What’s gone wrong for Leicester City this season?

By Liam Harris

Leicester City fans watched on nervously as their side took on Italian footballing giants AS Roma at the Stadio Olimpico on Thursday night.

A tough test awaited Rodgers and his side who had to try and better footballing genius Jose Mourinho in the second leg.

Leicester’s King Power Stadium

Following a 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium a week prior, it was always going to be a challenge.

Unfortunately, on what was the Foxes’ first ever European Semi-Final, they came up short when Tammy Abraham headed the Romans into the lead in the 11th minute.

Despite going 2-1 down on aggregate, City looked to fight back with a stronger second half performance but it wasn’t to be. Thus, missing out on the Conference League Final and all but confirming another year without European football for the blues following an underwhelming domestic campaign.

Any cup exit is disappointing, but when you pin all of your hopes onto the only remaining route into it for the next season, going out becomes all the more bitter.

Many Leicester fans can’t help but feel deflated at what they have seen this season with many calling it a ‘write off’. Questions have been asked for many reasons by Foxes fans. So what has gone wrong? Why has it been such a challenging season? Let’s break it down.

Injuries

Ah yes, injuries. Let’s just get this one out of the way. After all, we were all thinking it. One thing we can all agree on is that Leicester may have had one of the most abysmal seasons ever on the injury front.

There have simply been too many to count for City this season with seemingly every matchday squad being plagued with absentees. This crisis seemingly peaked around the turn of the year and has slowly improved since.

However, it has certainly left damaging effects on the side’s league position, sitting 14th at the time of writing this. Re-injuries have been a regular occurrence with players such as Castagne and Maddison falling victim.

Possibly more crucially though, a number of City’s key figures have missed out throughout the campaign with Vardy, Barnes, Fofana and Ndidi all repeatedly being unavailable, among others.

With this sort of constant burden forced upon Rodgers, it has to be said that he’s done the best he can with what he’s had at his disposal.

With the end of the season nearing, many will feel relieved at the chance for some much needed rest for the team.

We can only hope that when the 2022-23 Premier League season kicks off in August, a fully fit squad will be available for the first time in almost 3 years.

Tactics

A common opinion felt by Leicester fans this season has been that at times, perhaps too often, tactical decisions have not paid off.

In fact, many of Rodgers’ decisions have been rather puzzling to some, especially when they have backfired. Strange substitutions and tactical mishaps have happened all too often this season.

Sitting back on a one goal lead and bringing on defenders despite no pressure from the opposition has cost City many points.

One example that comes to mind is substituting on Vestergaard and Bertrand at Liverpool despite a 2 goal lead back in December. As many will remember, Liverpool went on to win on penalties despite a considerably weakened lineup.

That isn’t even the worst example as many will recall Leicester threw away a 2-1 lead against Spurs back in January to lose 3-2 in stoppage time. Something that should never happen when your side is ahead with 2 minutes to play.

Another common criticism from City fans has been the style of football that Rodgers has had his side playing. Many believe the tempo has been too slow and performances have been passive.

November’s 1-1 draw to Leeds, December’s 2-1 loss to Aston Villa and more recently the 2-1 defeat to Everton are just some of the games that many believe City had played with a lacklustre style.

Corners and Stoppage Time

Two of the biggest talking points from Leicester’s season has been their inability to defend set pieces, more so corners.

What began seemingly as bad luck began to be exposed as a bad tactical set up for Rodgers’ side.

Fans picked up that Brendan was assigning zonal marking to his side which left many puzzled. Why were players leaving the opposition’s best headers of the ball free?

Of course, this didn’t work and following Abraham’s winner on Thursday night, the marking came under more scrutiny, with Rodgers seemingly suggesting after the game that he ran out of taller players to mark Abraham and so assigned 5’9 Ricardo to do so.

With one of the worst goals conceded from corners rates in the league, this issue urgently has to be sorted out in pre-season season once and for all.

