Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Comings and Goings: Rumours and a couple of announcements

Transfers.  It’s that time of year again when everyman and his dog seems to be up for moving between incredibly similar sides for a packet of Monster Munch and an extra tenner a week.  Tigers are no different so what business do we look like doing?

Well two pieces have been confirmed so far.  George Ford will leave, probably for Bath but we’re not sure, and Sebastian de Chaves will arrive.  De Chaves is a 23 year old South African lock-cum-flanker currently playing for Mont du Marsan, qualified for England through his mother and Portugal through his father.  De Chaves’s signing seems a bit of a surprising one to me; we have no real room at lock for him with Deacon, Parling, Kitchener and Slater all signed up and Tom Price, Joe Cain and Harry Wells coming through from the academy.  At flanker there might be room for him as we have Croft and Mafi secured but behind them Brett Deacon, Michael Noone and Wessel Jooste are all out of contract; Brett Deacon is a quality back up option and Michael Noone has impressed in his appearances, Jooste has yet to feature so I can’t really comment on him.

Two more deals are looking like done deals and both disappoint me in all honesty.  Martin Castrogiovanni is on his way to Toulon if a transfer fee between the sides can be agreed and Jamie Gibson seems to be on his way from London Irish.  Obviously the Castro deal disappoints me because he is a world class player and a club legend.  I’m having none of this “He’s second choice now” or “He’s a waning force”, he’s still one of the best tightheads in Europe and his performances against Treviso and Toulouse proved that.  We need to have the impact off the bench and the quality to split time with Dan Cole and push him for his best form.  Cole might be ahead now but by the end of the Six Nations Castro could be in pole position for the Heineken Cup Quarter Final in Toulon. 

The Gibson deal doesn’t disappoint me because he’s a bad player, on the contrary he’s a very good player, but because we’re well covered for lanky blindside flankers already with Croft, Mafi and apparently de Chaves too.  With Brett Deacon and also academy players like Harry Wells how many blindside flankers do we need?  And wouldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere in the squad?  I’ve heard Cockerill compare him to Craig Newby but that is ridiculous.  Newby played test matches for the All Blacks at openside, Gibson is on London Irish’s bench and only plays at 7 because they never replaced Steffon Armitage.  Good player that he is Craig Newby he isn’t.

Beyond those deals we move into the wilder speculation.  With Ford moving on we’re in the market for a fly half and have been linked with some big names; Andy Goode, Sam Vesty, Stephen Myler and Nicky Robinson have all been mentioned in dispatches.  Goode is thought to be on north of £250k a year at Worcester so will surely be out of our price range but they aren’t looking to offer him a new deal so that value could half in a buyers’ market.  Of the four Goode would be my first choice but either Vesty or Myler would be quality options, it’s worth remembering that both of those players have led teams to Heineken Cup finals.

At scrum half Sam Harrison and Micky Young both have contracts up for renewal with Harrison looking likely to stay and Micky Young thought to be joining George Ford in Bath.  Coming the other way is thought to be Perpignan’s David Melee.  I’m sad to see Micky Young go, if that is the case, as he has looked like a constant threat in attack and hasn’t really had a chance to press his claims due to injury more than anything else.  It is worth remembering Young started the season ahead of Harrison until he broke his leg half an hour into the first game of the season.  If he has to go then Melee looks a canny replacement.  A typical goal kicking French scrum half he would provide an experienced squad option and possibly more; after all the last French scrum half to come here made their Test side within the year!

With the salary cap due to rise we are getting linked with some big names again.  Steffon Armitage is apparently keen on a return to England in an attempt to force his way into Stuart Lancaster’s England squad in time for the 2015 World Cup, Tigers are known to be looking for a 7 to compete with Julian Salvi and have also been linked with Matt Kvesic, Tom Johnson, James Scaysbrook, Andy Saul, John Barclay and Adam Thompson.  Thompson and Armitage are the real quality players on that list and could easily fit in the same back row, but probably not within the salary cap given our other resources.  Armitage could be a goer as Lancaster has shown no indications of picking French based players and if he were to come back to England he’d surely want to continue to play in a winning side as he has become accustomed to in Toulon.

