By Jon in Alaska
March 19 2012
This weekend, for a rugby geek like myself, was full of interest. England could still win the Six Nations, IF events went their way, and IF one team scored more than another. Scotland could avoid the Wooden Spoon, IF they beat Italy. There was only one certainty though, and it was for probably the biggest game of the weekend. Saints versus Tigers in the LV= Cup Final. Bizarrely it was the first time that the two fierce local rivals had faced off in a cup final, but you could be sure it would be a doozy!
LV= CUP FINAL
NORTHAMPTON SAINTS 14 - LEICESTER TIGERS 26
It makes me smile when I read people’s posts about the early kick off times for matches. Next time you write one of these posts, spare a thought for supporters like myself. A 3pm kick off UK time works out as a 6am kick off my time. That means a 5am alarm call. Unless of course, it’s that bizarre two week period when US clocks have gone forward, and UK clocks haven’t – a fact that I only realised when I woke up at 5am for the game, and realised I still had an hour in bed.
Weather in Worcester looked fine – bright, sunny and calm. Weather in Fairbanks looked equally fine (as far as I could tell, given that it was still dark). Biggest difference was that it was -27C on the drive in to my office to get the internet…
Anyway, that’s enough of my complaining about the cold, on to the game. Tiggs had suggested that they would stick with the youngsters that got them to the final, as of course, the LV Cup isn’t really a proper cup. Then someone told Cockers that it was an entrance to the bigger Cup of Beer, and suddenly a development team with the likes of the unknown youngsters Geordan Murphy and Craig Newby was named. Saints, on the other hand, put out about as strong a team as possible. Who cares if it’s a second rate cup – the opposition are the Tiggs!
Saints started brightly, with Digger returning a clearance with a great offload to Armstrong, but then fumbles it in to touch. Tiggs were rocked, and the resulting scrum immediately becoming a penalty to Saints. Things were looking good… Myler missed with his first attempt, but another soon after (for what, I don’t know – I lost my TV feed at this point!) went between the sticks. Saints with first blood, up 3-0 after 6 minutes.
Tiggs then seemed to wake up a bit with a couple of promising attacks, but ended by a careless knock on. At this point the Tiggs scrum started to beep loudly, warning the back line that they were reversing at a rate of knots. Yet another penalty went Saints way. 3 scrums, 3 penalties to Saints. Looking even better! Myler then got to double the score as a Tiggs prop gave away another penalty, this time for playing on the wrong side of a ruck. This was a tester though, from over 45m… Doesn’t matter to Myler though! Saints up 6-0 after 12 minutes.
Front row Boris couldn’t stand the pressure from the Saints front row, and was substituted this early in the game. Tiggs were looking rattled… A lineout for Tiggs then became a penalty for Tiggs for tackling without the ball. The 19 year old Ford takes this chance to get 3 back, and it’s 6-3 to Saints after 14 minutes.
Apparently a sleeping Tiger wakes up after about 15 minutes. Wilson couldn’t control the ball from the restart, Tigers countered, and suddenly there were men over. Downey puts in a well-timed tackle, but again Tiggs work the overlap. The attack comes to an end with a Saints player creeping offside, and Ford squares it up after 18 minutes.
The restart is won by the Tigers forwards, but again Wilson is amazing under a high ball. A couple of good Saints phases, including a one-handed pick up and charge by Tiny leads to another penalty attempt for Myler. This one was easier, on the 22, about 15m infield. Like the previous two, he strikes it well and Saints go back ahead, 9-6 after 21 minutes.
It seemed to me that, at this point, Saints started to try to over-play the game. Some silly mistakes started to creep in, such as a loose pass by Downey as he tried to break out the 22. Next, the Saints scrum began to creak, and in what worse place could it do that than under the posts. Penalty Tiggs becomes 3 points Tiggs. Things evened up again at 9-9 after 24 minutes.
The problem with Saints is that you can see when they get demoralised. This was pretty clear after the first meaningful Tiggs scrum. The restart kick was taken well by Tiggs, a line break by 36, and suddenly Tiggs were back in the Saints 22. Massive overlap (5 Tiggs to 2 Saints) and there was only one result – Mafi in at the corner for the game’s first try. The young Ford hit a great conversion, and Tiggs went ahead for the first time, 9-16 after 27 minutes.
