2022 ASM Clermont Auvergne vs Leicester Tigers

Leicester Tigers Say Au Revoir To Agonizing Losing Run

Leicester Tigers Say Au Revoir To Agonizing Losing Run

Leicester reached the last 16 of the Heineken Champions Cup with a bonus-point win at Clermont, ending a string of disappointing league results.

Jan 15, 2023 by RugbyPass
Leicester Tigers Say Au Revoir To Agonizing Losing Run

The Leicester Tigers reached the last 16 of the Heineken Champions Cup with an entertaining bonus-point win at Clermont, ending a string of disappointing league results.

The start to Richard Wigglesworth's tenure in charge of the reigning English champions has been turbulent to say the least. 

It began with a valuable win against Gloucester in late December, but soon turned foul with a heavy loss to the high-flying Sale Sharks and got worse when the struggling Newcastle Falcons accrued a sizeable point haul to push aside the Tigers with ease.

While it's too early to place first-time head coach Wigglesworth under pressure, he was acutely aware a positive result was needed to fix what quickly could have turned sour.

Leicester's 44-29 victory in France secured a spot in the European knockout stages and gave traveling fans a spectacle worth the plane fare.

And it didn't take long for the fireworks to start. 

With only three minutes on the clock, Matt Scott flew up from the Leicester defensive line, intercepted a loose pass and crossed the whitewash untouched.

Clermont didn't flinch, though, and replied quickly, with Bautista Delguy dotting down to give the French side its first points of the evening. Center Irae Simone was the true architect, making a great pick up, before stepping a defender and offloading to his winger to finish.

That moment of magic was matched soon after by opposing winger Harry Simmons, who ripped apart the Clermont defense, stepping his way past two tacklers in sensational fashion to add his name to the score sheet.

Dan Kelly joined the action before the break with a physical carry off a maul, signposting his imposing figure, which would not go amiss at the international level.

Clermont edged its way back into the contest with two breakaway tries scored on either side of halftime. The first, from Etienne Fourcade, involved some intricate handling, while the second was a moment of misfortune for the Tigers.

With the ball bobbling toward their line, Charlie Atkinson and Tommy Reffell failed to recover possession, allowing Anthony Belleau to drop onto the loose ball.

Scott scored for the second time right afterward, benefitting from a beautifully worked midfield move, but their French opponents came back to within eight points, when Paul Jedrasiak threw an outrageous dummy, selling Atkinson, before scoring.

Clermont appeared reenergized but could not clock the killer blow, and it was Leicester that had the final say, when prop James Cronin crossed over in the 78th minute.

The victory gives Wigglesworth the chance to rest some starters in Leicester's final Champions Cup group game against the Ospreys next week, but the result is perhaps more important for rejuvenating his side, which appeared to be flagging over the Christmas period.

The run in form was dire, but on Friday night, they showed the true extent of their prolific attacking potential.

We are, after all, less than a year removed from them clinching the Premiership title in spectacular fashion.

And, we should remember, that earlier this season, they became the first side to field a starting Premiership back line that each had England appearances.

Talent isn't the issue. It just looks like their coherency is lacking a little, and a change of coach midway through the season will have only complicated matters.

Steve Borthwick's appointment as England's head coach opened a space, which Wigglesworth filled, ending his playing career imminently (the scrum half actually appeared off the bench in both of Leicester's previous European wins).

The challenge for Wigglesworth now is to translate the Tigers' European form into wins in the league. 

One of the major issues he faces is opposing teams now have a backlog of information on the Leicester style of play, and it seems some have developed key strategies to dull its effectiveness.

But really, the pivotal problem facing the club has been the departure of talisman George Ford. The fly-half was immense last term, operating all aspects of the game, from kicking to time management, impeccably.

An equally prestigious playmaker was brought in as his replacement, but since his arrival, Handre Pollard has featured only a handful of times, missing large swathes of the season due to injury.

The hope going forward will be that he remains fit and takes over the mantle left by Ford. 

Against Clermont, Pollard showed flashes of his pedigree, which helped sail South Africa all the way to a World Cup title in 2019.

Leicester already has respectable squad depth. They just need someone to pull all the pieces together.

With Pollard fit, and wins back on the board, the Tigers may be about to get their roar back.

Written by Stefan Frost