Finally, stoppage time. Leicester’s other biggest problem has come in the final stages of games, with stoppage time being a nightmare for the Foxes.

In recent weeks Leicester have thrown away points against Everton, Newcastle, Tottenham, Brighton and West Ham in the closing moments of games.

Whether it is down to tactical issues or simply a mental problem is something that can be up for debate but it is clear that hanging onto leads has been a major challenge for City this season.


So what next?

Fear not though Foxes, for the summer is almost upon us. This means a chance for the players to get that well needed rest after a long gruelling campaign. For Rodgers, it is a chance to sort his squad out and get it back to where he wants it to be. He certainly needs to address some issues such as the corners and defending as a whole. That alongside fixing his side’s mentality is a must in the coming months. He will have the summer transfer window to do what he feels he needs to in order to strengthen and one can only assume that Khun Top will allow him to do so following the last 12 months.

A fresh start is something that everyone connected with Leicester City will be keen on and it is certainly needed. A chance to put this campaign in the past and put full focus into the 2022-23 season. A fresh mentality with a fresh squad is to be desired. Rodgers will seemingly look to trim his squad down for the upcoming campaign with the absence of mid-week football for the first time in 2 years. Fresh faces are a must for City come July.

Despite everything though, there have been some positives. The emergence of Dewsbury-Hall in the midfield and Luke Thomas improving spring to mind. This alongside Maddison’s great return on goal contributions has given fans some optimism for the future. Every team goes through bad spells and Leicester are no different. One off season does not define a club. They will bounce back from this and there is no doubt about it. The summer will prove crucial for City, but one thing that won’t change is the belief from the stands. The club prides itself on doing the unimaginable and they will look to do it once more next season. Be optimistic City fans, things will get better. In the words of Jersey Budd, ‘When you’re smiling’.

Both Hinckley AFC and Leicester Road FC likely to be promoted – meaning still no local derby

by Maciej Wojcik

After some perturbations caused by COVID-19 pandemic, Midlands Football Leaugue has been dissolved and replaced by United Counties Leaugue. Teams was placed in two groups of Premier Division and one group of Division One.

Hinckley AFC players (red tops) enter the pitch for one of their matches

Hinckley AFC has been placed in Division One. Club’s Chairman, mr. Bryan White, said: „It based on results from two previous seasons. Top three teams of each groups were placed in Premier Division, and our team was fourth – first below the line. Bad luck.”

As a result, there will be no derby match between local rivals. „There is a high level of hostility between fans of AFC and Leicester Road” – comments mr. White. „The derby game was always very crowdy with record attendances” – he add.

Hinckley AFC had an impressive series of 13 wins in a row in Leaugue and highest victory ever: 18:0 over St Martins in FA Vase competition. However, Mr White believe that the fact that attendance on home matches of AFC doubled is rather an effect of moving the venue closer to Hinckley – from Heather over 20 miles away to Barwell, a neighbour village.

Match day at Hinckley AFC

„We have large number of fans who supporting the team on away matches, as big as 70 people and over” – mr. White said. „The team is performing well and I am happy with work done by team coach, Ryan Conneely.

We were looking for opportunity to play home games in Hinckley, but all options were too expensive for us. Now we have 10 years tenency agreement with Barwell F.C., so we will play home matches in Barwell for at least 8 more years” – said mr White.

Meanwhile, Leicester RoadFC is on the second position of leaugue table in Premier Division South, having played one match less than leading Harborough Town FC and 3 point less than them. Thus, it is unlikely to see Hinckley’s derby in next season.

Why time should be up for Arteta

Long-time Arsenal fan and DMU journalism student Vivek Julka shares his views on the Gunners’ manager.

Mikel Arteta is still in a job at Arsenal. Somehow.

It has been just over two years since Arteta was appointed as Arsenal boss back in December 2019.

It is safe to say there have been a few highs, but many lows, in his current reign at the Emirates.

I am going to take a dive into his reign and show why I feel he should have been sacked by now.

