A Tigers sevens side, coached by Matt Smith and managed by club legend Dusty Hare, suffered a narrow 24-17 defeat to Guildford in the Plate semi finals of the Super Sevens Series opener on Sunday afternoon after a day of mixed results in the tournament held at Bury St Edmunds.
Kicking off the tournament against the British Army, seeded number one for the competition, the Leicester side were dominated in the first half by the much more experienced outfit and trailed 24-0 at the half time break.
The Army found their way over for a fifth try in the opening minutes of the second half and converted to stretch their lead to 31-0 with only six minutes remaining in the match.
However, inspired by an injection of energy from Tigers academy youngsters Freddie Steward and Sam Costelow, and with little time left on the clock to cut the 31-point deficit, the Leicester youngsters found their groove in the shortened format of the game against the full-time sevens Army side and scored five unanswered tries before full-time to finish the match two points shy of an incredible comeback, 31-29.
👍— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) May 5, 2019
Great to see the skipper on the sidelines at @BSERugby today, supporting the young lads representing the #TigersFamily here at the @S7SRugby !! pic.twitter.com/h3jbelSrj4
An encounter with Apache in their second fixture of the day awaited the Smith-lead Tigers outfit, who were hopeful of improving on the opening round loss to the British Army.
In an attempt to move the ball around and test their opponents defence, the Tigers found themselves forcing the final pass on a handful of occasions and allowed errors to creep in to their game in both attack and defence.
The only two senior squad members in the side, Will Evans and Fred Tuilagi, showed their experience in the second fixture for the Tigers group of the tournament - with the latter getting the crowd on their feet with a barnstorming run down the right flank, with the ball in one hand, which helped find vital territory to set up a try.
In similar fashion to the opening match, Leicester turned it on late to stage a comeback but once again fell short and were defeated 29-19.
The final game of the pool stages saw Tigers take on the Nigeria Exiles, with the winner to move through the Plate semi finals and loser in to the Bowl competition.
With two games under their belt and combinations unknown to one another before the tournament now settling on the pitch, Tigers turned it on from the opening whistle to the enjoyment of coach Smith on the sideline.
In a dominant display which featured seven tries, including a hat-trick to Harry Glynn, the Leicester squad confirmed a place in the Plate play-off with a 37-7 victory.
🙌— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) May 5, 2019
Great to see some young Tigers fans here at @BSERugby supporting the lads during today’s @S7SRugby action! pic.twitter.com/KPAbWsfW0W
Leicester suffered a blow before kick-off in the semis with speedster Luke Phoenix ruled out with a knock to the knee, leaving the squad with just 12 men for the knockout fixture against Guildford - who had also placed third in their group after the pool stages.
Smith rallied his young Tigers troops who came out in search of victory and a place in the Plate Final and got off to a flying start thanks to a try from scrum-half Jonny Law in the opening minutes, followed by another breakaway from Steward to see the Leicester side lead 12-7 at the half-time break.
Guildford struck early in the second half to level the scores at 12-all, before Tigers forced their way up field in impressive, patient fashion to score and lead 17-12.
Their more experienced opponents showed their sevens knowledge late in the half to cross for a try nearer the posts, which was converted, and lead 19-17 with only minutes remaining.
A Tigers attack, including some incredible play in the build up and interplay between youngsters getting their first taste of sevens action as a squad, looked to have set up a grandstand finish when a last pass down the right hand wing saw Wales U19s and academy winger Leo Gilliland in space with a clear run to the line. However, much to the dismay of the Leicester youngsters, the pass was ruled forward and play called back.
Guildford crossed in the final minute to extend their lead to seven points, where it would stay, and claim victory as well as a place in the Plate Final.