Aviva Premiership – 29 December, 2012
Leicester 17 – Gloucester 12
That Glaws came away with a LBP was the biggest highway robbery since Dick Turpin got hoisted up on the Knavesmire. This was a rugby match for the purist rather than those who just want tries, and I thought it was an enthralling contest – just what the AP is all about, and the answer for the muppets who’d like rugby to be a summer game!
Leicester should have won this by a country mile, and the fact that they didn’t was down to their incompetence, and Gloucester’s indomitable spirit. It was not, repeat NOT, in any way down to referee Andrew Small’s officiating – he was utterly consistent, and he kept the lid on a match that could have boiled over at any point. He was good, and for Richard Cockerill to suggest otherwise proves that the old rugby tenet, ‘the losers always whinge’ doesn’t always hold true: sometimes the winners whinge too.
Let’s not beat about the bush: the Gloucester scrum was an embarrassment, to the club, to the players, and to the fans. I have rarely seen a pack so utterly humiliated at the scrum – I counted 7 penalties in the first 30 minutes. It was so bad that Small might just as well have awarded the Tigers a penalty and simply missed the scrums out on the basis that they were a mismatch – if it had been boxing he’d have stopped the contest.
Others will have a better insight into why it went so disastrously wrong, but for what it’s worth (probably not very much as I’ve never been anywhere near a front row), here’s my two pennysworth. Shaun Knight is a young man and he was cruelly exposed by the infinitely much more experienced Ayerza, but it seemed to me that there was a lot more going on. Leicester consistently seemed to have an eight-man shove, whereas our much-vaunted big back-row didn’t seem to be adding as much as their 51 stones should have done.
I accept that the Tigers were very good, but despite that we should have done better. Just as I was always convinced that we’d never win anything of note with Lawson R. as our 9, I know that we won’t be able to face up to the top Heineken Cup packs next year unless our coaches get a grip on the scrum. As an aside, maybe Rupert Harden has been playing better than some of us thought – we missed him in this game.
Now to our half-backs. No 9 and 10 in the world would have shone behind that scrum, and ours were no exception to that rule. Freddie did well overall (had he been playing for Tigers they’d have been out of sight by half-time), but some of his decision making was a bit exposed – it was his over-adventurous pass that led to AA’s try. That can be fixed with experience – I just hope that Hingerland don’t try to knock the flair out of him.
Cowan is already a scapegoat for some – it’s the Glaws way I guess! Did he make mistakes? Yes. Would Robson have done better than Cowan in the first half? No, no, no! The scrum was in disarray and going backwards quicker than Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, and Cowan held things together pretty well. He also adds in other ways too, and for me he starts next week unless ND decides he needs a rest, or that LI are so bad he can afford to field a weakened side. There is a world of difference between an eye-catching 20-minute cameo, and 60 minutes against a rampant Tigers in the mud at Welford Road!
On the plus side, our defence was heroic, as it has been in recent weeks – most sides would have cracked, and Glaws didn’t, and might even have snatched a draw or win in the dying seconds. It was inspiring stuff, and a credit to the players’ fitness – they are much fitter than before, and it shows in the closing stages of games.
We matched the Tigers at the breakdown – takes some doing – and we defended against the rolling maul much better, which suggests some serious work on the training ground.
Reflections on a few individual performances: it was good to see Charlie play really well. A couple of his catches reminded me of the amazing one in the LV= Cup final of a couple of seasons ago, and his decision making was much better than against Ex when he was clearly trying too hard.
For a bright man, Will James does some stupid things. Big Jim may be a leader, but as a lock we will cope when he goes, and I’d take Parling in a flash, although I doubt it will happen. I’m wary of saying it because it could easily be misunderstood, but you have to worry about Q and K in conditions like the ones we had for this game. Neither of them really shone, and for periods were invisible – had he not been banned, Haze was our man at 7, as he’d have relished the battle. They are big lads and should be adding more oomph to the scrum than they did – perhaps a bit less hanging on to the scrum and a bit more pushing might be in order? In contrast, Ben Morgan was magnificent.
Unfair to kick a man when he’s down, but here goes anyway. Martyn Thomas hasn’t impressed at any stage this season, and it’s hard to imagine anything other than that he’ll be moving on. Sad for him, but it’s a hard business, and so far he’s subtracting from the whole rather than adding.
Twelvetrees and Tinds are superb in the mud. Strong, committed and very organised – with different starting centres I believe we would have lost.
A word on the Welford Road crowd: they are as one-eyed, unknowledgeable, and just plain daft as the Kingsholm crowd. The Shed sings ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’, and the Tigers crowd boos – both are as barmy as each other, and generally wrong about 90% of the time! I love Welford Road because it’s a proper old-fashioned rugby ground, and because the place doesn’t need artificial aids to drum up an atmosphere – it also proves that a lack of knowledge about the Laws is no inhibitor to enjoyment. They are just like us in many, many ways, and with this squad we might start to match some of their achievements.
However unjust it was, this was a valuable and hard-earned LBP for Glaws, and we’re not that far off being right up there in the AP. Irish next, and they were pretty good against Quins in the Big Game (I’d love it if we could go to a packed Twickenham one year, as it looked like a cracking day out, despite the mascots, dancing girls and dodgy bands). To those thinking that will be an easy game, remember they were much better than us for 60 minutes at the Madjeski, and are clearly getting better. Hopefully we’ll field a full-strength side and five points would be just what the doctor ordered.