Leicester Tigers may be down to the bare bones of their squad due to the continuing injury crisis at the club but the players left are standing-tall in defiance.
Leicester made all the running on Friday night against Gloucester, away at Kingsholm, but finished narrow 22-17 winners after gifting the Cherry and Whites two tries with misplaced passes.
Tigers trailed 14-13 at half time after Gloucester fly-half Freddie Burns’ intercepted a pass from Toby Flood and winger Jonny May had more than enough speed to outpace Leicester’s props in a chase for a kicked through ball from 90 yards out.
But Flood atoned for his error by creating a try for Bowden with a beautiful slip pass and kicking 17 points, to pile on the pressure being created for Tigers’ fearsome scrum.
The all international front row of Marcos Ayerza, back from duty with Argentina, along with England’s Dan Cole and Tom Youngs, provided the platform to get Leicester on the front foot throughout the enthralling encounter.
Leicester’s director of rugby Richard Cockerill made it clear that his best available players where in the starting line-up against Gloucester, shunning the modern convention of making a raft of changes in the second half, by not going to his replacements until the 75th minute.
There were a host of outstanding performances in the forward pack under the Kingsholm lights, none more impressive than Tigers’ rising second-row star Graham Kitchener.
England are blessed with an array of talent at lock, with the likes of Leicester’s injured British Lion Geoff Parling competing with Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury for a starting spot in the national team but all three men are going to have to look over their shoulders for the England Saxon second-row who is gaining ground on them with every match.
Kitchener, who at 24 is just maturing as a professional, joined Leicester from Worcester Warriors in 2011.
On Friday he was at his athletic best, repeatedly popping up with powerful, and deceivingly quick, runs before making intelligent decisions and accurate passes to keep the ball alive.
Kitchener also performed all the duty’s required of a traditional lock, using all 19 stone of his nearly two metre tall frame to power the scrum as well as running the line-out flawlessly on Friday, gathering most of the 12 throws himself.
Another emerging talent to benefit from a run of playing time is summer signing Jamie Gibson.
The back row, who joined from London Irish, appears to be learning quickly from team mate, and the one of the league’s finest flankers, Julian Salvi. The Australian has consistently been amongst the best players on the field in every match he has played this year.
But Gibson is fast proving to be an astute acquisition and valuable squad member.
Where Leicester need to improve now is in the backs, especially with Montpellier visiting Welford Road on Sunday in a must win Heineken Cup encounter.
However Leicester go into the encounter on the back of four straight wins in all competitions, which took them briefly back into the top four of the Aviva Premiership. However wins for Harlequins and Bath bumped them down to fifth by the close of the weekend.