The other mouth watering name we have been linked with is Leigh Halfpenny.  The Cardiff Blue is rumoured to be joining the exodus across Offa’s Dyke and is interesting a number of clubs including Bath (again) and Wasps.  Scott Hamilton is out of contract and reported to be moving to Japan whilst Geordan Murphy is apparently going to retire.  So the cash for Halfpenny will be there if we can convince him to join.  I’d love Murphy to stay on another year but signing Halfpenny would be a fairly good way of softening the blow!

Props Kieran Brookes and Boris Stankovich are both out of contract, Brookes is thought to be leaving but with Castro’s likely departure the odds on Stankovich staying have shortened.  We’ve not really been linked to any other props so hopefully we’ll look to academy players like Jonny Harris, Fraser Balmain and Ryan Bower to fill the gaps.

Tigers could be in for a very good summer of business, but so far the likely deals coming in have left me scratching my head whilst the likely departures look like major losses.  One of these days the relentless weakening of our squad will come back to bite us in the arse. 

Monday, 28 January 2013

ABC Thoughts from Saturday's double header

A.  Tiger Cubs tear into Gloucester

After this Saturday’s first team win against Wasps Tigers fans were treated to a second game as the Academy entertained Gloucester in the new Under 18s Academy League.  This was Tigers fourth game of the season and they went in unbeaten after wins against Leeds, Worcester and Newcastle having yet to concede a try.  They showed the future is bright with a thumping 48-15 win, maintaining the unbeaten record and scoring 8 tries but unfortunately conceding two, something to work on during the week!  Welsh wing wizard Rhys Williams caught my eye with two tries including a lovely inside line for his first.  To emphases how young these players are when Williams made his second team debut against Worcester he played against Craig Gilles who had made his Bath debut before Williams was even born!  Other players to impress were the centres Javiah Pohe and Henry Purdy, two of the three “over age” players allowed in the side, as well as fly half and captain Oli Bryant. 

B.  Tigers Strength Finds New Depths

Tigers’ squad depth was to the fore on the Saturday as we coped without 14 players on international duty with England, Italy and England Saxons as well as missing 3 players to injury and 6 players voluntarily rested.  Despite that full matchday squad of players missing we could still get the bonus point at a canter.  Micky Young and Dan Bowden showed top form and must be pushing for starts against London Welsh whilst Vereniki Goneva was back on top form and provided the spark of genius for the last try that we have sometimes been missing this season.  Cockerill really does have some top options available to him; I hope he can use them to the best of their ability.

C.   Tigers a-peeling

Mulipola’s try was the second in this season’s LV Cup from a lineout peel move.  This time Tom Price claimed the lineout before dropping the ball into Rob Andrew’s hands, the burly South African then popped the ball to Mulipola wrapping round from the back of the line out down the 5m channel.  Earlier in the year against London Irish It was Ed Slater who claimed the lineout before Michael Noone peeled round from front to back and off load out of the tackle to Rob Andrew who buried over by the posts.  Are we using the LV Cup to fine tune some moves in a less pressurised and less analysed environment that we plan to use at the end of the season?  Or just running through the play book to keep our eye in?  Or is the “peel” a favourite of Rob Andrew who seems to be calling the shots in these games?  I won’t be surprised if we see it used in Toulon as a “surprise” attack.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Fijian Flare lights up Welford Road

Tigers welcomed back star winger Vereniki Goneva with 2 tries in a relaxed 34-8 win against Wasps at a marvellously mild Welford Road.  The rugby was as bland as the weather in all honesty but sometimes a nice relaxing win is just what the doctor ordered, especially after the nerve racking encounter with Toulouse just 6 days ago. 

The real headlines from the match were the injuries to Tom Croft and the debutant lock Tom Price.   Croft left the field after 11 minutes after a heavy contact at a ruck; Cockerill seemed confident it was just a knee in the back and not neck related, I hope he’s right.  Price’s injury was a nasty one, knocked out and requiring oxygen on the pitch it took 8 minutes of treatment before he could be stretchered from the field.  He is apparently only suffering from a concussion and a sore neck with no major injuries, which is pretty much the best case scenario.

Back to the game itself; Tigers got on the board first when Logovi’i Mulipola peeled round the front of the lineout and Wasps failed to stop him, there was a hint of a double movement but referee Martin Fox was in no doubt so awarded the try. 