He took over from fellow Spaniard Unai Emery in late 2019 which raised some eyebrows due to Arteta’s only managerial experience coming from sitting next to Pep Guardiola at Man City, where he was Pep’s number two.

However, there was some optimism from sections of Arsenal supporters and pundits alike due to feelings that he might bring elements of Pep-esque football to North London.

Two years on we know this has far from happened, Arsenal fans are instead treated to drab, boring football with little freedom given to the players.

Arteta did get off to a positive start in the second half of the 19/20 season. Despite being dumped out of the Europa League in the round of 32 by a much weaker Olympiacos team and finishing a disappointing eighth in the Premier League outside any European places, he did manage to win Arsenal’s fourteenth FA Cup. It was an impressive run too, as Arsenal beat Man City 2-0 in the semi-final and Chelsea 2-1 in the final, with world-class performances coming from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Emi Martinez especially.

However, the FA Cup triumph became a distant memory after the end of the 20/21 season for Arsenal fans who have real ambition and hold their club to a high standard as Arteta finished eighth again and finished his first full season without a trophy, which resulted in a first season without any European football for 25 years for Arsenal. Another record that Arteta has broken.

He also threw away the FA Cup in the fourth round against Southampton by fielding a weak starting line-up, even though he had his best players available – the same trophy which gave him a bit of credit in the bank. He then did this once more this season against Nottingham Forest and we went out again.

He has managed to turn £45 million man Thomas Partey, who was world class at Atletico Madrid, into a poor midfielder who has struggled for consistency. Though saying that, it does make a huge difference from being coached from Diego Simeone, one of the best managers around, to then being coached by a rookie in Arteta.

Also, in his first full season as Arsenal boss, one of the best strikers in the world at that time, Aubameyang, had his worst ever season in his career. However you could argue he lost motivation after his big contract, but it doesn’t help when your role is to score goals and you are being ordered by your manager to stay on the halfway line and play left wing. He should have been playing up front in a two with Alexandre Lacazette as they were lethal together under Unai Emery.

To make matters even more embarrassing the former boss Emery schooled Arteta in both legs of the Europa League semi-final last year and went on to win the trophy making him the most successful manager of that competition.

When it comes to transfers Arteta and technical director Edu Gaspar, have barely got a thing right since they have started dealing with recruiting players for Arsenal.

They sold Emi Martinez for £20 million to Aston Villa off the back of his stunning performances during the FA Cup run and instead opted for a clearly worse goalkeeper in Bernd Leno. Despite that, the mistake was rectified this season when Aaron Ramsdale was brought in for £30 million which again raised a lot of eyebrows myself included, as he was relegated three times previously. However this gamble has paid off so far as he has been Arsenal’s best player this season.

Paying £50 million for Ben White was a bad decision as he is nowhere near the quality required to get Arsenal competing for major honours again. He has often looked shaky and simply not good enough. How Arteta and Edu went to Brighton with £50 million and came back with White not Yves Bissouma a top midfielder which is what Arsenal desperately need, switched-on club fans will never know.

Also, the permanent signing of Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid was another mistake as his loan stint in the previous season was inconsistent, which is what is his performances this season have been too.

If Arsenal were a serious club, they would go all in for someone like James Maddison instead who has proved it in the Premier League for a few seasons now.

New contracts being given out to deadwood players like Granit Xhaka and Rob Holding is another problem. Xhaka has been a liability since he has arrived at Arsenal and should have been moved on a long time ago. But Arteta still persists and constantly plays Xhaka who continues to cost the team from his stupid challenges and gets a pass from the manager and sections of supporters who in their eyes he can do no wrong. On the other hand, when Nicolas Pepe got sent off one time, Arteta outed him in front of the press. One rule for one and one rule for another.

Lastly, the treatment and man-management of some players by Arteta has been a disgrace. Aubameyang was stripped of captaincy for allegedly being late to training and now has been forced out the club. It is okay for Xhaka to do much worse though, according to Arteta’s actions. We have not heard the player’s side of the story so we cannot judge on this situation.

