Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester win controversial derby ahead of French test

Leicester Tigers players in action. Tiger Images EMN-140331-162754001
Leicester Tigers players in action. Tiger Images EMN-140331-162754001
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The derby - frantic, fiery, frenetic, controversial and utterly brilliant.

Leicester Tigers made it ten games unbeaten in the derby with Northampton on Saturday albeit with a bit of help from referee Wayne Barnes and a water boy.

Leicester Tigers Ed Slater. Tiger Images EMN-140331-162710001

Leicester Tigers Ed Slater. Tiger Images EMN-140331-162710001

The game ended as so many derby games between these two sides have. In acrimonious controversy.

Leicester were in survival mode, down to 13 men with Ben Youngs and Niki Goneva shown yellow, the Saints were pounding away at the visitors in search for a winning try with the score at 22-16.

With the game in the final minute the ball was kicked behind the Tigers’ backline causing a scramble to recover.

Manu Tuilagi was first to the ball and bundled it out to touch on the five metre line with just six seconds left on the clock. Many wondered why Mr Barnes had not awarded a penalty for the England centre’s illegal dispensing of the ball, but he didn’t.

Then as the ball went into touch Northampton went after it to try and form the line out or take a quick throw however Leicester’s water carrier beat them to the ball, kicking it along the ground to waste time and prevent them taking a quick throw.

Before the Saints could take the lineout Mr Barnes blew his whistle for full time much to the dismay of the disgruntled home side and to a cacophony of boos from the baying home supporters at Franklin’s Gardens.

Leicester’s director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “You can clutch at those straws if you want but I thought that we were the better side and we deserved to win.

“It is a good win for us I thought we played some really good stuff I thought at large we controlled the game well and I thought we were the more positive team.

“We treat this game as one of our most important games of our season. We said before in the week we want the points but for me it is about the local rivalry I have been brought up with. With this club, Leicester vs Saints is massive.”

Cockerill explained how derby success is at the very core of Leicester’s identity as a club. He said: “The community feel like that you have represented them and you can be proud of that. We hold that very dear to us and we prepare for this game more diligently than any other.”

Leicester were the better side for 70 minutes. Anthony Allen gave his side the lead in the first half, taking a long miss pass from Ben Youngs to score in the corner.

The game also had a customary dark twist with Leicester’s Tom Youngs accusing an unknown attacker of biting his hand. The video referee evidence was inconclusive but it left a nasty after taste to the match.

On the more positive side it was another coming of age performance by young Welsh fly-half Owen Williams who flawlessly kicked 17 points in the win.

Cockerill said: “I thought Owen Williams’ goal kicking was outstanding. I thought we were the better side through out. I am delighted with the win because we know they are a good side and to come here and beat them on their own patch, which is the first time they have lost here in the league all season, is a very good result for us.

“I just pick him [Williams] because I think he is good enough.

“I thought he was really good today. He did some great things and in fact he has run himself to a standstill. Now he knows what it is like to play in these big derby games against good players, physical players and a physical team and he did really well. Those goal kicks under pressure with and against the wind were fantastic.”

Williams has kicked more points this year than Toby Flood did last year, and it appears the Welshman has now taken the starting number ten slot from the English international.

Other outstanding performances included man of the match Ed Slater who was by far the best forward on the park for either side.

Tigers’ kiwi fullback Scott Hamilton is also enjoying a remarkable renaissance, showing composure under the high ball and great attacking ability in broken play.

The win takes Leicester up to third in the Aviva Premiership with Bath dropping points on Friday night and they now have Saints in second in their sights.

Cockerill said: “The key is we go into the tail end of the season in good form. If you finish top and get us in the semis as a reward is tough - we go anywhere thinking we can win.”

However Cockerill joked his confidence to win anywhere does not necessarily extend to Saturday’s quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and a daunting trip to Clermont’s fortress Stade Marcel Michelin where they are currently 74 games unbeaten.

“I wouldn’t say I am confident we can go there and win. For once we can just go and play, throw everything at them and see where we get to.

“I don’t want to sound defeatist, we are going to go there and try and win and I think if we can go there and beat Clermont, and you look at all the sides which have gone there and failed, I think it will be one of the biggest wins this club has ever had. Certainly in the modern era and I don’t say that lightly. We have been to some pretty tough places and win.

“It gives this group of players the opportunity to go and make history at Clermont. It will be bloody tough I know that.”