Leicester’s European tour continues! Champions Cup leg two match ahead

Leicester’s European tour continues!
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Leicester’s European tour has already seen them travel to difficult away venues to play tricky and stern opponents, yet come away with a victory. Last Sunday saw them face one of the toughest tests in club rugby as they took on Clermont Auvergne in the bearpit of a stadium that is the Parc Des Sports Marcel Michelin. Many a team has travelled there in hope, only to be dispatched by the home team, roared on by a raucous home support. Not so for this Tigers side.

They came away with a 29-10 victory, that could and really should have been a bigger margin of victory. As a result, Leicester’s European tour continues to make fans dream of what could be possible, in a season that is becoming more remarkable each week.

To continue the tour of European venues and opposition lays in their own hometown support to confirm the clubs’ place in the draw. Sights on the 2021/22 Heineken Champions Cup final in June.

Round of 16 (second leg) – Leicester v Clermont Auvergne. Saturday, April 16, Welford Road

Young players stand out in strong performance

What was so impressive from Leicester in their dismantling of Clermont was how it was their younger players that really stood up and help drive the strong performance. Senior players such as Ellis Genge, Julian Montoya, and Callum Green were brilliant [as always], with both Genge and Montoya being amongst the try-scorers.

However, it was the likes of Ollie Chessum, Tommy Reffell, Jack Van Poortvliet (see main photo), and Freddie Steward amongst others, that all shone for the Tigers. Steward impressively had a great game despite a thunderous tackle on him in the early stages of the game. Included is one aptly named, Harry Potter.

Sunday afternoon showcased what is so impressive about Leicester – their lack of fear, their maturity and their high levels of talent amongst their younger players. They were certainly not cowed by the experience of playing in such an atmosphere, more they excelled and looked at home on these big stages. In addition, they get through a mountain of work.

Joe Heyes in the front row for example, showcased why the injury to Dan Cole has not had the negative impact one might think, making tackle after tackle. Dan Kelly showed that his non-selection for England duty for the 6 Nations was a mistake, with his distribution being of the highest quality.

Leicester’s European Tour this season has been built on the good work of their younger players who have shone brightly, no matter the opposition. What is exciting for Leicester fans in that these players are all under 24. Indeed some have only just turned 20, yet here they are playing like experienced veterans. If Tigers can manage the situation properly, then that is their next 10 years sorted, leaving it open to the imagination as to what this group could go on and achieve.

Tigers’ game plan hits the spot in Leg One

When Leicester played away at Bordeaux before Christmas, it was striking how well they followed their game plan, and how they had done their research on Bordeaux ahead of choosing that strategy. It was again similar on Sunday afternoon, as Tigers methodically wore Clermont down before eventually just taking them apart.

With George Ford at 10, they have one of the best game managers in the business, a role that took on extra importance given the withdrawal of Ben Youngs before the game due to sickness. However Youngs’ replacement Jack Van Poortvliet was supreme and with Ford, showcased an array of kicking that allowed Tigers to get the control in the game they so desperately crave. Both half-backs were assured in their kicking, as they both employed clever chips to turn the defence and pin them back.

Ford was also happy to keep the ball on the pitch more often than not, backing his team’s superior fitness to come good against their opponents.

It was also noticeable the tempo that Leicester played at. Repeatedly they would employ a quick line out using their players in the backfield, as well as when throwing in from the touchline. As soon as the forwards were at the line out, the ball was thrown in ensuring Leicester could keep the ball moving and allow them to move the large but slightly immobile Clermont pack around, again using their superior fitness levels to gain the dominance they wanted.

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It was a tactic that paid off handsomely, as come the final 10 minutes of the game, it was Leicester who were firmly camped inside the Clermont 22, trying to inflict greater damage over their opponents. Remarkably so, as Leicester were down to 14 men by that point; after the Guy Porter red card. A real demonstration of the good work that Aled Walters has provided in his time at the club.

Featured analysis: Forwards dominate up front

Leicester’s European tour has been built on similar foundations as their domestic form which has seen them go to the top of the Premiership, with only three defeats. Their game is based upon basic principles of controlling territory, beating their opponents up front in order to force penalties and create space for their backline to exploit. Sunday afternoon was the perfect embodiment of that.

Put simply Clermont could not live with the wave upon wave of physical intensity that Leicester brought with them, as they ‘turned the screw’ up front.

A feature of Leicester’s revolution under Steve Borthwick has been their focus on getting their set-piece fundamentals nailed down. Sunday afternoon saw them showcase that as their rolling maul was very strong throughout, causing havoc for the Clermont pack. Leicester’s forwards were routinely driving towards the line, with Clermont powerless to stop them through legal means. Whilst Leicester did not score directly from their rolling mauls, three of their tries came from that initial powerful surge. Bar a rare mistake from Tommy Reffell, they would have had another which really would have added gloss to the result.

In addition, Tigers’ scrum fared well, as the trio of Genge, Montoya and Heyes combined well to win penalties against opponents (who like all French sides, are proud scrummagers). Both the tight and loose exchanges saw Leicester exert their physical dominance over their opponents.

Tigers big ball carriers like Genge, Montoya and Jasper Wiese all regularly punched holes into the heart of the Clermont defence, or allowed them to get over the gain line when approaching the try-line. Wiese in particular loved it so much he went for a trademark rampaging run even with the clock in the red at the end of the game. In defence, they regularly hit Clermont carriers hard, pushing them back and defending their line like their lives depended on it. Other than the first Clermont try, Tigers’ defence was exemplary and contributed to their win.

Don’t party yet – Job not fully done before Leg Two

For Leicester’s European Tour to fully progress into the next round they still have work to do. This is a two-legged affair, with the return home leg at Welford Road still to come this Saturday. With a 19 point advantage to Tigers, it is interesting to see how the two teams approach it. For Clermont, domestically they have struggled, and lie mid-table in the Top 14. Their priorities will probably now move on to securing a Champions Cup spot for next season, however, they are a proud club. It is unlikely that they will send across a scratch side of reserves and fringe players.

As for Tigers, complacency is a word that is not associated with them. They will be training as hard as always, probably with the belief that this is still a 0-0 fixture with nothing secured just yet. It is a belief system that has worked well for them so far, as you would expect. As a result, it is likely that bar some light rotation of players, the 23 picked for the home leg will be fairly similar to the one chosen for the away fixture. Tigers will be wanting to win the game in the first 40 minutes, and extinguish any hope that the French team might have of pulling off a shock win in the game and for the tie overall. Shut down that hope and it will then provide them to empty their bench early on in the second half, and rest bodies ahead of future challenges to come in what is a brutal April fixture list.

If Leicester’s European tour progresses into the Quarter-Final stage, they will have a home tie against Leinster or Connacht. With Leinster having the advantage so far, that is a mouth-watering match up for fans of both teams and neutrals alike. But first, Leicester has a job to do. Their away win last Sunday was one of their best-ever European outings. If they want more famous victories, they will have to repeat their exploits this weekend. With Steve Borthwick at the helm, you can be assured they will be fully prepared to go again.

 

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