I think Arteta cannot deal with top experienced players like Aubameyang. Yes, his performances have not been as good as they once were, but Arteta’s failing system has ruined him, and he will show his class at FC Barcelona. Remember this is the player who has kept Arteta in a job effectively as he won Arsenal the FA Cup.

Similarly Mesut Ozil was another victim of Arteta’s treatment. Another world class player and big character Arteta could not handle. A victory that Arteta fanboys still laud up to this day even though it was nearly two years ago. Some fans and the manager have short memories and should remember what Aubameyang has done during one of Arsenal’s toughest periods.

Another pair of players who have received disgusting treatment by Arteta are French duo William Saliba and Matteo Guendouzi.

Saliba, who is currently out on loan to Olympique de Marseille, has not even made one appearance for Arsenal despite joining back in 2019 for £27 million. He is a highly rated prospect and is consistently included in the French pundits’ Team of the Week in Ligue 1. His best performance came recently against Paris St Germain when he kept world class players like Kylian Mbappe and the best football player of all time Lionel Messi quiet.

However Arteta decides to opt for clearly worse defenders in Ben White and Rob Holding.

Matteo Guendouzi who is at the same team as Saliba, has been pulling up trees in France too with a tenacity and quality in midfield that Arsenal lack. I feel Arteta has exiled him due to his quick temper but there is nothing wrong with showing passion for the team. Which again shows Arteta cannot deal with big personalities and characters who challenge him.

Also, the over reliance on Bukayo Saka has made the young player go backwards in his development. Arteta even said in a press conference ‘he should learn to play through injury’ which is absurd. He is a good player but should be in and out the team, learning his trade. However, the experienced players he has to look up to include figures like Granit Xhaka due this to ‘youth project’ which is a sham and is a cover for the failings of this club for the past decade.

There is no doubt that Arteta should be sacked but it is up to the fans to raise the standards of the club and push him out as he is clearly not good enough to get Arsenal competing with the likes of Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool. Instead, most of the deluded fan base go for an easy target in Stan Kroenke the owner of the football club who apparently does not spend money on transfers, even though Arteta has had about £200 million spent on players he wanted. This is mostly his squad of players now, due to players he brought in and contract renewals to players that were there before, and we are nowhere near we should be.

Arsenal missed a trick in not getting Antonio Conte as we would be competing if we gave him £200 million to spend. A manager like Graham Potter would be great too as he would bring exciting football to the Emirates. He has shown what he can do with a weak squad at Brighton.

All in all, time should be up for Mikel Arteta now and in reality, he should have been sacked a while ago.

Vivek Julka

Opinion: Does European Super League spell the end of football as we know it?

By Thomas Carter

It was the announcement that took the footballing world by storm. The proposed formation of a European Super League, in which 12 of the continent’s powerhouse clubs (including six English teams) compete in a division of their own. Somewhat inevitably, the reaction to the news has been one of uproar and resistance.

Members of football communities took straight to social media to voice their discontent, with the new league coming under fire from pundits, managers and players alike.

Among the larger concerns is the idea that the formation of a Super League would create further separation in a climate already riddled with financial division, in what would be the most seismic shift football has observed since the creation of the Premier League in 1992.

As of today, the 12 clubs that would make up this new division include: Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan.

They are known as the ‘Founding Clubs’, with a further three teams expected to join the list in the coming days.

While the resistance from the fans has been evident, there is no denying the Super League’s financial backing, with American giants JP Morgan investing $6bn into the project.

As more details are revealed and the fury within the football sphere intensifies, a glaringly-obvious issue is getting lost in the adversity – this was inevitable.

Football is no longer the game of the people, and hasn’t been for years. Instead, it is controlled by a select few at the top of the financial chain. With that in mind, it has surely just been a matter of time before something of this nature took shape.

