Saturday, 7 November 2009

Mighty Tigers Claw the Boks into Submission

Tonight, Guinness Premiership champions Leicester convincingly beat South Africa - you know, current World Cup champions and winners of the Tri Nations.  Not a bad night for Richard Cockerill's band of merry men from the East Midlands.

It could be argued that this wasn't as impressive a feat as it first might sound as the South Africa line up didn't include several of its biggest stars.  There was no John Smit, Bakkies Botha, Vicktor Matfield or 'The Beast' in the scrum, and the backline was deplete of the hoof of Morne Steyn and Bryan Habana to name only a couple of the stars that tormented the Lions this summer. 

However, the Tigers were missing six England internationals along half a dozen players who are out with long term injures.  Leicester haven't had the most convincing of starts in the Guinness Premiership this season, which I discussed in my earlier post Have the Tigers Lost Their Bite?  Well, if they looked like they'd lost their teeth a few weeks ago, they definitely sharpened their claws against the World Champions at a sell out Welford Road tonight.

Martin Castrogiovanni was a force to be reckoned with in the scrum, and time and time again the Boks were pushed backwards by the Tigers.  Until Castrogiovanni was substituted you could be mistaken for thinking that the Bok's scrum was stuck in reverse.

It's all about the hair:  Leicester's Samson, Martin Castrogiavanni

Scrum half Ben Youngs had a brilliant kicking game after scuffing his initial attempt on goal.  He banged over five penalties (including a couple of long range efforts) and a conversion, much to the delight of Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill who had a smile as wide as the Cheshire Cat plastered across his face.

Leicester captain Aaron Mauger had the best game I've seen from him in a long time as he led the Tigers from fly-half.  Outside him, Andy Forsyth and Manu Tuilagi (a mountain of a man, and still only eighteen) combined well in the centre partnership.  Tuilagi had a few trademark Family Tuilagi-style powerful runs and even tried his hand at hairdressing as he got to grips with the 70's afro of South Africa number eight Ashley Johnson.

Nice 'fro

It wasn't all Leicester though.  South Africa's Jongi Nokwe crossed the line after eight minutes, although Ruan Pienaar missed the conversion.  Ashley Johnson made a few dangerous breaks and  the Boks were a constant threat on the counter attack.  However, after Argentina international Lucas Amorosino crossed for the only Tigers try of the night with his head bobbling around like Paula Radcliffe, Youngs slotted the conversion and the Tigers were away, creating daylight with a series of penalty scores for Youngs.  Credit must be given to Tuilagi in the build up of this try, as he helped to create it with a deft offload which showed his surprisingly soft hands.

With twenty minutes remaining the scoreline was 22-11 to the Tigers, but the Boks weren't finished.  Pienaar reduced the Tigers' lead to 22-14 with fifteen minutes still on the clock, and after a missed attempt he was given an opportunity to redeem himself when the Tigers scrum was penalised for the first time - funnily enough, just as Castrogiavanni had taken a seat on the bench.

With the score tantalisingly poised on 22-17 and a few minutes on the clock, South Africa went through what seemed like thirty phases as they camped out in the Tigers' twenty two.  Fortunately an Odwa Ndungane knock on relieved the pressure and signalled the end of the game.  Cue a collective sigh of relief around Welford Road, quickly followed by the sound of 24,000 Leicester fans simultaneously cheering this historic victory.

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