'Pretty clear facts' exasperate Leicester boss Richard Wigglesworth
It’s a rough gig, getting anointed first-time head coach in an emergency. Just ask Richard Wigglesworth. There he was in midweek, full of the joys of spring that he appeared to be getting a good handle on being a successful rookie boss. His Leicester team had just won six on the bounce after a damaging winter and were falling in love with themselves. Then came Dublin on Friday night.
The European scoreboard wasn’t of record proportions, the 31-point margin of defeat still 12 points shy of the 43-point hammering inflicted by Glasgow in January 2017. But 55-24 was no way for the reigning champions of England to credibly lose in Ireland in a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final.
Growling Tigers? More like shy pussycats who rolled over when the game was suddenly there for them to go and win. They had seemingly done the hard part, absorbing a Leinster onslaught to trail by just seven points, and when the hosts were then put a man down with an early second-half yellow card, the stage was set for the visitors to finally bear their attacking claws. They flunked. Terribly.
Their scrum, once a feared part of their DNA, abjectly collapsed, their defence creaked and their 10-minute spell with numerical advantage produced a terminal 10-0 loss that was the stuff of Halloween nightmares. Game over and the question was now by how much.
Two Leicester yellow cards coming down the finishing stretch only added to the seven-tries-to-three gulf and it was a pained Wigglesworth who emerged into the whiny air-conned media auditorium for a brisk four-and-a-half-minute inquisition before making his not-so-merry way home.
He took exception to the suggestion that his team’s heads went down. “No way heads dropped,” he retorted. “Give me an example of heads dropping? Did we make errors, did they put us under pressure? Yeah, but not through anything other than them being a really good team and us being in a positive where it was really difficult.”
What was the half-time message? “Make sure we were in the contest, but I am not going to tell you what my half-time team talk was to the players, no.” The full-time message then? “If I’m not going to tell you about the half-time, I’m definitely not going to tell you about the full-time.” Touchy.
What about the malfunctioning set-piece against a seven-man Leinster scrum? “That was a moment we wouldn’t be happy with. We have had outstanding scrum and it’s part of our DNA that we have an outstanding scrum so not something we can be happy with, but I’m not a scrummaging expert so I will leave that to our scrum coach Tom Harrison, who is exceptional at what he does. I’m sure he will have some fixes.”
As for the scoreboard chasm? “30 points, a bit enough gulf. They were the better team, an outstanding team who are quite rightly favourites to lift the trophy. What do I reckon in terms of bridging the gap? One, they [Leinster] are an outstanding team with quality internationals, with quality coaches that have been together for a long time.
“None of that is in question but the gulf is in what you have available to spend. Now I am not saying that is right or wrong, I am not asking to spend more money, there are just some pretty clear facts out there.”
One fact that the former Saracens scrum-half did spikily point out was that Leinster, despite their years of pre-May dominance in this tournament, weren’t exactly glittering in trophies.
“They have earned their home advantage and with the final here (in May) it will take a special team to beat them, but they have only won it once in 11 years. So there is always a team that pops up and beats them. I have beaten them a few times myself, so they have got to go and win it.” Ouch.
“We were in the contest, 50 minutes, seven-point ball game, they go down to 14 and we make some errors, gave away too many penalties and then they were clinical in that period and we weren’t – and then the game gets away from you. When the game gets away from you against these boys and you are down players, then they can score points quickly and we had to look after at lads knowing what is coming.”
That coming is two home games versus Exeter and Harlequins where Leicester will look to bolt down their Premiership semi-final ticket. First up are the Chiefs on April 16. Wigglesworth, who is not long for his parish as he will soon decamp to Steve Borthwick’s England, expects a defiant response.
“They [Leicester] will pick themselves up, an outstanding group. What an experience to go through to test themselves against the best. We were excited to go up for the challenge, but we came up short, you lose by 30 points and it hurts.
“We will do some learning from it. When you play against the best teams you learn from it, so we need to learn quickly, dust ourselves off. We have been playing must-win games for a few months now. We didn’t win this must-win one and we will try and make sure we win next Sunday.”