In England, the Premier League has long been known as the ‘top six teams and the rest’, as though either ends of the table are different divisions. This has been observed across Europe for decades, with powerhouse clubs dominating their respective leagues. Taking this into account, the formation of European Super League, in which these clubs only play those of the same quality, is hardly an unrealistic step within a game driven by revenue.

Another issue, however, comes with the new league’s proposed format, which would see no promotion or relegation – this is not football.

The very core of the sport is reliant on opportunity and progression, with teams battling it out to climb higher than they are, regardless of their stature. If a select few clubs play in their own exclusive league, one they are only in on a matter of wealth, then the soul of the game has been sold.

Ultimately, the formation of a European Super League, while a natural progression in a climate that facilitates greed and profit, would be a sad moment in the history of football.

Through further economic division and the very desire to progress being removed for almost all teams, this new division would certainly see the beautiful game enter its darkest hour.

England clinch victory through a tense sudden death battle against France

With the group stages finished, Matthew Childs summarises the spectacular finals of the 2020 Autumn Nations Cup, which saw a sudden death showdown to decide the winner.

Final – London – England vs France

Score: 22 – 19

The final of the Autumn Nations Cup was expected to be a dominant match by England, but France were not going down without a fight and proved they wanted to win just as much as England did.

French rugby regulations meant that their first string players were unable to get international leave from their clubs, forcing them to field what seemed to be a third if not fourth string team of inexperienced players. This considered, the squad showed that they were just as capable as the first team in giving England a challenge for the title.

France had a very defensive structure to the game which was executed almost perfectly. Their defensive coach Sean Edwards (ex Wales defensive coach) has done an excellent job at making France a defensive force with huge collisions and the ability to disable any attack that comes barrelling towards them.

Handling errors from France put England in a position to show the strength of their scrum. England’s pack dominated the scrum at the start of the match and allowed them to win vital penalties due to a lack of discipline in the French front row. These were both kicked by Owen Farrell but only one of them was successful.

France soon showed that their ‘inexperienced’ side was not to be underestimated. A superb running line put fly-half Matthieu Jalibert breaking through England’s defence. Jalibert then made a great offload allowing Brice Dulin to score in his first game for France since 2013. At this point France looked dangerous and were ensuring that England were unable to progress up the pitch to create any chances.

The inexperiance of the French squad caused them to concede another penalty, this time kicked by Elliot Daly. France lost a lot of the ball they had due to discipline errors, poor handling or expert jackeling from Maro Itoje and Tom Curry. These two players have worked hard all tournament to cause upset to all the teams that they faced. They were able again to steal valuable ball and allow England to dominate the breakdown.

England’s game plan has been clear since the start of the tournament. They like to kick the ball and make other teams come to them or wait until they make mistakes, and nothing changed in the final. This is how the game of rugby has changed significantly. Teams are more willing to have a game of kicking tennis as teams are playing to win.

England showed the strength of their set piece to place themselves five metres outside the French try line. This is where the quality of the French defence was shown as France were able to hold off collision after collision for 12 phases before eventually England made a mistake. That run of play summed up the strength of the French squad. Any team can defend well, but it takes sheer passion and determination to stop a formidable team from scoring over a long period of time like France did then.

England ended the first half trailing France by a converted try (seven points), an unusual position for them. Only three times in the last 24 matches, including the World Cup Final, have they been losing at half time – they lost all three.

The hosts started the second half with no more passion than they had shown in the first. Some of England’s most reliable players, including last week’s man of the match Sam Underhill, played poorly, leading to them being substituted early on in the second half. This seemed to work in England’s favour as a continuation of poor discipline from France and good pressure from England led to the visitors conceding another penalty, which was kicked by Farrell.

Again the second half saw a lot of kicking tennis between the teams before France eventually made a mistake to allow England another penalty. This time, however, Farrell missed his kick. With only four minutes left, France replied quickly with a penalty kick from Louis Carbonel to ensure that England had to score a converted try to get back into the game.

