According to Optastats Leicester Tigers recorded their lowest amount of points scored in a home game when they lost 10-3 to Sale Sharks at Welford Road on Saturday in a dismal game of rugby which was some way below the level Leicester have been playing at this season.
The home team’s only points came from the boot of Freddie Burns and as Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill acknowledged the truth was the score line did not tell the whole story. The whole story being that on the day it should have been more like a 20 point gap rather than a seven point difference, which earned Tigers a losing bonus point.
Cockerill said: “It was a tough game. Sale played well in tough conditions and deserved it.”
The tough conditions he is taking about is constant rain and a strong wind, making the match less of a contest about skill and more of an arm wrestle. In other words the perfect day for Tigers rugby of the past. But under head coach and former All Black Aaron Mauger Leicester are looking to play in a more nuanced way. It would be good to have some extra muscle for days like Saturday through.
Cockerill said: “Physically they just about edged it and it turned when they brought the two props on. They were probably stronger than us there in that regard.
“They were fully loaded and we weren’t but it is what it is. Cipriani missed 12 or 15 points in the first half so we were fortunate to be in touch at half-time.
“We are disappointed but we are still in third place. We will take a point and move on.”
Sale skipper Josh Beaumont, who was named in the Elite England squad for the first time last month, but released back to his club at the weekend, had a point to prove and did so, scoring the only try of the game with a display of power.
The records kept tumbling on Saturday, and not for the good. Frustratingly for Cockerill and his Tigers the defeat ended Leicester’s 100 per cent record at home this season. It was far too easy for Tigers to lose their invincible tag at home, which they will want implanted in the minds of every team who come to Welford Road, particularly French champions Stade Francais when the visit in the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup on April 10.
Sale’s success meant they ended an 11-game losing streak against Leicester.
The game also cost promising young second row Dominic Barrow a place on the sidelines for two week as he was called before a RFU disciplinary panel on Tuesday night after being cited for punching. He was found guilty, banned and made to pay the £500 costs.
It is his second time before the panel this season after striking Maro Itoje, for which he received a one week ban.
Someone really needs to look at these disciplinary panels and the judgements they hand out. Saracens winger Chris Ashton is one of the least popular people you will find at Welford Road, because of his exploits both good and bad for Northampton, but his 11-week ban for “making contract with the eye” is ludicrous. It was a clumsy mistake which didn’t hurt anyone, whereas Barrow has now received a quarter of the punishment for two separate acts of intensional violence.
Leicester are once again carrying a large number of injuries. Manu Tuilagi and Jean De Villiers, who we have yet to see since he joined the club back in December, are both on track to be set for a return against Harlequins on Friday night next week.
An equally big boost to the side will be the return of Brendon O’Connor. The flanker, who tore a hamstring, is also aiming to be involved in the play-offs showdown at The Stoop as third place takes on fourth place.
Skipper Tom Youngs had to pull out of the match day squad on Saturday late in the day after suffering spasms in his back. As someone who has just recently suffered from a similar ailment let me tell you a game of professional rugby is the last thing you want. However he could be involved on Friday night away at Newcastle Falcons. Former Italian captain Leonardo Ghiraldini made his return at hooker on Saturday and should provide strength in depth in that position for the rest of the season before joining Toulouse in the summer.
Winger Telusa Veainu, who picked up a shoulder injury and concussed prop Marcos Ayerza are so likely to be in the side to travel North.
Tommy Bell left the field in the first half of the match on Saturday following a knock to the head and he will miss the next match as he undergoes the concussion protocol.
Up in Edinburgh new England head coach Eddie Jones got off to a winning start with a 15-9 victory over the Auld Enemy in the opening game of the RBS Six Nations.
Leicester’s Dan Cole started at tighthead prop and scrum half Ben Youngs came off the bench for Danny Care.
Both have been retrained for this Sunday’s second match of the tournament away in Italy, who nearly, and really should, have beaten France. In the end poor kicking and a missed attempted drop goal by skipper Sergio Parisse cost them the game, 23-21.
It really does seem like the number eight captain feels like he has to do it all by himself.