“I thought our attitude across the board with or without the ball was exemplary.” said Richard Cockerill. Â
It was billed as the game of the weekend and it proved as exciting and fruitful as one had hoped; well I was certainly impressed and on the edge of my seat throughout this inaugural tug of war.Â
This new East Midlands derby saw a sell out at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry with a record Â 32,019 in attendance to indulge in this pivotal Aviva Premiership game; and obviously appetites had been whet with the return from injury of both Joe Launchbury and Ed Slater to their respective clubs.Â
A sea of black and gold flags waved in the wind but with only a short trip up the motorway and maybe a couple of train stops, a cacophony of ‘Tigers, Tigers’ claimed the airspace round the Ricoh and it felt like a Tigers home game.Â
Three points separated these two teams and with the play-offs looming, losing was not an option; Â And with our Wayne refereeing, what delights were we in for on this historic occasion at the rockinâ€™ Ricoh?
Well with the 16th man behind the visitors, Freddie Burns took all of four minutes to put Tigers on the board with a penalty and minutes later, Niall Morris crossed to an absolute roar! Â Intent? Â I should say so. Â Burns converted and even though the boots of Burns and Andy Goode traded penalties, it was the visitors who were clearly on the front foot.Â
This didn’t look like Tigers! Â Well … not the Tigers I’ve been watching all season. They meant real business and with their hopes still 100% alive for clinching a top four spot, they competed at every twist and turn with all the might they could muster.Â
Wasps tried pummelling the Leicester defence but it held as fast as Fort Knox. They missed two try opportunities early on and they trailed 6-13 in the first quarter.Â
Tigerâ€™s intent was transparent and with a handful of scrappy passages of play from Wasps, it was evident that this game was going to be way tougher than Wasps had anticipated. Â But they didnâ€™t deliver any tricks.
Joe Simpson had a bad day at the office with his decision making, leading to slow phases of play … which played right into the hands of this frighteningly ferocious Leicester side at the breakdown, who managed to turn the ball over on at least 12 occasions!Â
But Wasps’ luck was in, even when Dan Cole threw a tantrum and a few punches it was actually Seremaia Bai who was sent to the bin for a highly dangerous no-arms tackle on Nathan Hughes’ head. Â On review, Wayne Barnes changed the yellow to a red card and Goode’s boot made it four from four penalties in the first half alone to shorten Leicester’s lead.Â
But that said, right up to the half-time whistle, Tigers were pounding Wasps upfront. Â It was the return of the rampaging rhinos, riding again and I couldn’t help but think that this wouldn’t change in the second half … even down to 14 men!
Back out and within ten minutes, Simpson limped off to be replaced by Charlie Davies and then it was time; time for the immense Joe Launchbury to make his return to the field – after six months. Â He was back with a bang and it didn’t take long for him to show his class.
But Leicester’s defence was dynamite and in the final forty I genuinely didn’t see any missed tackles. Â It was a physical, brutal yet sensational match as these two teams went head-to-head. Â Wasps pretty much had all the possession in the second half with Sailosi Tagicakibau making two exceptional line breaks but the Berlin Wall that was Leicesterâ€™s defence stood resolute. Â
What would it have taken to break though? A bulldozer; Â and as I said previously, Wasps didnâ€™t come up with any solutions. Â No twists out of tackle, no grubbers, no effective passes out wide, not even any dummies. If you canâ€™t go through them..?
When Tigers managed to scramble possession back in attack, an impeccable flurry of approximately ten phases with Sam Harrison leading the way, put what I think was the final nail in the coffin – a try in the corner by Adam Thompstone saw the Arena erupt – it was absolutely electrifying.
Did I mention this felt like a Tigers home game? Â Wasps will have to get used to this. Â What an unbelievable atmosphere.Â
And even though Burns missed the conversion, it was signed, sealed and delivered for the travelling Tigers. Â And were they in search of that bonus point try? Â Oh yes. Cockers was up and down out of his seat like a yoyo – as animated as always – a joy to watch and giggle at!
However, as the try line wasn’t in realistic sight, Tigers wound the clock down with three scrum resets and a hefty number of pick and go’s round the corner of the ruck instead. Â And even when Wasps tried racing for the line in the dying seconds of the game, a knock on by James Haskell said it all. Â
It had been one of those days for Wasps, they hadnâ€™t expected this titanic travelling tribe and therefore their day hadn’t gone accordingly to plan. Such a shame in my opinion as they have fought tooth and nail and come so far this season.Â
But on the day, there is no underestimating that it was Leicester who came out all guns blazing and kept the blaze alight for the full eighty, and therefore rightly, deserved the win. Â Are they the eleventh hour team of the season or have they done enough to secure a top four spot?Â
I think so …
Full Time: Wasps 21-26 Leicester Tigers
Leicester won’t make the play-offs through luck, they fight hard and this game proved it. Â If I was Northampton, I’d be a little concerned about what might lie ahead.
But for now, Leicester will relish in this victory and take that confidence and positivity into next week at Welford Road. Â Who wouldnâ€™t?
“We’ve had a lot of issues this season for lots of reasons. We’ve not played as well as we would have liked but the quality of the play we have and the belief that the squad have got is still strong so the morale’s good, we’re going to enjoy this win but it is just this win against Wasps away.” said Richard Cockerill. Â
By Rhiannon Chandler-Day
You can see more from Rhiannon at: http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk