In the thick of dreary weather, Tigers’ slow start was ultimately their undoing, as Loughborough Lightning scored 19 unanswered points to race into a substantial lead inside twenty minutes.
Tigers fought back well in the second 40 minutes but it ultimately was not enough as the away side claimed victory in the first-ever Leicestershire derby match.
The game gets off to the worst possible start, with Lightning claiming the ball back through an early Tigers infringement. They hit a slick line-out move and, following a couple of phases, start with tidy hands to the left touchline, getting the ball to wing Bo Westcombe-Evans, who speeds through a gap and scores inside less than two minutes.
Tigers win a turnover and build momentum, with Tash kicking to touch. The home side win the line-out well but possession changes hands back and forth, both sides struggling in slippery conditions.
A five-metre scrum for Loughborough looks dangerous but Tigers do brilliantly to turn it over; from the clearance to the 22 however, Lightning build and, several short phases later, hooker Maja Meuller to drive over.
A couple of minutes later, they have their third, a rolling maul the likes of which the home crowd will be accustomed to seeing rumbles over with expert efficiency to put a bow on an a disastrous start for Tigers.
As we tick toward halftime, Jones and Francesca McGhie doubling up on a big shot before N Jones hits a driving dump tackle on an onrushing Lightning forward. Defence has stepped up significantly as the second half comes to a close and Tigers lament an incredibly difficult opening period.
Half time score: Leicester Tigers 0 – 19 Loughborough Lightning
Tigers get off to a storming start, with a slick backs move putting Tess Feury through in acres of space, allowing her to fly up to the Lightning 22.
A deep line out is well won by Tigers and Tash puts a wonderful punt wide to Tess Feury who collects in space; it looks like she’s sure to score if not for a brilliant cover tackle by Westcombe-Evans. Tigers win a penalty as they come back the other way and it’s kicked to touch again.
From the second deep line-out in as many minutes, Tigers finally breach the Lightning defence. An excellent throw by sub Elis Martin reaches Becky Noon at the tip of the line-out; from there, the rolling maul is rapidly rolling and Tigers break away rapidly at the back through Tahlia Brody, the No.8 getting her first Tigers try with a great team score.
Lightning come roaring back and the pressure is relentless; over and over the waves come until stern defence forces the away side to spill the ball and Tigers can clear. Again, Loughborough just keep coming until, just a metre out from the line, a huge turnover allows Tigers to clear their lines and regain control.
Keia Mae Sagapolu Sanele has been exceptional in the loose and a string of awesome carries, alongside her forward compatriots allow Tigers continual forward ball, crashing over the gainline.
Tigers play the phases well, mixing short tight carries, with quick hands to continually probe the Loughborough line. Eventually, the team having scrapped and smashed their way to within an inch of the whitewash, substitute scrum-half Amy Relf cannily picks & goes to touch down amid huge Tigers celebrations.
The mood is tense but Meg Jones, typically the coolest person in a room, slots the kick with aplomb and we’re down to just a converted try separating the two sides.
It’s not to be however and Lightning’s experience at the top level pays dividends in the final 15 minutes.
They press relentlessly in attack, nothing but tight carries, inches at a time. They have a penalty for advantage and use it to turn the screw and finish the game, flinging the ball wide left for wing Westcombe-Evans to collect and speed over in the corner to increase the visitors advantage.
The last five minutes see the side throw the kitchen sink at Lightning but through a mixture of dogged defending from the visitors and small mistakes in key moments, the final whistle is blown and the game is over.
A disappointing result no matter what way you slice it, the team were visibly gutted following the match.
The turgid weather, key errors to start with, a team still adapting to one another and the league; none of that will bring any comfort to this side tonight. The only thing they can do is pick themselves up and go again next Saturday, away at Ealing Trailfinders.
Final score: Leicester Tigers 12 – 24 Loughborough Lightning