Today's game saw a heavy pre-match focus on one word: relentless. Whether that be rushing high and nominating in defence or demanding questions are asked upon every carry into contact, this relentless nature was the difference maker in another Derby match that posed problems aplenty and, at points, the biggest threat to Leicester Tigers unbeaten run yet.
No one has ever doubted Rugby's capacity for intensity or the way game momentum flows so intangibly, slipping out of your grasp at will. This fixture exemplified the topsy-turvy nature of the sport as both sides struggled to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. The reverse fixture saw an incredibly tense final 30 minutes and both teams picked up where they left off here today. Loughborough kicked deep to start, beginning a cagey first five minutes as both teams look to aim their approach by battling for territory and pressing with intensity. Both sides are utilising strong kicking, Tigers through box-kicks from Lucy Nye, whilst Loughborough’s 10 Leah Green shows some seriously educated feet. One of these kicks helps break the deadlock, as the home team win the penalty from a kick-chase and drive over for the first score.
It's evident Loughborough are looking to play some serious rugby here. A side bolstered with tremendous talent from the University's BUCS side, they look to go wide early and are happy to kick in behind to force a disorganised defence. However, Tigers have this scouted, the pre-match messages from coaches stressing the necessity of the press paying dividends as these attacks are shut down before they can really cause damage.
Their persistence pays off and, after astutely winning a deep penalty, Tigers kick to touch, drive from the lineout and allow Tanya Bird to peel off and splash down for the score, the Philippines International with a classic hookers' try.
It looks for all the world like they’ll double their lead seconds later, a fantastic Lousia Burgham chase down helping win the ball just 22 metres out. It looks a certain try as Natasha Jones skilfully offloads out the back but Morgan Richardson is tackled well 10 metres out and turned over. Loughborough then threatened, opening space down the left and then winning a penalty, looking to replicate their opening try with a kick to touch. They can't capitalise though, a lovely double tackle from Ella-Mae Fereday and Amy Relf slowing play and allowing Natasha Jones to force a knock on. Now Tigers can counter rapidly, going wide and Iavarone flying again down the wing. She flies past one, hands off a second, but is caught, her offload a fraction too high for Morgan Richardson. This time the home side do capitalise, as again they build phases, force a penalty, before a great kick to touch and subsequent drive gives way to a try from no. 8 Dani Solly.
With just a couple of minutes left in the half, Tigers were determined to not go into the changing room down a score. They inch toward the line, with big carries across the pack. So when Loughborough eventually infringe right in front of the posts, they get a deserved reward, the set-play working to perfection as the backs spread wide-left to Iavarone who offloaded back into space for full-back Molly Draycott to power through and level things up.
Half-Time score: Leicester Tigers 10 - 10 Loughborough Town
The second half begins as the first ends, with lots of great individual work but neither side able to totally seize control of the match. A testing kick-off from Tigers is met with a knock on following a chase and double-tackle from flankers McBrien and Richardson but Loughborough force a knock-on. Then Loughborough fail to build, an astute turnover from substitute Georgia Westwood allowed Tigers to adapt well and break, Ofure Ugiagbe acting as 10 and putting McBrien through on another storming deep line. She offloaded to Richardson, (a burgeoning flanker connection really came to the fore here) but now Loughborough turn over and alleviate pressure with a boot downfield. Minutes later and Becky Noon hits an abrasive carry, followed in by Katie Childs before another Draycott bursting line. However, a phase later Loughborough fly up in defence and force a turnover, before another deep, excellent kick from Leah Green, who was giving the Tigers half-time Big Boot machine a run for its money in this match.
Just as it was looking like something special would be needed to tip the balance, the away side come up with an absolute beauty. Sensing an overload out left, Katie Childs flies up but smartly goes inside and hits Draycott steaming through. As Loughborough scramble, the full-back just pulls it back inside for wing Iavarone to dot down on her return to the side.
Now we're flying. The impetus has been seized and questions are being asked at a rapid rate: Loughborough scramble from another lovely chip and chase from Lucy Nye, before Iavarone is released again down the left. Back to the middle and then back to Iavarone again, only a desperate cover tackle to touch between her and a second try.
Relentless is still the word of the day and that’s still clear at 70 minutes in. It’s clear with both flankers’ effervescent energy. Morgan Richardson looks like she's never been in the backs in her life, hitting great ruck speed, turning over balls, carries and tackles aplenty, whilst fellow flanker McBrien wins a vital turnover on Tigers 10 metre line as Loughborough have a final push. It’s clear minutes later, deep in Loughborough’s 22 as scrum half Nye refuses to let her opposite number get the ball out. And it’s clear when Becky Noon drives over for the try to put Tigers two scores clear with just 10 minutes to go.
With game control firmly in their grasp, the away side see out the remainder expertly, with patience and building phases. They pull themselves further ahead just a few minutes later, as a great kick to the corner and line-out drive gives way to a burrowing score from Sam Williams. In the dying embers, with floodgates firmly open, the league’s top scorer Molly Draycott decides to extend her lead at the top with a wonder try, flying through with a weaving run from well inside her own half. A beautiful try, the antithesis of a game that has been scrappy, attritional and hard-fought. However, it has been fought and won by Leicester Tigers.
Final score: Leicester Tigers 34 - 10 Loughborough Town