Tigers looked to play and probably overdid it on a few occasions, just after the try we opened them up again but Scott Hamilton went for the long miss pass rather than straightening and using the men.  If his pass had gone to hand Goneva would have surely been in at the corner but it was just too high and the flying Fijian failed to claim it.

They stretched the lead to 10 points when Bowden slotted another penalty after the lengthy stoppage for treatment to Price.  The injury took the momentum out of the game so it was undoubtedly the right call to take the points and move on. 

It didn’t take Tigers long to score again.  Tinus Du Plessis was binned for his side’s persistent offending and with the extra man Tigers had the room to up the tempo.  Bowden proved the spark, switching play around the back of the ruck from open to blind, as he used to at London Irish, he exposed Wasps defence and found Michael Noone, on as an early sub for Tom Croft, waiting in acres of space for the easy score.

After the break Scott Hamilton looked to be clear to the line after a smart break by the impressive Andy Forsyth, but perhaps his age caught up with him as he was hauled down just short.   It was only a matter of time though as Tigers laid siege to the Wasps line, Sam Harrison coming close to scoring after he charged down Stuart Commins in goal.  The score came from Mat Tait showing his pace and timing to hit the gap that was only there for a second then having the gas to finish it off.   He certainly is a talent but the question of his whole career has been: just how to use it best?

Tigers 4th try came as Goneva, who had looked a little disinterested in the first half, burst into life.  Fraser Balmain got Tigers onto the front foot with a rumbling 30 metre carry with defenders hanging off him, and then Dan Bowden saw the gap in midfield dummying his way through the Wasps line.  Goneva was tracking his run on the outside and they exchanged passes before the moved seemed to slow and play went left but Goneva was on hand to take the short pass and finished off the move.

It was that man Goneva again for the 5th, starting the move by tiptoeing along the Crumbie touchline before Scott Hamilton’s zig zag run from half way to the 22 gave Tigers an attacking ruck 15 meters infield.  Micky Young attacked the blind side fringe, darting between 2 defenders before passing out of the tackle to Goneva back on the inside line. 

Wasps’ scrum was good but they offered little in attack and it was Tigers poor handling that prevented 50 points being reached rather than a rearguard action by the Acton based men.  In fairness this was very much a scratch Wasps as they run a very thin squad and had at least 6 players away with various England teams.

Tigers now head to Llanelli to face the Scarlets and with Cardiff, Sale and Worcester all playing on Saturday Tigers will know what they require to make the semi finals going into the game. 

Friday, 25 January 2013

Strong Tigers side aims to swat Wasps away

Tigers name a strong, though obviously much changed, side for Saturday's LV Cup encounter with Wasps.  Tom Croft continues his rehabilitation from a broken a neck with his first start at Welford Road since the 30th of March against Worcester; Vereniki Goneva also comes back from his knee injury sustained facing Treviso at Welford Road on the 9th of December.  

Dan Bowden makes his first start in the fly half shirt swapping roles from Extras duty with Matt Cornwell who wears 12 for Tigers for the first time since 2008.  Bowden will be looking to impress and steal the reserve 10 slot away from the departing George Ford.  Also auditioning in a different position is Logovi'i Mulipola who moves over to the tighthead side of the scrum, tuning up for the Six Nations period where he will cover Dan Cole and Martin Castrogiovanni and possibly for the whole of next season.

Brett Deacon captains the side from number 8, whilst England Saxons call ups to Graham Kitchener and Ed Slater, a full England call up for Geoff Parling, a rest for Louis Deacon and an injury to Joe Cain mean 6'9" Stratford native Tom Price makes his Tigers debut.  He is joined in the second row by South African Rob Andrew.

The replacements bench is full of exciting young players with Jonny Harris and Fraser Balmain impressing in league action against the Wasps in November plus Price's England U-20s team mate Harry Wells and Irish back rower Michael Noone also looking to back up impressive A team performances in the first team. 

Tigers go into this game bottom of their pool but only 1 point from top, so the knock out stages really are a possibility.  Other games that affect our pool this weekend are Saracens v Cardiff Blues, the first game at the new Copthall Stadium, Sale v Llanelli Scarlets and London Irish v Worcester.  Such are the vagaries of this competition a losing bonus point could see us go top or a bonus point victory could leave us rooted to the bottom.

