THIS WEEK: Leicester Tigers beat South Africa

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 12:27

VIDEO: No, that isn't a typo. On 6 November 2009 Leicester Tigers really did take on and defeat then-World Champions South Africa in an exhibition match at Welford Road.

Despite being pretty big news at the time, it's been largely repressed deep down in our collective memories alongside other stories from that year like when that guy landed the plane on the Hudson, or how we all went a little bit weird over the Avatar movie.

Fresh off the back of beating the British & Irish Lions and beginning their Tri-Nations campaign with back-to-back wins over New Zealand (how times change), South Africa were a huge deal in international rugby and arguably the most-feared side in the world at that point.

Persuading the Springboks to head to Welford Road as a kick off to their Northern Hemisphere tour was a huge coup for the Tigers and was surely necessitated by some monumental landmark or historical achievement, right? Right?

Well... sort of.

Officially, the match served as a celebration of the opening of Tigers' new Caterpillar stand, and the Leicester faithful dutifully responded by packing out all 24000 seats of the revamped stadium.

Initial press releases promised the very cream of world rugby on display, with the likes of Bryan Habana and Victor Matfield to be featured (READ HERE).

In reality, most of South Africa's biggest names ended up sitting this one out, taking some of the shine off what was supposed to be a real showcase match.

In total, five uncapped South Africans started the contest, but the way in which Leicester demolished the Springboks on the day suggested it wouldn't have mattered who was playing.

The home side for their part were fielding a largely second-string XV including a rookie Manu Tuilagi who was still a fresh-faced youngster in the academy.

Also making his first appearance for the Tigers was Australian wing Lote Tuqiri, who had signed for Leicester after being sacked by the Wallabies for then-mysterious shenanigans (READ HERE).

The Springboks started strongly, going 8-0 up inside 8 minutes through a Ruan Pienaar penalty and a Jongi Nokwe try.

But by half-time, Leicester were 16-11 up and South Africa were all but done.

Manu Tuilagi had shown glimpses of his future superstardom by punching holes in the South African defence before Lucas Amorosino touched down on 27 minutes to cement Leicester's dominance, which they refused to relinquish until the end.

Ben Youngs of all people was in possession of Leicester's kicking tee at the time, and finished his evening with a total of five penalties and a conversion. A couple of late penalties for Pienaar turned up the pressure late on but the Tigers held on to come away with an impressive scalp and win the game 22-17.

South Africa's ill-discipline may have cost them dearly, but the real story behind the Tigers' victory was their forward dominance.

Martin Castrogiovanni and chums absolutely obliterated the Springbok pack all over the field, leading to interim South Africa coach Dick Muir commenting that he'd "never seen [a South Africa pack] as bad as that".

It wasn't just that South Africa were bad, however - Leicester, buoyed on by their rabid home supporters were on another level.

Indeed, the performance of this supposedly weaker XV probably contributed to the gradual side-lining of unavailable incumbents such as Louis Deacon and Dan Hipkiss in favour of the new guard.

It was something of a poor omen for the rest of South Africa's Northern Hemisphere tour. They would compound their issues with a loss to France a week later, before a narrow defeat to Saracens at Wembley. They would then gain some measure of improvement by beating Italy before a loss to Ireland wrapped up a rather dismal tour for the Springboks.

Leicester on the other hand continued their momentum into the league, ending the regular season on top of the Premiership table before defeating Saracens at Twickenham to win the league and become champions for the ninth time.

By Dan Johansson, RugbyPass