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Close encounters can be a key indicator

Just one more break might have made all the difference in closing stage versus Saints
Just one more break might have made all the difference in closing stage versus Saints

There were a few harsh words bouncing around in reaction to derby defeat last week and, while unwelcome if you’re on the receiving end, they could also be seen as a sign of raised expectation.

The performance, the result and the reaction against Saints simultaneously showed how far Tigers have come and also how far there is still to go. It is probably the message Steve Borthwick has been using behind closed doors too.

In a week when sporting organisations have said enough is enough with regard to hatred and abuse of individuals via social media, the criticism of a second successive defeat has to be taken into context.

The Tig was as frustrated as any Tiger, but only because both games could have been won. No blame on any individual, no alarm bells, no kicking over the coals, just a nagging feeling that this team could have taken more out of two testing fixtures against sides around us in the league table.

The feeling among supporters ahead of the trek to Bath was as positive as at any time in the last three seasons and, despite defeat there, the optimism was still in good supply ahead of the date with Saints on Saturday.

A lot of it is still there too, despite back-to-back defeats for the first time since early in the season.

The gameplan worked to the letter for 78 minutes at Bath, a team who reached the semi-finals last season when Tigers sat at the opposite end of the table.

The late penalty and its important territory was the only deviation from the plan and, even then, it required Bath’s lineout and driving game to go better than their scrum had done in the previous hour and for the addition of a touchline conversion before they could say victory was theirs.

A week later, and with six consecutive home wins on board, Tigers hosted a Saints team sitting in fifth place and in decent form.

BT Sport commentary was very flattering of the Saints attacking style and the visitors showed their eagerness to move both ball and opposing defence from the word ‘go’. They scored two first-half tries, the first from patience close to the line and the second from an interception.

Picking off opposition ball is, of course, a skill in itself. You have to read it and gamble on it, while also backing your defensive system to fill a centre-sized hole if you get it wrong. Credit where credit is due, they gambled and won, though Tigers clawed a way back into the game with a Nemani Nadolo try 10 minutes later and the second half followed a similar story, Saints pulling away and Tigers fighting back.

On recent evidence, you’d still fancy some success in those final five minutes when Tigers banged at the door with possession inside the Saints 22 – when a flipside of the Bath game looked on the cards.

But, again, give some credit to the opposition. Their defenders finally won the day with those two big penalties on the floor gaining four points and bragging rights.

Tigers came away with just two points when they could have had a lot more – if the first game had finished two minutes earlier or if one of those final phases in the derby had breached the defence.

It shows just how competitive the Gallagher Premiership is as a league and, vitally in the disappointment of last Saturday, just how competitive these Tigers can be within it.