Leicester held on in the battle to avoid being tagged the club that would have been relegated but for Saracens’ disgrace, but even in victory their new head coach, Steve Borthwick, witnessed how far the most successful English club in the professional era has fallen.
The Tigers spent the final minutes hanging on having been 13-0 up with 20 minutes to go. They had three tries disallowed, two for infringements in the buildup, and despite showing the greater initiative, they were bedevilled by a lack of confidence. They remain one place off the bottom of the table, three points behind Worcester and five behind Irish.
Leicester paraded the Fiji wing Nemani Nadolo for the first time. The 32-year old recruit from Montpellier and former Crusader was marked by Tom Parton, who conceded some eight stone in weight and six inches in height. The first time Parton touched the ball, he dared not try to go through Nadolo but found it took a considerable time to go around an opponent who seemed to cast as long a shadow as the Breedon Stand and got nowhere.
Nadolo flattened Parton the first time he received the ball, but he was armed with far more than brute force and played a key role in the opening try on 21 minutes. Tom Youngs had just had a score ruled out after a review concluded he had not grounded the ball after George Martin had hijacked a London Irish throw-in five metres out.
Leicester’s early dominance was fed by a supply of penalties from the breakdown, where Tommy Reffell was supreme, and the tight. They looked to have messed up the scrum awarded after Youngs was denied by Ben Donnell, but Nadolo came into midfield to tidy up and created an overlap with a pass out of the back of his left hand that gave David Williams the space to score in the corner.
Roundup: Saracens 36-20 Gloucester, Worcester 29-14 Harlequins
Tom Woolstencroft enjoyed a dream first outing with the Saracens captaincy by scoring a hat-trick of tries in their 36-20 victory over Gloucester at Allianz Park. The hooker, standing in in the absence of Brad Barritt, delivered a standout performance by dotting down three times in 20 minutes, while a Ben Harris try on his debut and Tom Whiteley’s effort capped the win. Stephen Varney, Henry Walker and Louis Rees-Zammit did notch tries for the visitors but Saracens proved too good in the second half to secure their 11th league win of the season and leave Gloucester eighth.
Worcester blew a huge hole in Harlequins’ play-off hopes by posting an impressive 29-14 victory at Sixways. The Warriors forwards were in unstoppable form, with Worcester scoring three first-half tries direct from driving mauls to underpin a first Premiership win of 2020. The No 8 Cornell Du Preez, the centre Ollie Lawrence and the hooker Niall Annett all touched down before scrum-half Francois Hougaard’s 39th-minute score secured a bonus-point and Duncan Weir kicked three conversions before adding a second-half penalty.Quins, 11 points adrift of the play-offs before kick-off, trailed 26-0 at the break, and there was no way back. The wing Chris Ashton and the hooker Elia Elia claimed consolation tries for Quins, with James Lang adding both conversions, but Worcester were already over the horizon.
It put the Tigers 10-0 ahead after George Ford’s early penalty but Leicester, not for the first time, lost their way and spent much of the rest of the opening half in their 22. Leicester’s passing had been smooth and sharp but Irish were laboured in their movement, often operating from deep and quickly closed down.
It was very much a meeting of two teams at the wrong end of the table, a mess of knock-ons, scrums and resets. Leicester were hampered by the loss of two second rows in the opening half, Harry Wells failing a head injury assistant and his replacement, Martin, lasting 17 minutes before limping off, but a game that would have dripped with tension had relegation been an issue was largely ritual.
Leicester extended their 10-point interval lead with Ford’s second penalty after Henry Elrington collapsed another scrum. Nadolo had a try ruled out because Ellis Genge’s pass to the wing as he made an inside run was deflected forward by Luke Wallace.
Leicester later had a third try ruled out, Reffell denied by Nephi Leatigaga’s obstruction on Ben Meehan. Irish were by then back in the game, taking advantage of Calum Green’s absence in the sin-bin for not rolling away on his line to force a series of scrums that concluded with Meehan forcing his way over.
Irish finished as they started, wasting positions by leaving tackled players isolated on an evening which highlighted a consequence of ring‑fencing the top flight.