It seemed like England were out of the match, but a well worked driving maul allowed Luke Cowen-Dickie to drive over the line and score a try. Farrell converted to progress the game into extra time.

France had conceded over double the amount of penalties during the match compared to England. If Farrell had been more accurate with his kicking and had capitalised on the amount of penalties that France conceded, then England could have comfortably won the match without having to go into extra time.

With the game in sudden death, the first team to score any points would be crowned champions. With both teams already playing 80 minutes, exhaustion was high, so the game reverted to a game of kicking tennis to see which team made a mistake first. French discipline errors continued into extra time and allowed England the opportunity to win the game from a penalty kick from Farrell. He had been hit and miss until then with his kicks and that form continued when he hit the post and missed the chance to win the match.

The game was not yet over.

The first half of extra time went back and forth with no side able to score any points. Farrell eventually got another kicking opportunity in the dying minutes of extra time and this time he made sure of it, making England the first team to win the Autumn Nations Cup.

3rd place final – Dublin – Ireland vs Scotland

Score: 31 – 16

With Johnny Sexton back in the line up, Ireland made sure that the flaws they showed last week against Georgia had been ironed out to ensure they secured third place in the tournament.

Scotland had conceded the most penalties per match in the tournament and nothing changed during this match. In the opening stages, Scotland managed to play their own game. Ireland like to have a high pressure defence, but Scotland seemed to have it under control. Ireland conceded a a few lacklustre penalties at the start of the match, which were capitalised on by debutante Jaco van der Walt, who scored three penalty kicks in the first half.

The Irish set piece, notably the scrum, was weak last week against Georgia and this continued. In this first half Ireland played poorly, which allowed Scotland to score several penalties. On the flip side, Scotland were not much better, also conceding too many penalties to put them on the back foot. This eventually led to inside centre Duncan Taylor getting yellow carded and Sexton closed the gap between the two sides with a penalty kick.

This seemed to be the turning point for Ireland to battle a spirited Scottish side. A beautiful chipped kick from Sexton floated the ball into the Scottish try zone and was eventually grounded by Keith Earles after the Scottish players were unable to clean up the loose ball. Ireland at this point showed that a very strong scrum and pressure in defence had allowed them to take control of the game. This then eventually led to Ireland’s second try by Cian Healy in the opening minutes of the second half.

With the momentum of the game in the hands of the Irish, they were again rewarded by Earles getting his second try, which made him the second highest try scorer for Ireland after Brian O’Driscoll.

Although Scotland did not have much of the ball in the second half, with what they did have, they showed shape, threat and determination to attack the Irish defence and gain territory. Ultimately Ireland’s defence was very strong, but Duhan van der Merwe, the star winger for Scotland, was still able to weave his way through the Irish line and get a well deserved try, but it was too little too late for Scotland.

The visitors conceded too many penalties not only during this game, but through the whole tournament. This is an area which needs fixing before next year’s Six Nations to give them a fighting chance at challenging for the title. Ireland, however, made up for an unworthy performance last week to ensure that they finished in third place. Ireland always looked dangerous in attack, but what they were lacking is star players. Yes, they have star players in their squad, but after these players retire, there are no young stars coming into the game to fill their spots.

5th place final – LLanelli – Wales vs Italy

Score: 38 – 18

Wales are playing with a squad made up of new players with experienced ones. It is clear to see that Wayne Pivac wants to bleed in players in the hopes of building a very strong team in the future. This lineup worked well against Italy, but Wales seemed to be unfocused and this led to a lot of disciplinary errors. This lost them valuable territory and allowed Italy to put up a fight and score unnecessary points.

One key improvement in this match for Wales was their ability to hold onto possession and create some great passages of play from fast ball from the breakdowns. Wales scored first in the match, a good running line from Justin Tipuric breaking him through the Italian defence and an easy 2-on-1 pass put scrum half Kieran Hardy through for his first international try.

