Leeds Carnegie 28 - 17 Leicester
The Absolutely Worthless Cup, the Anglo-Welsh Cup or to give it its proper title the LV= Cup, is seen by many as an unwelcome addition to a season filled with fixtures. If any team believes this then I'm sure it's the Leicester Tigers. With the Guinness Premiership, Heineken Cup and their high profile match against South Africa to concern themselves with it was no surprise that the Tigers fielded a bunch of cubs against Leeds Carnegie, especially at a time when the majority of their first team is either away with the England squad or annoying the rehabilitation team. Well I say they fielded a team of cubs and it is mostly true, although Ben Kay did his best to increase the average age of the team by ten years.
The Tigers sharpen their claws
The Leeds twenty two was a mixture of youth and experience, academy players and a smattering of first team talent. However it was the teenage Tigers that started the brightest. In the opening ten minutes they passed the ball well and pressurised the Leeds line. Tigers scrum-half James Grindal almost replicated the guile of Wallabies' scrum-half Will Genia's try against England yesterday, when he plucked the ball from the breakdown five metres from the try line and almost had enough space to dart around the fringe and touch down. Luckily the Leeds defence held strong, and not long after debutant fly-half Joe Ford was able to put the first points on the scoreboard with a coolly taken kick from forty metres when Leicester were penalised at the scrum. Ford exchanged kicks with his younger brother George who was playing ten for Leicester, leaving the score with Leeds 6-3 up after sixteen minutes.
Both sides were playing very positive rugby, and Scott Mathie had an excellent game as starting scrum-half with his vision from the base of the scrum leading to the first Leeds try. The flowing locks of the nippy South African were given an airing when he carved out an arcing run, before offloading to an athletic Rhys Oakley who timed his pass perfectly to put Ford in at the corner. 11-3 after Ford pushed the conversion across the face of the posts.
Leicester weren't convincing at the line out and throughout the first half they were consistently pinged at the breakdown. With ten minutes remaining in the first half Leeds scored an excellent team try. They worked the ball out wide though several sets of hands until it reached Scott Armstrong on the wing who scorched over for an impressive score. Joe Ford slotted the conversion to take the score to 18-3.
In a final flourish to the first half, Scott Mathie took a quick tap penalty deep inside the Leicester twenty two, leaving the entire Tigers side frozen like statues as he raced under the posts. Ford easily converted the score in front of the posts to end the half on 25-3.
The second half began and once again the it was the youthful Tigers that stormed out the blocks and played some free-flowing rugby to pressurise the Leeds line. Happily the Leeds defence held strong again, although not for long as Alex Moreno was sent for a ten minute rest in the sin bin after repeatedly getting penalised. Leicester took advantage of the extra man as they drove over for their first try. George Ford added the conversion. 25-10 to Leeds.
Leeds soon extended their lead once again as Leicester were penalised for holding on in front of the posts. Joe Ford kicked the points. 28-10 to Leeds.
Another free kick won at the scrum
At twenty two minutes to go, Big Mac aka Mike MacDonald took to the field for the first time this season just before the Leeds sin-bin fitted a revolving door: Moreno's ten minutes lapsed just as Calum Clark was yellow-carded for slowing the release of the ball. If I'm honest from where I was standing it looked like Clark was playing the ball on his feet, but not according to referee Sean Davey. In fact, I think Davey must have put his contact lenses in the wrong way round at half time, as the next ten minutes saw him miss a whole host of Leicester knock ons and started to gift the Midlands side a series of mystery penalties.
Unsurprisingly this led to a period of pressure from the Tigers. Try scoring hero from Friday night's game against South Africa, Lucas Amorosino came close to scoring a try, before offloading to Ben Kay who nearly powered over. In the end the Leeds scrum disintegrated and a Henry Paul missed tackle allowed Tigers wing Will Hurrell to force his way over next to the posts. George Ford converted with the final score of the game to take the total to 28-17.
There are quite a few positives for Leeds to take out of this game, along with a couple of yellow-coloured negatives. Fly-half Joe Ford linked up well with Scott Mathie and displayed his skills with some solid place kicking and good tactical awareness which won him the man of the match award. Mathie turned in a sparky and impressive performance at fly half and helped the young fly-half in bossing the game - maybe mentor Andy Gomersall has been rubbing off on him - although hopefully not literally...
Apart from his sin-binning I thought that Calum Clark had a good game, and once again Leeds were excellent at the breakdown. Bad news for Leeds was the early injury to hooker Phil Nilsen, which is worrying as there is little cover at number two with Rawlinson and Freer recovering from injury.
Overall it was a much more convincing performance from an improving Leeds Carnegie side. I know the Tigers fielded a team of youngsters but Leeds can only play the team put out in front of them. Even though the LV= Cup might be seen as the equivalent of the Johnstones Paints trophy in the footballing world for the scant amount of prestige it holds, on the plus side today it allowed Leeds to try a few combinations out, blood a few youngsters and as much as I hate to say it, build some winning momentum for when the serious business of the Guinness Premiership resumes in two weekend's time.