A 52-metre penalty from Leicester Tigers fly-half Owen Williams may just have saved director of rugby Richard Cockerill his job, if reports are to be believed.
Last week the Daily Mail reported that the former Leicester hooker, was a match away from the sack after his side’s 38-0 European Champions Cup thrashing at the hands of Munster at Thomond Park.
Leicester’s second record defeat of this season’s European campaign effectively ended their chances of progression in the competition, although Saturday’s 18-16 reverse against Munster at Welford just about keeps them alive.
Leicester have eight points from two fixtures, but Glasgow look in stunning form, topping Pool One with 13 points after home and away victories over French Top 14 champions Racing 92, winning 23-7 on Friday night.
Despite the defeat, Munsters’ first since the death of their head coach Bernard Foley, they remain in second in the group with 11 points, and still have a game in hand after their match away in Paris with Racing was postponed because of the death of their club legend.
Tigers looked on track for the victory for most of the game on Saturday with five Owen Williams’ penalties giving them a 15-9 lead with 23 minutes left to play but Niall Scannell crossed for Munster in the 75th minute after breaking off from a driving maul and Tyler Bleyendaal converted to give them the lead despite slipping as he struck the ball.
Leicester were down to 14 men for the second time at that point with captain Tom Youngs off the park for bringing down a maul.
Referee Pascal Gauzere had a terrible day with the whistle. He gave Manu Tuilagi a yellow card for what he deemed a late tackle, but seemed to be an inevitable contact which he pulled out off.
Was it a little late yes, was it a little stupid yes. But a yellow card - well it certainly didn’t used to be. But the game is certainly going soft. Perhaps Tuilagi needs to amend his game a little however as that is two yellow cards in three games since making his return from injury.
To be fair Gauzere was getting it wrong on both sides, Simon Zebo’s yellow card, for an alleged late tackle on Adam Thompstone after he had kicked the ball through was frankly ludicrous. The Irish winger showed lightening pace to get back and cover the danger, diving in and tackling Thompstone as he kicked the ball.In real time there was quite simply nothing wrong with the tackle.
But Gauzere had already made some highly questionable calls by that point, leaving Tom Youngs scratching his head, especially when he got penalised for rucking, allegedly for not using his arms.
In the end it didn’t matter as man of the match Williams was the hero- hitting a colossal penalty to win the contest.
Tigers’ under-fire boss Cockerill said: “It was a fantastic game of rugby. Both sides went at it and I’m delighted with the win.
“Last week was not acceptable, nobody tried to get away from that. We copped it on the chin and we’ve taken a lot of flak, but now we have come back and performed well, we stayed in the battle and we’ve taken the win in the end.
“I am proud of this club and proud of the performance tonight. I’m delighted we won, but even if we hadn’t got the last kick, I would have said the same thing about the performance. Munster are a good side, but so are we.
“We rolled our sleeves up, gritted our teeth and got stuck in.
One man who really summed up the fighting spirit demanded off the players was young prop Ellis Genge. The 18 and a half stone 21-year-old, with one England cap so far, rolled up his sleeves and put in a powerful performance, running down the wing like a wrecking ball at one point.
However the other youngsters on display did not do as well. George Worth, just 20, and playing in the Championship for Nottingham earlier this season, had another poor day at the office at full back. The step up to first team rugby, with Mat Tait and Telusa Veainu missing seems too big a one at the moment.
Jack Roberts is now 25, so probably doesn’t classify as a youngster, but it’s probably fair to say this was the biggest game of his Leicester career to date, starting at outside centre. He had a strong game but sadly will be remembered for a brain freeze before the break when he kicked the ball out with time still on the clock. Leicester conceded a penalty and had Bleyendaal not missed his penalty kick, that would have been the game.
On such small margins are European games decided.
After the match Cockerill refuted claims that there is a problem with the coaching team, and that he should go after eight years at the helm. After a passionate performance from his team he said: “Is that a team that plays for a coaching group that doesn’t work?
“We don’t agree on everything. Newsflash: that is the coaching team and that is what we are here for. Different opinions on how you want to play is a healthy thing.
“We will always have different ways of doing things and sometimes we will play badly.”
“I think I am a strong leader and I lead from the front. Some people like me and some don’t and I don’t really care because at Leicester you are either in or out.
“If you’re in then great and there are a lot of people here tonight who are in. I’m in here for the battle until someone tells me I am not here for the battle.
“I have been here a long time. That doesn’t mean I should stay here but I want to be here because I think I do a good job. Who’s going to do a better job than me?”
Leicester return to the Aviva Premiership now and life doesn’t get any easier, travelling to Exeter’s Sandy Park on Saturday, before playing Saracens on New Year’s Day and Wasps away the week after.
Tigers’ Development XV lost the Aviva A League derby away at Northampton Wanderers on Monday night, going down 20-11 at Franklin’s Gardens.
Tigers scrum-half Ben White got Leicester’s try and fly half Tom Hardwick kicked two penalties.
But Northampton crossed the line three times.
Wanderers centre Juan Pablo Estelles scored a double and Sion Bennett the other while Sam Olver kicked a conversion and penalty.