In Italy they have a saying: ‘piove sul bagnato’, which loosely translates to ‘it rains on the wet’.
Although there has been plenty to find encouraging so far in the early stages of the 2023/24 season, three losses from three Allianz Cup fixtures has meant it’s been a bruising start to life in the top flight for Leicester Tigers.
So, of course, this difficult start has lead to today’s game, the most daunting of them all: the back-to-back Allianz Cup champions, last year’s Premiership finalists and one of the most established teams in the world, Exeter Chiefs.
However, despite a difficult score, the rain actually held off today and, on occasion amongst a cloudy sky, supporters can feel optimistic that there were times the sun shone on a performance offering rays of hope for the Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby opener in two weeks time.
Tigers started the match very brightly from Natasha Jones’ kick off, with the team flying up and forcing the visitors to cede possession early by kicking long.
There’s a couple of nice moves, all going through captain Jones who’s sending runners in early.
But an early turnover in Tigers half means the side are severely on the backfoot in the opening 10 minutes.
The two early scores show Chiefs’ skills, first flanker Ebony Jefferies driving over from short range before, moments later, slick hands puts winger Eilidh Sinclair over on the right touchline.
What will give the coaches, and hundreds of fans at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, encouragement is the way the team held themselves and fought back from their opponents initial flurry.
Immediately following the second try, Chiefs look like they’re on for another as they find a gap in midfield and shoot through but scrum-half Amy Relf absolutely bodies the runner with a huge tackle and moments later Tigers turn the ball over.
Here the home crowd at Tigers HQ can see the full flowing attacking rugby that’s been promised. There’s offloads aplenty here and the crowd roar in response, to each metre over the gainline.
Both captain Jones and Relf are helping to dictate the flow of the game, Relf both speeding up and slowing down the play when necessary, while Tash is sending in hard runners like Kat Turner and Amy Orrow straight into the thick of it, before adeptly switching it up and playing right out the back to spread it wide when necessary.
The next 20 minutes see the side go close on four separate occasions as they dominate possession and play the game entirely in Chiefs half.
Firstly, a tap penalty ten metres out sees the side opt for drives from close range, with the likes of Orrow, Ofure Ugiagbe and Jade Jones driving hard before Orrow gets us over the line, Chiefs doing admirably to get underneath and hold the ball up.
A few moments later, the team are going close again, crisp offloads allowing the team to gradually make metres until, cruelly, Chiefs win a turnover right on their own line and clear long to touch.
Although a wayward kick hands possession back to the visitors, there’s a great double shot in midfield by centres Rebecca De Filippo and Katie Childs and the ball is knocked on moments later.
The from the scrum De Filippo is involved again, finding half a yard of space in midfield and it’s on, surely; the ball is played wide to find Caz Collie in space who steps her opposite number, shoots through the gap before, mere millimetres from the line she’s hauled down, her offload crushingly knocked on.
But, not to be denied again, a galvanised side roll the dice once more and this time they come back with the points.
A penalty won on halfway is kicked to touch around 10 metres out. The ball’s claimed skyward by Morgan Richardson and Tigers run a manoeuvre straight from the training ground.
Quick ball puts Tash in the pocket and she dummies the pass to De Filippo, instead hitting Collie round the back who then executes a three v two beautifully, delaying the pass before releasing Childs who puts Amelia Tutt into the corner for the side’s first try of the season at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
The fact there’s an immediate double riposte by Exeter does little to dampen the spirits here at Tigers HQ and when Tash Jones kicks a beauty into touch five metres out everyone in the stadium feels there’s another score coming.
Devastatingly, despite the dart of a throw by Alana Bainbridge, the ball’s collected well but lost forward and a breathless first half comes to an end.
First half score: Leicester Tigers 07 – 22 Exeter Chiefs.
Despite a buoyed atmosphere in the first 40, the second half of the match brings far more difficulties.
There’s a tough start to the half as scrum-half Brooke Bradley scores two tries in quick succession, both from quick tap penalties that see her dart through gaps as the defence were trying to reorganise.
The away side have quickly emptied the bench, bringing on heavy hitters like Harriet Millar-Mills, a 60 cap England international and, from there, they have begun to turn the screw.
Tigers had a few bright spots in the fifteen minutes they held out but there was little chance to attack. Katie Thicker, who came on for her Tigers debut with 10 minutes left of the first half, has been exceptional defensively on the wing, making all of her tackles with aplomb, including shifting her opposite number into touch.
Childs, equally, has been a force so far in attack and defence and she couples another great line with a brilliant drive through the contact, allowing for well-earned five metres.
However, with the game entering the final twenty minutes, Chiefs experience and quality shines through and they run in four tries to finish it off.
Katie Buchananen steps inside to find space and then rockets through a gap to score, then substitute Powdrell scores twice in perfect symmetry, the New Zealender first scoring a driving try from close range to the right of the post, before she gets her second just to the left.
Finally, hooker Abby Middlebrook completes the win with another driving try but, of course, the game was long finished at this point.
The score line will be a difficult one to swallow for the side and it ends a difficult Allianz Cup campaign beset with tough losses. It may always rain on the wet but the rays of sunshine displayed in the first half can have supporters dreaming that, when Allianz Premiership Women’s Rugby begins in two weeks time, at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, brighter skies may lay ahead.