It has not been a happy time for Leicester Tigers and their fans in the last few seasons, but things might finally be looking up for them again. After chopping and changing head coaches over the last years, they seem to now have a partnership which could bring the good times back to Welford Road. Club legend Geordan Murphy has been promoted to Director of Rugby, whilst the highly-rated England assistant coach Steve Borthwick was appointed as the new head coach in his position.
So far, it has been a slow start for the Tigers since the Premiership began again, but in this midweek game, against London Irish, there were signs that the Tigers might finally be turning a corner. In this article, we will look at what those good signs were, and we will also analyse the areas where Leicester need to continue to improve on.
Beginning this analysis with the positives, it was clear that Leicester have been working hard on their tactics, and some of their new signings have made their mark on the team. In this image, we can see how their defence is now more organised in a high-pressure situation.
Whilst London Irish will not be the toughest opponents that Leicester will face this season, they do still have dangerous players. Winger Ollie Hassell-Collins has been one of the standout young players in the league, captain and flanker Blair Cowan has some of the best statistics in the league, and their centre partnership of Curtis Rona and Terrence Hepetema can cause plenty of problems for opposing defences.
Here, though, we see how Leicester managed to shut them out, stopping them from scoring a try. For several phases in this situation, the Exiles were desperately trying to get forward, but every attempt brought them no extra ground, because Leicester were resolute and strong, and tackled well. You can see how the Tigers’ defence is concentrated well in the area where the ball is, and that meant they could quickly smother any attempts by Irish to move forward.
This sort of defending, and the fact that it led to an eventual Leicester penalty for a London Irish knock-on, will give them huge confidence going forward, because their defending has been one of the main problems in the last couple of seasons. It wasn’t at it’s best here, but it was certainly better than it has been, and that is a big improvement that Steve Borthwick has made to the team.
We can see another example of their newfound defensive capabilities here. They are lined up in a diagonal formation, matching the Exiles’ attacking line, and this always gives the defence an advantage, because the attackers can’t advance forwards with the ball, due to the lack of space in front of them.
However, we can also see in the image how London Irish winger Tom Parton, in the blue circle, has the ball, and is looking to move it out to the wing. Leicester force him to make this pass quicker than he would perhaps like to, because two of their players close him down, as the green arrows show. One of these players is forward Luke Wallace, who has been really impressive on his return to the Premiership during the break. Wallace always seems to be where he needs to be, and that has been another big positive for Leicester.
Here, he helps to ensure Irish lose time on the ball, and it works. Once Parton offloads the ball to Blair Cowan, the Irish captain is put under pressure, and ends up knocking the ball forwards for another Leicester penalty. Therefore, we can see already how Leicester’s defensive tactics have been improved, and they are now on the front foot much more, closing opponents down rather than waiting for them to advance towards them.
One of the more notable signings that the Tigers made during the break was former Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo, who is a player known for his speed and size, and who has a great try-scoring ability. He has brought a presence to Welford Road on the pitch, which is something that they have been missing and haven’t had for a while. Leicester’s other wingers are or have been quick, but often haven’t been able to fight off tackle attempts by opposing players. Nadolo, as you can see here, does have this ability.
In this image, he has made a run down the line with the ball, and has fended off two tackle attempts. Whilst he was signed when England winger Jonny May was still at the club, he does look to be a like-for-like replacement for the now Gloucester winger, but with added strength, which is just what Leicester need. Based on his performance in this game, he will definitely be a player spearheading any charge Leicester do make up the table in the coming seasons.
The last positive is another attacking one, which you can see in this image.
Here, we see how Leicester are in possession on the far side of the pitch, and are passing the ball out to the wing. Normally, the player in possession, who happens to be South African centre Jaco Taute here, would play the ball backwards, as the yellow arrow shows. This then slows down the attack, and means Leicester lose momentum. Taute, who is circled, wearing number 13, sees the run of Nadolo, and Steve Borthwick has obviously instructed his players to get the ball to the Fijian at the earliest opportunity and at every opportunity. Therefore, Taute makes the flatter pass towards the winger, as the green arrow shows. This takes out the Irish player in the middle of them, and gives Nadolo something to run onto.
This newfound urgency in possession means they are making longer passes across the pitch, taking half the time to get the ball from wing to wing. This is a huge positive, and means that, again, they are being more positive in possession, and have more confidence with the ball. This is something we haven’t seen from Leicester for a while, and could allow them to sneak a few more points here and there, which could be all they need to get going again.
Clearly, Steve Borthwick has made some positive changes to the Tigers’ play since his arrival, making them defensively stronger and more positive in attack.
However, whilst we can see these changes, we can also see that there are still a few things he needs to address, which we shall go into now.
The first is the communication between players when passing the ball down the line. Here, we see how England prop Ellis Genge has looked to pass the ball, but it has fallen short and hit the ground. This means that Leicester lost time in their attack, giving London Irish time to regroup and make an attempt to win the ball off them. This was only a minor thing, and we have seen how their communication was a lot better as the game went on, but this was one small example that showed that there is still more to be done to improve this part of their game.
A similar thing can be seen in this image, because Leicester have looked to move the ball out to the wing, and we have seen in the last section how this works and why they are doing it. However, here, it has not worked, because the pass is not accurate enough. The Tigers were looking to open up gaps with their quick passing, which was the right thing to do, but the yellow arrow shows us where it went wrong; the pass was made, but Nadolo, circled, had already advanced beyond it, meaning that the ball went into touch harmlessly and needlessly.
We can see what Leicester are trying to do, and there is nothing wrong with it, but they just need to work on communication, timing and accuracy of their passing, and these situations will begin to click even more. As we saw, as the game went on, they did get these moves right, so again, if they can make them better at the start, then they will give themselves more options in attack, which might get them a few more points and maybe some more wins.
The final image shows a defensive improvement they need to make. We can see how London Irish have the ball, and are looking to advance forwards with it. Leicester have a gap in their defence, as shown by the green line. This is a gap that Exiles centre Curtis Rona is now running through, and he did manage to gain some metres for his team before he was tackled and brought to the ground.
This shows that, whilst Leicester’s defence has improved, they can’t get complacent, because there are still small areas here and there where they need to ensure they don’t give opponents this kind of space to operate in. Rona did manage to offload to Irish’s other centre, Terrence Hepetema, before Leicester could get hold of the ball, and, whilst nothing came of this move, you can see how it could have hurt the Tigers.
In conclusion, we can see how Steve Borthwick has already made some noticeable improvements to Leicester Tigers’ play, and they do look a better side with him at the helm. However, there are still little moments that he would surely like to stamp out, as they have the potential to cost Tigers in key situations. We should also remember that this was a match against London Irish, and it only finished 13-7 to the home side. It wasn’t a great game, with both sides wasting good opportunities, and neither was clinical enough, but, after gaining their first win since the restart, the real test for Tigers and their new head coach will come when they face the teams at the top of the table. If they use some of these tactics, then they may be able to compete with those teams a little more.