Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ contains a litany of poignant quotes but none befit the Leicester Tigers women’s team like: “Attack is the secret of defence; defence is the planning of an attack”.
The Tigers attack has been unquestionable throughout the season, with mammoth points totals recorded and this match alone seeing several scoring landmarks smashed.
In today’s final match at Mattioli Woods Welford Road for the 2022/23 season, spectators enjoyed a side that attacked with confidence and verve but also one that is well-drilled in defence and would use that platform to supercharge their electric attack for another big win.
From minute one, Tigers look excited for this one, the Guard of Honour (courtesy of the teams Mum’s, befitting the occasion) providing ample encouragement to the players. They put pressure on straight away, Roisin McBrien collecting the kick-off and running in hard to give a secure platform for captain Natasha Jones to put in a lovely nudge over the top just into the Bishop Auckland 22. Bishop Auckland dive on the ball but when they try and recycle they are bundled into touch and momentum begins building with the home side. They work a lovely move out the back to Harriet Roberts but Bishop Auckland scramble well and win a line-out through great defensive sternness.
The away side try to play out but Tigers turn it over just as quickly as they lost it. The tap penalty is taken instantly from Amy Relf, a lovely pop sees Charlotte Fray hit a gap. Tigers recycle rapidly and play quick ball, winging it out to Charlotte Daley who touches down for the opening try.
When discussing strategy with the Tigers coaches going into this match, the offensive plan going in was to get the ball wide as soon as possible, to counter against a tight defence and this try was the first example of several the Mattioli Woods Welford Road crowd would be treated to today.
From the restart, Tigers build again and win a penalty on halfway. They kick to touch and from a strong position they send bodies in. Smelling blood in the water, they send a score of forwards in on huge lines. It takes three attempts but the door is broken down as Georgia Westwood storms over for her second try in a row at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
Not content with her second-row partner getting all the action, Charlotte Fray then glides over for the games third, Tigers operating relentlessly. The lock has been hitting great lines and looked threatening and gets her reward, driving over from short range after a succession of short ball.
After a breathless opening 10 minutes, proceedings briefly settle down and Bishop Auckland regain possession and build phases, eventually putting in a kick for a Tigers line-out on their 22. This attack is simply bursting with confidence and decided to score an incredible try, who else but Molly Draycott.
From the throw in, the locks carry in first, Westwood finding Fray with a lovely pop just as she’s felled. Fray gets over the gainline and as she presents it’s Amy Relf following up first, keeping that tempo high and then it’s beautiful hands, every back looks to get involved before Draycott storms onto the ball from deep, cutting inside the winger, then spinning off the full-back to score.
There’s a one-two punch as the home side score again and once again it’s Charlotte Fray. The lock is having a magnificent match brimming with relentless running and here she sees daylight in the chaos and can run over unopposed after Tigers had sent in waves and waves of bodies into contact.
The tries just keep on coming. McBrien made a great break and can offload to Kat Turner who plays wide. They ship it out left to Roberts who carries well but is stopped just short. Tigers intelligently take their time, go back toward the centre of the field before pulling the trigger and switching play back to the blindside for Rebecca Church to feed Roberts, who crashes over her opposite number to score. That also allows Tigers to pass the 400 mark for points scored this season, testament to the running rugby they favour.
This pressure is relentless and one of the biggest cheers of the afternoon comes when Tigers produce a monstrous shove to drive back an opposition scrum, which is then reset. We have to reset here and Bishop Auckland start to build. Flankers McBrien and Richardson team up (Ro and Mo in the back-row?) to repel the first wave with a fine double tackle, before Church hits a typical ankle smasher on charging opposite number Elizabeth Hawes.
Auckland attempt to go wide but Tigers fly up and force a knock on from the inside-centre. In conversation with Steve Hanna prior to the game, he said the last time the two sides met, that a lot of the opposition’s moves are run off the 12 so line-speed and doubling up in the tackles was a training priority and we can see it paying dividends here throughout the first half. Bishop Auckland have not been able to get anything going and it is Tigers who look clinical when they have possession.
Half-time: Leicester Tigers 34 – Bishop Auckland 0
Clearly not content with the scoreline, Tigers bring on Ofure Ugiagbe and Lucy Nye at half-time to look to turn the screw. Nye wins a cerebral line-out deep in Auckland territory, as the ball spills out the scrum and she cleverly kicks it into her opposite number to force the line-out. It’s from this line-out that Tigers can work their way up the field and send in crash runners on the fringes, this time it’s the two centres.
Firstly, Jones feeds Childs who then offloads back to her inside centre. The captain fights for an extra couple of inches before the recycled ball is met by a crashing Childs, to go over for what was the team’s 140th try of the season.
Nye has been electric since coming on and sets the tempo for the next try, rushing up for a huge hit on the fly-half who’s just collecting from the line-out, forcing a knock-on in the process.
From the scrum Tigers play a phase of crash ball, Childs cutting inside straight into the Bishop Auckland pack. Tigers recycle quickly, Nye flinging it out to Relf (now operating at fly-half), who ships it onto Jones and then there’s Draycott on the overload, who takes her tally to over 150 points for the season to a huge ovation. She then converts her own try, in typical Molly Draycott fashion.
The slick hands just keep rolling, the attack purring now. From a scrum 30 metres out, Tigers come close, running it out the back of a Childs hard line but Bishop Auckland read it and Draycott is hit with a big shot out wide, driving her back. Tigers again stay composed, sending in Kat Turner on a brutal line to draw in the defenders before hitting the blindside, lovely hands from Jones feeding Harriet Roberts who can run in unopposed.
The offloads are flowing. The home side send several runners in from the scrum but the ball never goes to ground, offload to offload before Abi Gordon pulls a rabbit out of the hat with the best of the lot, somehow getting it away with a plethora of arms dragging her down to get the ball to find Roberts for her to score her hat-trick.
Childs then runs in a wingers try out of nowhere, hitting a wide, arcing line to the right. She spots open field ahead of her and wisely opts to put on the afterburners, a full pace dash down the line and a big hand-off to the opposition full-back lunging for a try-saving tackle, to score her second of the game.
The game goes into a brief lull sadly, with Kat Turner going down with an unfortunate injury. This is the only dampener on a stellar day for the No. 8, who has been exceptional, a real all action display, leading the charge with a huge number of carries and allowing Tigers to play that quick ball against a defence left scrambling.
We had seen some sublime play throughout the contest but there’s time for some grit as well, as Tigers batter back their opposition. Bishop Auckland make it all the way to the 5 metre line but then the defence goes into overdrive and three massive, driving shots later, the opposition find themselves 15 metres out. Childs then flies up to force a knock on and Tigers break quickly, Draycott offloading to Nye who puts in a nudge to the halfway line. Nye and substitute Zoë Evans fly up to smash the covering full-back and it’s Zoe Warrington who follows up brilliantly to jackal the ball and win the penalty to huge cheers, the biggest of all from defence coach Steve Hanna.
It's from that penalty that Katie Childs pulls out a brilliant kick to touch for a line-out just a couple of metres out. From here it’s a try every hooker will love to see, a brilliant drive from the scrum and it’s Samantha Williams who dots down at the back of the Tigers trademark rolling maul.
Finally, Roberts puts the bow on a wing masterclass, showing supreme endurance to run in the last try of the day from just over half-way, holding her width and collecting an excellent pass from prop Jade Jones, who herself showed great vision to see the space the winger had in front of her.
Full-time: Leicester Tigers 79 – Bishop Auckland 0