Leicester on the brink of a European exit as Racing 92 thump Tigers to a nadir
Leicester‘s interim head coach Geordan Murphy and England fly-half George Ford admitted to deep-seated problems at the club after this eight straight defeat in all competitions left them on the brink of early elimination from the European Champions Cup.
Although Leicester mathematically remain in contention to qualify for next spring's quarter-finals, if they can beat Scarlets and Ulster in the last two rounds in January and squeak through as a pool runner-up, the team who were kings of Europe under Martin Johnson's captaincy in the early 2000s now look like rugby paupers compared with Racing 92, and plenty of others besides.
Heavy beatings have become so miserably common for Leicester that this 34-point score against them was no longer a shock.
Read more: Leicester Tigers recover some of their old form but fall short against Racing 92
Murphy, who was a stylish full-back in those serial title-winning teams, domestically and on the continent, has seen his beloved Tigers lose nine of 13 matches in the league and Europe this season, and the Irishman described this yesterday as the “lowest ebb” in his 21 years at the club. “We are on an horrific run, and confidence is low,” said Murphy, as he contemplated this Saturday's crunch Premiership match at home to Harlequins which former Tigers star Austin Healey described in TV commentary yesterday as the biggest in the club's history, such is the looming threat of relegation. “Quins will come here and really sense blood in the water,” Murphy said. He also referred to simple one-on-one tackles missed, and Racing's Scotland fly-half Finn Russell “waltzing through” and yet supposedly no lack of effort by Leicester, which all leaves a lot to solve if matters are not to become drastically worse with demotion to the second division.
Ford's father Mike was here watching, and he has been linked with a role at Leicester, having coached England's and Ireland's defence among his past roles. David Ellis is also said to be in the mix for sorting out a catastrophically leaky barricade.
But Ford junior aimed his fire much wider. “Everyone is speaking about the defence,” the No.10 said. “We have got other issues as well, if you ask me. There are a few things that need fixing, and quite urgently. We can still improve in attack, improve in our breakdown area, and probably tactically and strategically.
“It's horrible, really. Every time you lose it hurts especially in front of your own fans. It's not an effort thing; the lads are shattered. We just need to improve in all areas.”
Ford said Leicester may have “stood still” since they last won the Premiership, in his first spell at the club, in 2013. “If you look at the top teams in Europe, and the top teams in England, they have taken their games to the next level, we need to have a serious look at what we can do to catch them up.”
It would be no surprise to see a change at board level, soon, but Leicester face losing the playing talent they do possess if they go down.
Racing demolition job
From Racing's cinema-style indoor arena last week, the main features at good old Welford Road were grass, a blue-grey sky, a breeze, the odd burst of birdsong and the same dispiriting result for Leicester.
Relying on the Tigers' line-out in the Racing red zone was a flawed thought. And the home defence showed its colours when Racing's Irish full-back Simon Zebo made a clean break for the opening try by scrum-half Teddy Iribaren.
Juan Imhoff and Virimi Vakatawa also went over for Racing before half-time, with Leicester replying through George Worth. The full-back who is fourth choice behind the injured Telusa Veainu, Mat Tait and Matt Smith scooped up a loose ball as Thompstone was hauled down by Zebo, following surges off a line-out by Matt Toomua and Manu Tuilagi.
Another Leicester chance went west when the Test prop Ellis Genge lost the ball in a tackle after a line-out in the Racing 22. Genge has a great deal going for him as a running, scrummaging loosehead, but he also looks perpetually vulnerable to opposition wind-up merchants. His midweek observation that English rugby, generally, should be recruiting more from the working class was fascinating. Leicester need to find a solid core from somewhere.
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Russell's second penalty goal gave Racing the first points of the second half. And while a slightly harsh yellow card to Leicester tighthead Dan Cole after 59 minutes, for leading with his elbow, was not damaging, points-wise, it helped prevent any comeback.
Tuilagi was replaced by Gareth Owen, with eight minutes remaining, to save some energy for the Harlequins scrap to come. Racing's final thrust, involving Maxime Machenaud on the France scrum-half's reappearance after seven months injured, gave Imhoff his second try in the last minute.
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