Inside the Tigers’ Den - Luck on Leicester’s side as they hit top four

Leicester Tigers centre Dan Bowden. Tiger Images
Leicester Tigers centre Dan Bowden. Tiger Images

An age-old saying in sport is beware a team who are still winning when they are playing badly.

Tigers were much improved on Saturday and at times played some great attacking rugby, using their forward power to batter Irish into submission but they are still far from their best.

Leicester Tigers flanker Julian Salvi. Tiger Images

Leicester Tigers flanker Julian Salvi. Tiger Images

There was a huge degree of luck in Leicester’s 20-15 victory at the Madejski Stadium on Sunday as the hosts should have stolen the result in the last minute when they crossed the line, only for the video referee to confirm they had knocked it on in the final pick and go.

Leicester were in a winning position after tries from Ben Youngs, Logovi’i Mulipola and Vereniki Goneva and five points from the boot of Owen Williams.

The result means that Leicester have moved into the vital fourth spot in the Aviva Premiership, leapfrogging Harlequins who lost to Gloucester.

It also means that despite criticism of their form, Tigers remain unbeaten in the league in 2014, having scrapped with sides fighting it out for survival at the bottom and playing with play-off ambitions.

The London Irish side Leicester faced on Sunday were not the poor side their 10th spot in the table would suggest but a resurgent side who came into the fixture off the back of wins over Saracens and London Wasps.

Their varied and exciting attack, with Australian international James O’Connor at its heart, is a challenge for even the best-drilled defences in the league and so it proved at the weekend.

However, Leicester did restrict them to only scoring five penalties through O’Connor’s boot.

Undoubtedly the most valuable thing to come out of the game was the four points to move into the top four but there were also a number of players who excelled.

Ben Youngs, while still off his best form, looked much more like the Lions scrum half of old.

His passing was much improved and he looked sharper all round, typified by his try to open the scoring, darting in on the blindside from close range after he had marshalled the forwards well to make the hard yards.

Mat Tait, back from injury again, looked imperious in broken play going forwards.

With opposite number O’Connor putting on a show for the hosts and Mike Brown earning man of the match plaudits for England at Twickenham it was a kindly reminder that former international Tait is still amongst the very best and most dangerous in the English game.

The backs sparkled at times on Sunday with late replacement Dan Bowden prominent throughout.

The former London Irish centre came into the side when Anthony Allen dropped out of the match after the warm-up with a sore knee.

And Bowden, who has not been able to nail down a regular starting spot at Leicester, took the opportunity to punish his former side.

He broke the Irish line all afternoon and quite literally upended opponents running down his channel.

Owen Williams, in for dropped club captain Toby Flood who had to make do with a place on the bench, was also assured during his time on the pitch.

In the forwards, Ed Slater led well in his first game as skipper and the incredible Julian Salvi put in another world class performance.

The Australian flanker is one of the few players in the Tigers’ ranks not to have international caps but week in week out he is the club’s most influential player.

Leicester’s director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “It was a bit frustrating that it was tight and nerve-jangling at the end, but it is a good win away from home.

“Across the board I thought we were good. We deserved to win. It was by a small margin at the end but we created a lot of chances and scored three tries to nil.

“The forwards’ work was outstanding, we controlled field position really well and we were good value for the win.

“The performance can be better at times, but it is a good result and the boys can be pleased with their day’s work.

“We gave away too many penalties, our discipline was not as good as it should be, but it was a pleasing win.

“Now we’re in the top four with seven games to go. There is a lot of rugby still to come and we have to play a lot of the teams around us.

“We’ve been through a tough patch and we have to recover now and try to do the same at Newcastle next weekend.

“We won’t get ahead of ourselves and we’ve got a tough run-in but we will go out to play as hard as we can and see where it takes us.”