Saints’ heads seemed to really go down now, and even some desperation crept in to the play. Tiggs made it back in to the Saints 22, deep inside, and Murphy puts a questioning little grubber behind the Saints defence. Roberts took the ball over the line, and the resulting scrum (eventually, after several resets) leads to a penalty. Not for Saints, but for Tiggs. Our scrum was definitely looking shaky. Another scrum, another Tiggs penalty. This time though, a let off for Saints, as a moment of indecision meant that the tee came on to the pitch as the forwards were shaping up for the scrum. I couldn’t help but feel that it was a let off for Saints – that almost had PT written on it… Ford missed with his attempt, and Saints try to clear. First interesting stat of the game, courtesy Sky – in the last ten minutes of the half, Tiggs had 89% of the possession. A scrappy last few minutes go by, and the half time score was 16-9 Tiggs. All to play for by both teams. One needed to keep their heads more than others.
Evidently the half time talk wasn’t that focused on keeping things simple – another great start by Saints ends with a silly penalty for not releasing. At this point, my text updates get shorter as I got more and more frustrated with Saints trying to overplay the game. And we were still within a try! Anyway, another Saints scrum fell apart, resulting in another penalty by Ford. First points of the half to the bouncy ones, 9-19 after 46 minutes.
At this point, Jim was obviously getting concerned with the scrum, and Mooj was brought on for PDJ. He must have brought on some harsh words from upstairs, because Downey spots a hole, offloads to Pisi, and Saints are almost through. An attempted offload by Pisi goes forwards, and Sky show a great replay of Jim screaming in anguish, closely followed by a wry smile. Saints make a better attempt of the scrum, but Tiggs still clear. Another Saints attack followed, with drives by Digger, Armstrong and others. We even get to one point with a 3 on two overlap, until Myler tries the miss pass. It’s a good pass, if you’re a Tiggs fan, as Hamilton plucks it out of the air and runs a full 75m to score an interception try. Saints heads are now visibly so far down, they could hardly see the sky… Conversion by Ford, and Saints are now staring down a 9-26 score line. Still, half an hour to go though…
The Tiggs defence remained firm, and Saints kept trying to overplay things. Passes were too early, giving the Tiggs plenty time to drift across and tackle anything in white. After 20 minutes of the second half, Saints had 75% of the ball, but nothing to show for it. Another nail in the coffin is well hammered in by the Tiggs at scrum time again. Several Saints scrums on top of the Tiggs line are repeatedly stolen, and Saints are getting more and more rattled – their main (only?) weapon is being torn down easily. More chances came Saints way in the next few minutes, and then Sky showed another meaningful stat that really summed up the game for me. In six visits to the Saints 22, Tigers scored 17 points. Saints also had six trips to the Tiggs 22, and had come away with nothing. We really need to learn how to take chances, not to try to force our hand, and just play the simple ball. Otherwise it’s balls up… The usual raft of changes were brought on by both teams, and a flurry of penalties to the Tigers eventually results in a “team” yellow for Murphy. It was pretty impressive to see how many penalties were given away by Tiggs before the card was produced, but at least Saints would play the last ten minutes against 14 men. Eventually the extra numbers counted, and Christian Day manages to cross the Tiggs whitewash. It came from a quick penalty – Diggin almost made it to the corner, and finally an offload went to hand. The conversion was missed by Lamb, so with the scores at 14-26 with only five minutes to play, it was looking too little, too late.
That’s how it stayed. The take home message? Saints tried to play the game too much, and managed to get rattled very quickly. Silly penalties led to a lot of points being given away, or chances missed. The key period for me was when Tiggs stole several of our scrums. Saints heads went further and further down, and Tiggs went up and up. As I posted in the match thread – we were promising, but just couldn’t finish it off. Story of the Saints, mostly it seems. Anyway, the “development” competition is over, the internationals come back, and here’s hoping we can work our way in to the H cup through our league position.
I’m sure we all hope that the Waspies are swatted next week.The Tigers certainly weren’t tamed.