Wales continued their strong running and managed to work their way into the Italian 22. After a few phases of pick and goes, hooker Sam Parry was finally able to tumble his way over the try line to score Wales’ second try of the match and also his first international try.

Wales in the first part of the match were able to keep Italy out of the game due to their pressure in defence and having more possession, meaning that Italy were unable to make any progress into the match. Poor Welsh discipline soon came back to haunt them as they conceded two more penalties. One of them was kicked by the young Italian fly half Paolo Garbisi and the other led to a lineout deep in the Welsh half. The lineout was collected well by Italy and a strong drive into a more central position on the pitch allowed Marco Zanon to collect a grubber kick and run his way over the try line to score Italy’s first try of the match.

Welsh winger Josh Adams got a yellow card in the closing stages of the first half, which put Italy in a great position to score some more points. Italy started the second half as they left off and with Wales still down to 14 men, Johan Meyer was able to score a try for Italy putting them in the lead for the first time in the match.

Wales soon came back into the game and made sure that they finished the tournament on a positive. Gareth Davis and George North both scored tries to make sure that they won the match. At this point Wales showed they had ironed out their errors and became confident as a squad again. Callum Sheedy was flawless with his kicking all match and was also a huge asset in the Welsh attack. He delivered a perfectly timed pass to put Tipuric through for the final try of the match. The back row partnership between Tipuric and Faletau was outstanding throughout. Although Tipuruc got a try, Faletau made a lot of huge runs and defended extremely well, which for his efforts, rewarded him with Man of the Match.

7th Place final – Edinburgh – Georgia vs Fiji

Score: 24 – 38

With Fiji finally able to play their first match in the tournament with enough players free from Covid, they knew that they had to make it worthwhile. Within the first three minutes Fiji showed their talent with a try from Nemani Nadolo. Nadolo came back from retirement for the Autumn Nations Cup and it is clear to see why.

Fiji are renowned for being a strong team and this put the Georgian strength to the test. Georgia were not expecting such a strong start from Fiji and this put them under heavy pressure, which led to a lot of handling errors. This gave Fiji strong positioning inside the Georgian half and a powerful scrum led to the second try by Johnny Dyer in the sixth minute. At this point it seemed as if Fiji were going to completely dominate the whole game.

The one thing that stood out in the Fiji squad was their jackeling at every breakdown. This won them a lot of turnovers or penalties, but ultimately prevented Georgia from making any forward momentum. Georgia simply did not know how to break down the Fijian defensive and in turn this meant that Fiji were able to steal the ball and put Josua Tuisova through to score Fiji’s third try. The flying Fijians were off to a flying start.

Georgia soon made their way back into the game and managed to score a try before halftime. Although they went into halftime behind, they regathered and came out fighting after the break. Georgia made significant improvements to prevent Fiji from getting an even bigger lead and learnt how to break through the strong Fijian defence and work their way into the Fijian 22. Georgia have got a very strong scrum and this is what they used to secure good ball and move forwards up the pitch.

Fiji again continued their exceptional breakdown skills in the second half. This is where the game came to life. Fiji used their size and power to give Nadolo a hat-trick of tries and earn him Man of the Match. Georgia however, did not go down without a fight. Two tries scored by flanker Beka Saghinadze showed the heart of the Georgian players to come back from 38-10 to 38-24.

Although Georgia lost, they have made significant improvements since their first match of the tournament. At the start of the tournament they did not know how to attack the opposition, but now they have great running lines to break through the defence and they act well under pressure to ensure that they score points to challenge some of the best tier one nations. Before this tournament, Georgia barely played any matches against tier one nations. This tournament showed that playing better teams allowed them to constantly improve as a squad which makes for good competition.

Fiji played an amazing game and it is a shame that we have been unable to see them play any other games during this tournament. Based on this performance, they may have caused a lot of problems for some of the other teams in the tournament and potentially finished a lot higher in the table.