At the start of the 2020-21 season, few would have predicted the Leicester Tigers would be in full contention for a major European trophy.
Rocky bottom of the Gallagher Premiership 2019-2020, Leicester were only spared relegation last season due to Saracen’s gigantic point deductions for breaking salary cap rules. Otherwise, one of the most successful clubs in English rugby history would now take part in the championship – traveling to players like the Cornish Pirates and the Jersey Reds.
The Tigers’ transformation has been nothing short of miraculous this season. Much of the credit goes to Steve Borthwick, whose famed thoroughness and meticulousness returned Leicester’s scrum and roster to something of its former glory. Recruiting the “ right types ” of players has also been critical to their success, with fewer superstars and more loyal infantrymen, ready to play for their teammates and stick to a game plan.
Leicester hosted a quality Ulster team on Friday evening, currently seated comfortably in second place in the A-Conference of the Dec 14. Again, few expected Leicester to make the final, and after Ulster left they would have good reason to feel that way.
Relentless pressure from Ulster resulted in a yellow card for Leicester skipper Tom Youngs within 15 minutes, which was quickly followed by a try for Lions prospect Iain Henderson. 6 minutes later, half-ball and Irish international Billy Burns had also gone through the whitewash, leaving the Tigers visibly shaken and well back on the scoreboard.
Resisting this early attack from the Belfast men, Leicester could only enter at halftime 17-6. Everything Steve Borthwick said to his troops during the break certainly made a difference, and it only took them 5 minutes to get back on track, with Jasper Wiese, a talismanic man, crashing under the posts. . The South African-born number 8 has been exceptional this season, scoring where he’s not allowed to.
Seemingly in control, Leicester were stunned with a quick alignment move and precise handling, which saw number 8 and former seven-a-side Nick Timoney pin his ears back and gallop from 40m.
However, Leicester was not to be turned down, and with 6 minutes left on the clock and only a 2-point lead, George Ford threw a superb 25m pass which was collected by Matias Moroni, which put young Guy Porter in the corner for what turned out to be the deciding score and a 33-24 win for Leicester.
Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Bath once again collapsed under the weight of expectation, surrendering to an uninspiring 19-10 loss at home to Montpellier. Bath had every chance to improve, no more than in the 56th minute when Montpellier sent a man to the trash.
Instead of taking an easy 3 points, Bath decided to take the tap off the 5m line, only to concede a penalty by getting off their feet at the ruck. Montpellier held on for the win and will now face Leicester in the final, leaving Bath to regret the missed opportunity to face former rivals for silver in 2021.
Who do you think will triumph in the final? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.