Owen Williams could just prove to be Leicester Tigers’ most canny signing in recent years.
The club has a great reputation for bringing in players and taking their game to the next level in recent years, think Ed Slater, Geoff Parling and Logovi’i Munipola, but the 22-year-old Welsh fly-half could yet be the best and most significant of the bunch.
For the second week in a row Williams scored vital penalties for Leicester to earn points against a great rival. This time in a 18-16 victory over Wasps on Saturday.
In a game packed with errors the fly-half had a perfect day with a boot, slotting all his kicks to earn the victory. It was the type of deadeye accuracy needed at the very highest level to win tight games.
Too many times in recent years Leicester have put themselves in the position to win massive games against some of the best sides in Europe but missed their kicks at goal to do so. Had Williams missed just one of his six efforts at the sticks at the weekend then Tigers would more than likely have lost on Saturday, especially with old Leicester favourite Andy Goode still showing his class, and they would not be riding on a wave of cautious optimism having gone unbeaten in their last five competitive matches; all while still not playing particularly well.
The run of results has moved Tigers into fifth place in the Aviva Premiership, now tied with Saracens on points after the London club were beaten at Exeter this weekend, and are top of their LV= Cup group.
Momentum is just what Leicester need at the moment because on Sunday they face their toughest match of the season when they host French Top 14 table toppers and defending European champions Toulon.
Speaking after the win over Wasps, Leicester’s director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “The game was so poor, I had forgotten how well Owen kicked. We know he is a good goal-kicker and we know he has the guts to kick big goals.
“We saw that against Saracens and we saw it again today. At least we were composed enough to get ourselves out of it in the end.”
However overall the Tigers boss was not a happy man. Cockerill gave a scathing analysis of team’s performance after the match. He said: “We couldn’t catch, couldn’t pass and didn’t understand the game. We turned the ball over and didn’t control field position, we defended poorly and our line speed was poor. We had senior players making poor decisions and not doing what they should be doing.
“We paid for that and it turned into poor game of rugby which we were lucky to win.”
The good news for Leicester is their match day 23 is getting stronger each week as players return from injury. The latest to come back into the side this week was hooker Tom Youngs, who overcome his shoulder injury to start in a more familiar frontrow alongside Dan Cole and Marcos Ayerza.
The pack won at least a couple of penalties for Williams to kick on Saturday and with hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini now back from international duty with Italy there is real strength amongst the replacements. Fraser Balmain provides cover at tighthead and Munipola is still to return from injury to make them a truly formidable prospect.
Tom Croft was named amongst the replacements for Wasp having recovered from injury but was withdrawn late in the day because his wife was about to go into labour with their first child, however he should be back in the reckoning to face the mighty Toulon.
Leicester are now nearly back to full strength and are just missing Manu Tuilagi, still sidelined with a groin injury, in the backline and Ben Youngs, who started in England’s 26-17 victory of Australia at Twickenham.
Youngs prised the number nine shirt of Danny Care’s back during the course of the Autumn internationals, starting the first two matches which England lost on the bench, and starting in their two wins.
He should return with renewed confidence to add another threat to Leicester’s backline who are still in need of some additional creative sparks having gone a second straight match without scoring a try.
Miles Benjamin got mighty close on Saturday, avoiding touch to get over the line in the corner but a brilliant last ditch cover tackle by former Tigers winger Tom Varndell dislodged the ball in the act of scoring.
If Leicester are to come away with victory in their must-win encounter with Toulon they are going to have to be better in every department.
At least Toulon haven’t got Jonny Wilkinson kicking for them anymore- just the British and Irish Lions player of the series Leigh Halfpenny.
So far the new European Champions Cup has been a great success but the scheduling of the best game of round three of the pool stages between Leicester and Toulon in the graveyard shift at 5.30pm on a Sunday is quite frankly ludicrous and makes life very difficult for fans - especially if they are travelling from France.
Yes it’s good to get as many games on TV as possible but lets think about the paying fans who are the ones who create the stunning atmospheres at grounds like Welford Raod and the Stade Felix Mayol.