Leicester Tigers prop Nephi Leatigaga says the squad knew exactly what was required in their first game of the New Year – and they delivered it on the pitch.
The 26-year-old replaced Tigers tighthead Dan Cole in the final quarter against Bristol, with Round 8 of the Gallagher Premiership hanging in the balance.
But a strong scrummaging display from Leatigaga and his fellow front row replacements – plus a crucial last-minute turnover from the Samoa international – secured all five points in Tigers’ opening game of 2020.
“The boys just stuck in and gave it our all for 80 minutes,” Leatigaga said, when asked about the squad effort on display.
“We let [Bristol] slip in a bit, but we finished off strong, and that’s what I love about the boys – we kept playing until the final whistle.
“We knew it was a special one, we knew we needed to win at home – especially for the fans and in Sam’s last game – and we knew what Bristol would bring, but it was a case of dictating it to them. We did that well.”
“We knew we had it in us.”Nephi Leatigaga
Following a start in the Gallagher Premiership win over Gloucester, Leatigaga has been used to great effect off the bench in recent weeks, and explained the role of the reinforcements in closing out big games.
He continued: “We’ve been building from our last two games – especially Exeter where we started off well – and we knew we had it in us, but we finally showed it today.
“The starting XV set the platform, and we knew that we had to come off the bench and finish the game off strong, and that’s exactly what we did.
“There’s pressure, but I guess you could call it normal pressure for us. That’s what we’re there for.”
And the front-rower was equally modest when asked about his exploits over the ball that helped seal the match.
“I thought I’d just get in there and see what I could do!” he laughed.
“We train hard on the breakdown every week and, if we see the opportunity, we’re encouraged to back ourselves and just go for it.
“That’s what I did – just went for it, since it’s pretty difficult for them to shift me when I’m on the ball!”
Tigers return to action this Sunday (January 12, 3.15pm) as they host Cardiff Blues in the European Challenge Cup. Match tickets are available from the Tigers ticket office at Welford Road, on 0116 319 8888 (option 2) and online using the buttons below.