After what feels like just a few weeks away (and that’s because it has been), the English domestic rugby season is back with us, as the 2020/2021 Premiership kicked off with some really intriguing matchups. One of the most interesting was Leicester Tigers against Gloucester, which saw two teams who should be fighting at the top, but who have both fallen away from those places, face off at the newly-named Mattioli Woods Welford Road. In this tactical analysis, we will look at this game in more detail, analysing how Leicester Tigers showed improvement from the performances of previous seasons, displaying some really good tactics, as well as how Gloucester had some good parts, but were let down by errors throughout the match.
Leicester Tigers Gloucester
15. F. Steward 15. J. Woodward
14. K. Van Wyk 14. C. Sharples
13. J. Taute 13. B. Twelvetrees
12. G. Porter 12. M. Atkinson
11. H. Potter 11. M. Banahan
10. Z. Henry 10. D. Cipriani
9. R. Wigglesworth 9. J. Simpson
- F. Gigena 1. V. Rupava-Ruskin
- T. Youngs (c) 2. J. Hanson
- D. Cole 3. J. Stanley
- H. Wells 4. E. Slater
- C. Green 5. M. Garvey
- H. Liebenberg 6. J. Reid
- T. Reffell 7. L. Ludlow (c)
- J. Wiese 8. R. Ackermann
Leicester Tigers’ signs of improvement
Leicester Tigers are under new leadership this season, with club legend Geordan Murphy departing in the last couple of weeks, and former England assistant Steve Borthwick taking full control of the team, having been jointly in charge with Murphy at the end of last season. We were expecting there to be some changes to the team’s attacking and defensive tactics, but we perhaps weren’t prepared for how much better they would look overall in just their first game with him in sole charge.
One area we have criticised Leicester for in recent seasons has been how teams have been able to break them down so easily. However, in the image below, we can see how they were organised at the back, and Gloucester couldn’t find many spaces to get through them.
Here, we can see how Leicester were talking to each other, ensuring that they were all working together and leaving no gaps in the line. We can also see from their body positions, particularly on the near side, that they were ready for this game, wanting to close their opponents down at every opportunity. We saw some signs of this at the end of last season, but not enough to make an impact.
In attack, there were many more obvious tactical alterations, with one being their desire to move the ball around the pitch much quicker, rather than making short passes that gain little ground and allow opponents to get up and tackle them.
Here, fly-half Zack Henry, who was excellent throughout the game, has looked to play the ball out towards centre Jaco Taute. The long pass, missing out the two shorter passing options in between, shows this intent from Leicester to attack with more urgency and passing speed.
The reason they wanted to make this particular pass was because of the enormous space open on the wings. Winger Kobus Van Wyk is on the far side, in the second yellow square, helping to make the pitch as big as possible, which makes it harder for Gloucester to close the ball down. He ends up getting the ball here, and was a constant threat throughout, and this quick movement of the ball was clearly something that Steve Borthwick had worked on ahead of this season, looking to get his team playing on the front foot much more. Gloucester’s defence is all on one side in this situation, but this is because it comes directly after a scrum, so we can’t criticise them too much for this. However, it does show the speed with which Leicester moved the ball across the pitch quickly, and this is something we will hopefully see more of as the season goes on.
This newfound speed and confidence on the ball came down to an increased level of creativity in the central areas of the pitch, mainly through Henry. Here, he is in the yellow circle, again offloading the ball to Taute. This example shows again how Leicester’s quick thinking and spatial awareness ensured they had plenty of attacking opportunities and controlled the game.
We can see from the red line how Gloucester had looked to close off the space here, but a gap has been created between two players, allowing Leicester to get through and behind them. This is because one player has stayed back with the rest of the line, and another has come forward to tackle the Leicester fly-half, as we can see. This lack of communication is one reason that they struggled last season, so it is something they need to address.
What Leicester did that was very clever was to get their quicker players working together, almost as a partnership; Henry and Taute in these last two images were a good example of this. This run from the South African through the Gloucester line, after receiving the well-timed offload from Henry, eventually led to a try from debutant experienced scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth, so it shows how having quick players with the ability to get through these gaps helped Leicester, and could be something that other teams will need to look out for this season. Here, it was a reason that Gloucester lost the game, particularly when out of possession and having to defend against Leicester’s pacey attackers.
We have looked at Leicester in possession, but they were just as good out of possession as well. Throughout the game, Leicester looked to give Gloucester as little space as possible, forcing them to clear the ball quickly and make mistakes in doing so. Here, Gloucester fly-half Danny Cipriani has chased back to pick the loose ball up just in front of his try line, clearing it into touch. However, he doesn’t manage to kick it as far as he would normally have wanted to, thanks to the pressure being applied by Taute, Wigglesworth, prop Dan Cole and flanker Tommy Reffell, who have all got up to close him down.
