Leicester Tigers 40 Scarlets 23: Four talking points as Tigers maul Welsh
The Tigers keep their European Champions Cup quarter-final dreams alive with a powerful bonus-point win
Tigers pack power to six-cess
Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill demanded maximum points from this match and he got his wish and some. Six tries when all you needed was four isn’t a bad night’s work, even in front of a passionate home crowd. The scoreline was emphatic, but the Tigers were far from perfect. Penalty count, metres allowed, tackles missed, defensive issues – even their lineout success was slightly off, losing two on their throw, but stealing three from the Scarlets. Plenty for Cockerill and his side to work on before they head to Ulster next week, but they will need to be far better to get close to a similar result at the Kingspan Stadium, even if Ulster’s hopes of qualification are snuffed out tomorrow by Toulon. England international Freddie Burns may have been given the reins at outside-half to get the ball moving quickly to options in the backs, but he could have brought a cushion and parked himself in the mud until he was required to knock over conversions from out wide. The tactics to build off the set-pieces were obvious fairly early. No kicking masterclasses from Cardiff Blues prop Adam Jones needed for this encounter. Efforts at the posts were spurned for lineouts and there was a touch of old-school ruthlessness about the execution. Catch, secure the base and power home. It may not be every rugby supporter’s brand of cheer, but there is something delicious about scores delivered with such chaotic choreography by the big men.
Spirited Scarlets fall short
The injury problems in the pack have been well-documented in recent weeks and the depletion was again a factor against one of the best set-pieces in the competition so far this season. On another day, the Scarlets could have won this one, but the loss of Wales international tighthead props Samson Lee and Rhodri Jones were critical. Peter Edwards may have been around a while, but he doesn’t offer the same dynamism in the loose and his scrummaging can be suspect. Loosehead prop Rob Evans was superb in open play and was the stand-out forward along with lock Jake Ball on a night that will be quickly put to bed in preparation for an equally massive test at home to Toulon next week. Academy hooker Ryan Elias tried his best, but inaccuracy at the lineout was costly against the well-drilled Tigers machine. He’s certainly a decent prospect for the future, but was always going to come unstuck on his European debut against a side boasting international class from Leonardo Ghiraldini and Tom Youngs. The backs, led admirably by Rhys Priestland, looked sharp going forward with wing Harry Robinson bagging a second-half brace, by which point the damage had already been done. The Scarlets have so often caused damage up front, but it was their backs producing the goods with first-half replacement Steven Shingler and Hadleigh Parkes both causing plenty of problems running at Leicester. There’s a lot more to come from Wayne Pivac’s men in the Guinness PRO12 if they can get players back and can cope with the Six Nations call-ups. Two heavy defeats on the road in succession may reflect bad, but considering what they’ve got to work with, there was a lot the West Walians can be proud of. It wasn’t too long ago they almost turned over the Ospreys at the Liberty Stadium against the odds.
Forwards give England selection dilemma
All coaches get stick for having their “favourites”, so it’ll be interesting to see Stuart Lancaster’s starting XV for England’s Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff. The Tigers boys have made his selection that much harder. Hooker Tom Youngs was immense when he came off the bench early in the second half, grabbing two tries in five minutes in the process, and his arrows giving the Tigers a solid base from which to drive the Scarlets back towards and over their tryline. He could pose a useful alternative to Dylan Hartley, who has an ongoing issue with discipline after his latest ban, which Lancaster will have to negate. Lock Geoff Parling was imperious at the set-piece and in contact on his way to bagging the man of the match award and on form has a good case for inclusion in England’s second row. Following his earlier than expected introduction, Graham Kitchener was sin-binned late in the first half, which allowed the Scarlets briefly back into the match, but he can offer mitigation that he was the victim of penalty accumulation and played his part in securing lineout ball. As far as the lineout goes, there aren’t many better options in English rugby than Parling and his back row colleague Tom Croft, who put in an equally impressive all-round shift, and Lancaster could be swayed if they produce a similar high level in Belfast against Ulster next weekend.
Priestland cements legendary status
He is much-maligned by some Welsh rugby supporters for his performances in a Wales shirt of late, but the Scarlets outside-half has been quietly going about his business for the West Walians and doing a decent job for them in what will be his last season in Llanelli before a surprise move to Bath. In the match that all but ensured the Scarlets won’t make the quarter-finals, Priestland has overtaken former Scarlets, Wales and British and Irish Lions outside-half Stephen Jones as the region’s top points-scorer with his two successful penalty goals taking him to 1,067, three points ahead of Jones, who this week announced he would be returning to the region for a second time, albeit as backs coach. Whether Priestland achieves the success he craves in English rugby is another matter, and a move back to West Wales could always be a possibility, as it was for Jones after two seasons in France where he impressed at Clermont Auvergne. Some still overlook his efforts in leading Wales to the semi-finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but Priestland’s importance to the region cannot be understated and for the foreseeable future, at least, he is their record points-scorer.