Handré Pollard’s dominant kicking leads Leicester to victory over struggling Gloucester.
Reworded: It is difficult to top a gorgeous, chilly winter day at one of England’s most nostalgic rugby stadiums. Two long-standing teams, an air of genuine anticipation in the Shed, and heartfelt pre-game applause for the family of Ed Slater, who led both teams and is still battling motor neurone disease. The only lingering question was if the match could live up to the stunning backdrop.
For a long time the answer was a scrappy, frustrating ‘no’. When it mattered, though, it was Leicester who belatedly powered things up, with two tries either side of half-time from Ollie Hassell-Collins plus 18 points from the boot of Handré Pollard and a late bonus point score for Solomone Kata providing the impetus to see off a lacklustre Gloucester.
The Cherry & Whites have recently suffered five consecutive losses in the league and currently hold one of the bottom two spots. Although their young fly-half, George Barton, failed to score three penalties in the first half, with two hitting the uprights, their physical endurance was also a contributing factor as they made numerous mistakes both with and without possession.
“We must swiftly extract ourselves from this situation,” stated George Skivington, the team’s rugby director. “Their approach was quite straightforward, but when executed proficiently, it can be quite effective.”
During the third quarter of the game, Leicester’s decisive moment came when Ollie Chessum, their England lock, was penalized for making contact with Gloucester’s Freddie Clarke’s face during a maul. However, their numerical advantage was short-lived as Barton was also sent to the sin-bin for making head contact with Pollard. Despite this setback, hooker Julián Montoya’s try gave the Tigers the needed momentum to turn the game in their favor.
Jack Clement was also given a yellow card, and this allowed Leicester to exploit their 13-man opponents on the left side. The tall Hassell-Collins took advantage and scored his second try. Although replacement prop Jamal Ford-Robinson scored a try in the 66th minute, the hosts never posed a threat to the opposing team.
Leicester continued their dominance in this matchup, winning the last seven league games against the Tigers. However, neither team could find a consistent rhythm in the first half, with 15 penalties and free-kicks in the first 30 minutes and messy scrums. The only thing keeping the game interesting was the intense battle at the breakdown.
Tommy Reffell remains a consistent threat on the court, and with Pollard successfully making his first three kicks, the Tigers were already in the lead. The only try of the first half was scored just before the interval.
Before that, there was some disagreement with the home team’s full-back, Santiago Carreras, as he disputed the officials’ ruling that he had touched the ball down in the goal after being forced back over his own line. From the resulting Leicester scrum, the ball was passed out to Hassell-Collins on the left side, who easily evaded a challenged Carreras and scored.
Gloucester, who suffered a defeat in the final moments against Exeter last Sunday, have experienced a rollercoaster of a season. When they are in top form, they are a formidable threat. The team boasts one of the most potent back lines in the league, but they struggle to utilize them effectively throughout the game.
Leicester’s kicking strategy proved to be more successful, especially with the efforts of Hanro Liebenberg and Cam Henderson, who were determined to disrupt the opposing team. Despite George McGuigan scoring a try in the 49th minute and bringing Gloucester within one point, it was clear that Leicester was the stronger and more physical team.
The resilient Tigers of the past are making a comeback with the help of Pollard and Kata, slowly regaining their strength. Despite being outside the top six, their performances in the past two weekends have laid a solid foundation for future success.
According to Skivington, Slater’s perseverance puts everything else into perspective. Despite feeling sorry for themselves, when standing with Ed and his family, it becomes clear that their struggles are insignificant. Ed serves as an inspiration to everyone and makes them reflect on their own lives. While they may be disappointed about their rugby performance, Ed’s example reminds them of the bigger picture.