Williams failed with the touch-line conversion - the first of several kicks of varying degrees of difficulty missed – he added to the score shortly after with a penalty goal. At 8-0 up Tigers were well set. 

However from there the aforementioned defensive calamity struck and from a position of some comfort they contrived to cede control of the ball and of the game to the visitors. Managing to get the wrong side of the referee didn’t help but was hard to fathom by what mystery that came about with the breakdown randomisation programme in full swing and blue shirts permitted to drape themselves over the ruck in defence where such liberty was not granted those in green. It was all most peculiar. Bath’s 14 rapid and unanswered points changed the complexion of the game. They seemed to relax and with it got the rub of the green while the hosts grew taut. Despite that however the Tigers held and the visitors were unable to pull away. An exchange of two penalties apiece by the two young outside halves kept things even taking the score to 14-20 at the half. The final one by Ford on the stroke of the interval was especially galling to Leicester folk as it came almost directly from the restart after Williams’ third success had seemed to suggest Tigers had weathered the storm; perhaps even more so as the identified infringement – that of playing the half-back had earlier gone quite unpenalised in the other direction. It was a source of frustration and it served to give Bath renewed belief at the start of the second period when otherwise doubts might have begun to assert themselves. 

So the second half started with the visitors playing with belief. And why not? After another bemusing penalty followed a blatant, and unpunished, knock-on and then off-side at a lineout they were soon attacking in the corner. We’ll gloss over the fact that, looking down the touch-line, the kick went dead. 

It would be disingenuous of me to deny that I was worried by now an emotion not enhanced by a sequence of lineout and maul penalties that must have brought us perilously close to a yellow card for the team offence. I did not however expect the sanction to comprise a complete suspension of the laws. Apparently in such circumstances forward passes are now to be permitted. Even by the nonsense that is the current application of the law the pass for Joseph’s try was unmissable, standing as he was in front of the passer when it was handed to him. If the knock-on in the earlier build up was obvious this was glaring and that it was allowed was as scathing an indictment of the TMO system as can be imagined. Really – why bother with them if that’s the best they can do? 

From there it was all Bath and Tigers seemed to be clinging on. But cling on they did. With nothing less than Tigerish resolve (sorry but sometimes only the cliché will do) the forwards, with Tom Youngs abrasive and brave and relentlessly committed at their heart repelled successive forward drives by the visitors and eventually forced the turn-over to clear their lines. 

And it is often the way of such things but from that moment Tigers seemed to find renewed belief and Bath quite visibly wilted. From being in the ascendancy they went into their collective shell and the home side gained heart and with it momentum. I have to wonder how fit some of their forwards are. If not that then the increasingly frequent and lengthy visits of the physio staff were calculated attempts to disrupt the growing Tigers vigour. I couldn’t say which, but their conviction appeared shaken and they no longer seemed to believe that a win was in their grasp. Self Doubt is a terrible thing. 

As Bath appeared to wilt – or at least doubt themselves – Leicester gained possession and momentum. Youngs and Crane (unappreciated as usual after an excellent game in which he was key to getting Tigers on the front foot) gave way to fresh legs in Waldrom and Mele. At last the weight of penalties began to turn coming where they hadn’t heretofore. A succession of lineout drives forced the visitors to infringe repeatedly, earning them a yellow card for skipper, Hooper. That one of them was brought down whilst motoring at a rate of knots to the line yet didn’t bring the perennial Welford Rd favourite scorer – one ‘P Try’ – into the equation raised an eyebrow. And I imagine Ben Kay spitting feathers as his particular pet peeve briefly surfaced – that of off-side in the lineout where the lifter has been unable to bring the jumper down safely without placing himself between said jumper and the defence. For the thousandth time that is not what that law is intended for! At the most it should be no more than a free-kick for accidental off-side! Still, Bath were now somewhat in disarray Ford sliced the penalty kick and the lineout and exit was botched; and again Tigers found themselves with a penalty in the corner – another drive and then yet another until the recently arrived Waldrom's fresh legs found a way able to batter his way to the line and over for the score that kept Tigers hopes alive. 

That Williams was unable to convert perhaps the easiest kick of his afternoon was disappointing and in the final analysis perhaps critical. In his defence the wind was capricious and the pressure undeniable. But as it was, he missed a number of kicks – though mostly difficult in challenging conditions – that had he made would have changed the course of the game. I wouldn’t want to be over critical of a young man who had, overall, another good game. He is progressing well but it shouldn’t be denied that those kicks would have changed the result and a harsh judgement is that they were costly failures. Had he perhaps made 3 of those he missed the visitors would have left not with two points but one at best. He will learn no doubt. 

