Match Analysis: Leicester Tigers vs Wasps
With Joe Simpson celebrating his Sestercentennial appearance and Mat Tait announcing his immediate retirement after losing his battle to overcome a career-ending achilles tendon injury earlier this week, yesterday's all-Midlands clash was a day of note for all in attendance
A day marked by honouring two club legends both (very recently) past and present fell short of supplying the prestige performance behoving 250-time Wasp Joe Simpson and 36-times-capped, 143-time Tiger Mat Tait. With Simpson celebrating his Sestercentennial appearance and Tait announcing his immediate retirement after losing his battle to overcome a career-ending achilles tendon injury, yesterday's all-Midlands clash was a day of note for all in attendance.
It would be Tait's former teammates to rubberstamp the day with a victory, scrapping it out in a determined showing that, while lacking in accuracy or the high standards set at times in 2019, possessed every chance to serve as a crucial springboard for their final season run in and the hopes of securing Champions Cup rugby next season and a potential Premiership playoff spot this May. Joe Ford - older brother of England's George - claimed a Man Of The Match performance for his efforts, claiming all 19 of Leicester's points at Welford Road with one self-converted try and four penalties; enough to stifle two tries from Wasps and former England Sevens wing Marcus Watson, brother of England's Anthony.
Dai Young's visitors looked ready to claim the bragging rights over their local rivals in the first-half an hour, with handling errors and a handful of fluffed lines and knock-ons within Leicester heartland. Alas, aside from a frantic final fifteen minutes, Young's charges went on to rue missed opportunities and lack of discipline. By the time JP Doyle called time yesterday afternoon, the final penalty count was 6-15 in Leicester's favour.
While there is no doubting the resilience displayed by Geordan Murphy's men when forced to play with Wales fullback/wing Jonah Holmes at scrum-half and 22-year-old openside flanker Will Evans on the left wing. With both of the Tigers' matchday scrum-halves, Ben White and Sam Harrison, forced from the field with head injuries and much the same for Welsh centre Gareth Owen - the latter of whom could be seen retching on the side-lines following his head knock and immediate removal - Leicester's 6-2 bench split came back to bite them in potentially disastrous fashion. Fortunately for the five-times league champions, Wasps arrived at Welford Road bereft of key players and in possession of a desultory mindset.
Even with fullback Rob Miller stationed at fly-half and the withdrawal of Welsh international flanker Thomas Young within the fifth minute, Wasps were not short of attacking opportunities and are showing signs of life after being served a bum hand over the last two years when it comes to injuries, unexpected international call-ups and player retirement/departure. Key to any such momentum was Springbok flanker-come-hooker and skipper Ashley Johnson who, in the absence of England paring Joe Launchbury and Nathan Hughes, identified lighter defenders and weaker tacklers to drag Wasps into the game. Although, unfortunately for the 32-year-old South African, the vast majority of his exciting breaks were followed up with handling errors and the familiar sight of unforced turnover ball in the East Midlands yesterday.
While Young firmly believed his side did enough to win this weekend and felt "robbed" of a vital victory on the road after Biyi Alo's 80th minute, potential last-gasp match-winning score was ruled out, neither side was close to even 60% of their potential this weekend.
The return to fitness of Jimmy Gopperth and Lima Sopoaga cannot come soon enough for Young and co, while both sides will also benefit from the return of their England stars. With a serious lack of clear direction and accuracy from all involved yesterday, Elliot Daly, Joe Launchbury, Nathan Hughes, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Manu Tuilagi and Jonny May will be welcome additions to each squad following the culmination of the 2019 Six Nations.
Wasps will have to turn up the heat if they endeavour to claim a fourth consecutive year of playoff rugby, while Tigers will have to fully focus on shedding the company of Bristol and Worcester at the lower end of the table and skirting dangerously close to the hotly contested relegation battle.