Whilst this will go down as one of many mistakes made by Gloucester in this game, we can see how Leicester forced them into making it. This was a key feature of the match, and a reason Gloucester struggled to create too many clear-cut attacking moves. From Leicester’s point of view, the fact that all four players in this chase are from different positions shows how the Tigers have been working on this tactic, ensuring that they are a more attacking side this year. This is therefore another way in which they will cause problems for their opponents this season.
This section has looked at how, despite it only being the first game, Leicester Tigers were showing that they could be a force to be reckoned with this season, with some good defending and well-worked attacking tactics on display. However, whilst we have now analysed their performance, we need to look at Gloucester’s as well.
Despite ultimately losing the game, Gloucester actually had their own good moments, although these were few and far between.
We can see here how centre Mark Atkinson, who is one of Gloucester’s most important players, has got up the pitch, along with Billy Twelvetrees, the Cherry and Whites’ other centre. Atkinson, who is in the first red circle nearest to us, dummies the pass to Twelvetrees before trying to run through the Leicester defence, but doesn’t manage to advance too far. This shows how the Cherry and Whites were trying things, but just couldn’t find any space to make them work. There had been a scrum just before this, so Leicester had managed to stop Gloucester’s attack with less players in this area than normal, which highlights their newfound defensive organisation in these situations.
One player on debut for Gloucester was Australian flanker Jordy Reid, who proved to be a handful in the second half. Here, we see how he has gained some space on the nearside wing, and is making a run through the middle of two Leicester players. Gloucester didn’t ask many questions of Leicester in the first half, but Reid’s increased involvement helped them to pose more problems, and his advances forwards made a difference for the away side. In this situation, he offloaded to winger Matt Banahan, in the red square in this image, who had crossed over onto the inside of Reid by the time the pass came to him, and this attack eventually led to a Gloucester try. Therefore, we can see how Reid’s passing ability, speed and spatial awareness will all be crucial to Gloucester’s hopes of having a strong season.
We have seen how Leicester were able to stop Gloucester, but we hadn’t seen their defence under any massive pressure, thanks to the Cherry and Whites not offering a massive threat initially. However, with Reid making these runs, finding spaces and linking up play, Leicester suddenly had more to think about, and the fact that they conceded a try shows that they aren’t quite there yet in terms of fixing the problems we have seen in the last few seasons from them.
However, despite the positives we have just looked at, Gloucester ultimately lost the game because they made too many mistakes. This was a big problem in their game last season, and something they will really need to look at very quickly if they want to get back to the top of the table.
A major area that went wrong for them was in mauls, after the lineout had been won or lost. We can see here that referee Jack Makepeace has his arm stretched out, signalling an advantage for Leicester, and this was a constant problem for Gloucester. This particular maul was the result of a lineout, kicked out from a Leicester penalty, and Tigers captain and hooker Tom Youngs eventually scored a try from this team attack forwards. Due to Leicester piling on the pressure and getting the majority of their players into these mauls, Gloucester just couldn’t get going with them. Their defence was iffy at times last season, and looked shaky at stages of this game too, so it is clear that they lack confidence in it at the moment.
Another area that Gloucester struggled with was handling, and a lot of errors were conceded in this area of the game.
In the example above, scrum-half Joe Simpson, who didn’t have his best game, is looking to catch the ball, but ends up dropping it. The arrows show how he is being closed down by Dan Cole and centre Guy Porter, which links back to the pressure Leicester were putting on their opponents when the ball was with them, particularly in their half, and Simpson ends up dropping the ball here under this pressure. This helped Leicester to keep control of the game, and ensured that, again, Gloucester couldn’t get anything going when in possession.
This is another example of a handling error from the Cherry and Whites. Here, full-back Jason Woodward has looked to catch a pass from substitute fly-half Lloyd Evans, but the New Zealander again struggles to catch it and gives away a knock-on. Therefore, from a situation where Gloucester had moved the ball into a good area, their progress up the field was again halted by a handling error. When a team is looking to cause their opponents problems, they have to be good with the ball, otherwise they will simply hand their opponents easy penalties; that is exactly what happened in this game. It wasn’t just one or two either; from the penalty conceded from this knock-on, Gloucester then gave away another penalty straight afterwards, so it contributed to a lack of momentum from them overall.
In conclusion, both sides struggled last season, and needed to get off to a good start in this match. However, it was Leicester Tigers who made the better start to the season, playing some really good rugby and showing that they may have started to turn the corner and rise back up the table again. There are still some areas to sort out, such as the defence when it is under pressure, but they will be very pleased with this result and, more importantly, the good performance. Gloucester, on the other hand, have a lot to think about. Although they had a few good moments, overall it wasn’t a good day for them, and the individual errors and huge penalty concession count will be key areas of concern to work on ahead of their next game.