By now Bath were hanging on indeed, their complement of replacements less effective than Tigers three (de Chaves having replaced Slater who took a blow and looked at one point to be departing on a stretcher) and it was only the scratch nature of Tigers midfield that perhaps failed to better expose the visitors failing resolve and reserves. It is undeniable that with Allen and Manu Tigers just don’t straighten the attack enough in midfield to create the space the hard work and physicality deserves. And once the attack drifts in the centres looking for the cut-out pass the whole backline starts to crab. Still the ball came back time after time as it was recycled but repeated forays into the Bath danger zone were repelled close in, forcing play ever wider until eventually, when their defence did break to provide the equalising score it was out on the touchline where Jamie Gibson, whose tireless work around the park added to his lineout efficiency and general nuisance-ness (it's a word!)  around the tackle area giving him a fair claim to the Man of the Match award, was the man who finally breached the line battering his way past the last defender, the ever statuesque (no literally) Matt Banahan. Of course the TMO was called upon – leaving home support nerves shredded after his earlier bizarre intervention – but when he confirmed the score it left Owen Williams with the hardest kick of the match to take the win. Again he came close – and on another day he would have made it – but across the wind from his wrong side it was not to be and honours even it finished. 

Disappointing in a way perhaps – though undeniably exciting. Tigers’ never say die spirit, last seen in Montpelier but happily much in evidence this season, re-surfaced to secure a draw that had looked unlikely as Bath went 27-17ahead. Their spirit is admirable and while they are not yet firing the trend in performance is on an upward curve. Given the scale of the continued injury disruption this is hardly short of remarkable and deserves rather more credit than some allow. But undeniably this must figure as points lost even if it denied a key rival any further gain. While there are reasons for all but the most dour to be optimistic the consequence is that there can now be no further slips. 

It is not yet too late for Tigers to secure a home play-off draw. Not yet – but we are teetering on the very precipice. Returnees from the medical ward are sorely needed – and soon – before we can move forwards. More precision and facility in attack and stiffer defensive resolve are also much required. It is dearly to be hoped that Tony Allen will return for the trip to Italy this week. His presence is greatly missed – perhaps more so than any other – though Manu’s continued absence is hugely injurious too. A return for Steve Mafi would be a bonus as would be the same for Logovii Mulipola too, to provide a depth that is sadly lacking at present before we crash upon the annual reefs of the 6 Nations circus. By the time we return to domestic league action our European fate will be known and we hope that those reinforcements will have been reintegrated. If so, the two (three) points lost on Sunday will dwindle in significance. If not then a hard slog through the International froth to an away tie will be on.

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Tigers v Bath Match Report (IP Logged)
09/01/2014 18:31
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2014:01:12:17:02:25 by Tiggs.

Re: Tigers v Bath Match Report
Tiggs (IP Logged)
09/01/2014 18:38
Many thanks Rich !!

Re: Tigers v Bath Match Report
09/01/2014 19:20
Ne joyeux lapin pas?

A comprehensive, impressive report there Rich, and very much on the money, especially when hope was rekindled towards the end; and though our imperfect rugby world would be sadder for being sanitised, imho, you are correct to strive for right

Thank you for it

'Lions led by donkeys' .. Lest we forget

Re: Tigers v Bath Match Report
Stopsy (IP Logged)
09/01/2014 19:48
Many thanks Rich (except for the pressure for Saturday's report).

I would add that while you are undoubtedly right that Owen's kicks could have changed the course of the game and the outcome, he looks to be a better bet from the tee than Toby this season (I know he was injured this week).

Re: Tigers v Bath Match Report
Rich W (IP Logged)
09/01/2014 21:51
I think most of us felt that Owen was the right option on Sunday.


Re: Tigers v Bath Match Report
S4llyC (IP Logged)
10/01/2014 08:20
Nothing to disagree with there, Rich - sums things up from my point of view too. Many thanks.

Re: Tigers v Bath Match Report
Duncan Keene (IP Logged)
10/01/2014 11:21
Very much agree with all of that.

Re: Tigers v Bath Match Report
Tiggs (IP Logged)
12/01/2014 17:01
Thanks again Rich !

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