Geordan Murphy identified the opening moments of the second half as the period that “killed off” Leicester Tigers’ hopes of chasing down Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road on Saturday.
Tigers conceded four tries to the top-of-the-table visitors in the opening half an hour but then clawed their way back into the game as a converted try from Tom Youngs with the clock already past 40 minutes cut the deficit to just eight points at 20-28 at half-time.
With the Chiefs kicking of the second half with international wing Jack Nowell in the sin bin, the hosts wanted a big start, but instead saw the game slip away.
Soon afterwards, skipper Youngs was red-carded for a clear-out which made contact with the neck of Ollie Atkins after Matt Toomua thought he’d scored in the corner and there was no way back as the visitors stretched out to win 52-20 in Round 18 of the Gallagher Premiership season.
“When we started to play at the end of the first half, I thought we were in a good spot,” said head coach Murphy.
“But at the start of the second half there were a couple of poor penalties and they got a try and that period killed us. We gave away 10 points very early and then the red card cost us.
“It is incredibly disappointing. We went out to play but we gave them too much of a start. And in the end we conceded a lot of points but to go for that bonus point we had to keep playing and throwing everything at them which can leave you a bit open. There was an intercept and a couple of times ball at one end of the pitch turned into tries at the other end.
“I thought Exeter were very, very good, let’s give them some credit. They are top of the league for a reason, but we will have to be a lot better next week.”
On the red card decision, Murphy added: “It is a difficult situation. We want players to go in and clear shirts out, but you have got to look after the head area and you can see what World Rugby are trying to do in that.
“Rob Baxter said it is ‘a rugby incident’, Tom Youngs is not a dirty player, he’s coming into the breakdown, he is low and being aggressive. The white shirt has rolled and the picture has changed. I get that World Rugby say any contact with that area is red for player safety and that is paramount, we just need consistency across the board.
“Undoubtedly things went against us, but the boys stuck at it when we were down to 14 men for nearly 30 minutes. We kept trying to play, we still looked ambitious, but we were a bit sloppy at times and a bit anxious.”