The opening round of 2017-18 Aviva Premiership fixtures has thrown up some pulsating clashes. The 27-23 away win for Bath at rivals Leicester was just another to add to that list. Here are five things we learned.
Manu Tuilagi still plays with linear vision
Manu Tuilagi must be a frustrating player to share a field with sometimes. The Tigers number 13 is a devastating runner – and one who has the ability to flick pass with the best of them – but sometimes he gets so one-dimensional in his play that it costs Leicester points.
This happened halfway through the first half of this match as Tuilagi bombed a try with his poor decision making in space. All the hard running outside centre had to do was straighten his line and make a quick pass to set the Tigers up with a 2 on 1 out wide and an almost certain try. Instead, Tuilagi barreled into his opposing number right on the try line and attempt to fire the pass out of the back door when he made contact. The result was the ball dropping to the ground and the Tigers leaving five easy points on the table.
Intercept tries are a deflating blow
George Ford probably couldn’t have imagined a worse outcome when he threw a pass intended for Telusa Veainu with around six minutes to go until half time. Ford was under pressure from Jonathan Joseph, but the pass was never on as it was read by Semesa Rokoduguni who intercepted the ball and raced the length of the pitch to score a try to put the visitors up 21-8 going into the break.
There is just something about an intercept try like that which is mentally very difficult to come back from. It is a killer blow when you are attacking one try line to suddenly be an extra seven points behind on the scoreboard. Leicester came back in the second half well, but their energy was sucked out by this try until Bath had issues of their own late in the game.
Playing with 13 men is difficult
Time for the most obvious observation of the day, but playing with rugby league numbers on a rugby union pitch is never a good way to hunt for success. This game was over as a contest and Bath was cruising towards a victory before a host of disciplinary mistakes by the visitors almost allowed the Tigers to sneak the win.
Bath had three players sin-binned in the second half – two concurrently as Kahn Fotuali’i, Matt Garvey, and Matt Banahan, all saw yellow for various offences. This allowed Leicester to exploit the extra space on the pitch, scoring tries in the 72nd and 77th minutes, before time ran out on them as they pushed for a win. Getting a yellow card is easier than ever in the current tackling climate while playing down one man (let alone two) is more difficult as teams look to play fast and exploit space.
Jonny May will be a big player for Leicester
Jonny May may not have seen much space over the first 70 or so minutes of this contest, but the former Gloucester man showed during the last 10 minutes that he is an electric finisher.
His first try was anything but easy as she showed outstanding upper body strength to burst through a gap between two Bath tacklers before almost being held up by Anthony Watson over the try line. The sidestep May used to find the space to score was the kind of natural movement you just can’t teach.
His second was a much more straightforward effort as the Tigers rolled through almost 20 phases in the shadow of the Bath goalposts before spinning the ball wide for May to dive over. His ability to score points – a natural winger instinct if you will – is going to be vital for Leicester as the season grows.
This game came down to one failed set piece execution
How many times do you think Leicester has practised its line-out in the lead up to this season? 200? 500? 1000?
Whatever the number it just wasn’t enough. The Tigers had this game at their mercy after Banahan was yellow carded with a second remaining. A kick to the corner had Leicester just 10 metres from the Bath line against a unit that was dead on its feet after all the tackling it had been through over the previous 20 minutes. All it would have taken was a solid line-out – not even an extravagant play – and then methodical phase play until the numbers advantaged (it was 15 vs 13 again) told in their favour.
Instead, the line-out went wrong. the ball was thrown to the middle and the jumper/lifters never clicked like intended. The ball went forward, straight to the Bath player – and all Rhys Priestland had to do was hammer the ball into touch for a hard-fought victory.
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