Tomorrow's referee will be old favourite David Rose, his first game at Welford Road since we lost to Harlequins during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.  Overall this will be his 15th Tigers game, his 7th at Welford Road and his 14th Wasps game.  He does have experience of this fixture previously refereeing our 19-13 victory at Adams Park in November 2006, you might recall this game actually cost us top spot that year as we hadn't registered Ian Humphreys return from a loan at Leeds properly and were deducted a point.  Looking back at those starting teams 6 years ago only Louis Deacon and Jordan Crane remain for us whilst only James Haskell remains for them.

15 Mathew Tait
14 Scott Hamilton
13 Andy Forsyth
12 Matt Cornwell
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Dan Bowden
9 Sam Harrison
1 Boris Stankovich
2 Rob Hawkins
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Rob Andrew
5 Tom Price
6 Tom Croft
7 Richard Thorpe
8 Brett Deacon (c)

16 George Chuter
17 Jonny Harris
17 Fraser Balmain
19 Harry Wells
20 Michael Noone
21 Micky Young
22 Andy Symons
23 Adam Thompstone

Wasps hand former Tigers academy player and local boy Matt Everard a chance to shine against his erstwhile employers, Lutterworth native Everard played 3 times for the Tigers before Cockerill deemed him surplus to requirements.  Wasps also hand debuts to Charlie Hayter who signed this week from Moseley and Stuart Commins who played for Oxford University in this year's Varsity Match.  They are captained by Old Etonian Sam Jones, as you can see Wasps doing their bit to rid Rugby of its reputation for being a posh boys sport.  Tommy Bell starts at 10 whilst his elder brother Chris is named on the replacements bench.

15 Jack Wallace
14 Tom Howe
13 Chris Mayor
12 Charlie Hayter
11 Jonah Holmes
10 Tommy Bell
9 Stuart Commins
8 Sam Jones (capt)
7 Matt Everard
6 Tinus Du Plessis
5 Will Rowlands
4 James Cannon
3 Will Taylor
2 Nathan Morris
1 Tim Payne.

16 T Rhys Thomas
17 Simon McIntyre
18 Harry Williams
19 Dave Hughes
20 James Harris
21 Will Robinson
22 Chris Bell
23 Hugo Southwell.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

3 Tigers named in Saxons Side to Face Ireland Wolfhounds

In the week that it was announced he was leaving Leicester due to his career stalling George Ford has been named as starting 10 for England Saxons as they face the Ireland Wolfhounds in Galway.  Our Lord and Saviour JC has been named as the captain of the side from number 8 whilst impressive young lock Graham Kitchener revives the partnership with George Robson that went so well in the South Africa Tour's mid week side.  Ed Slater will provide cover on the bench.  Tigers transfer targets Jamie Gibson and Matt Mullan are also on the bench.

E Daly (Wasps)
C Wade (Wasps)
J Tomkins (Saracens)
J Turner-Hall (Harlequins)
T Biggs (Bath)
G Ford (Leicester)
R Wigglesworth (Saracens)
N Wood (Gloucester)
J Gray (Harlequins)
P Doran-Jones (Northampton)
G Kitchener (Leicester)
G Robson (Harlequins)
G Kruis (Saracens)
W Fraser (Saracens)
J Crane (Leicester, capt).
Replacements: R Buchanan (Harlequins), M Mullan (Worcester), S Knight (Gloucester), E Slater (Leicester), J Gibson (London Irish), J Simpson (Wasps), G Lowe (Harlequins), K Eastmond (Bath).

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Ford Focused on Bath Time

Today’s Leicester Mercury reports that George Ford will leave at the end of the season and join Bath.  Tigers have offered him a two year deal, described as “lucrative”, but apparently what he is really after is a guarantee of “game time”.  Given he currently has had more game time than Toby Flood he clearly doesn’t mean any old game time he means he wants to be first choice for the Heineken Cup and top of the table Premiership clashes.  This is very admirable you wouldn’t want a player in the squad who doesn’t want to play in the important games, but he seems to want to start regardless of form.  Ford is a good young player who has become Premiership class very quickly, but based on their 10 odd starts each this year I can’t fathom how he can honestly expect to start ahead of Toby Flood.

It is worth remembering the pickle we were in at Fly Half before we signed Flood from Falcons.  We’d had success with a young Andy Goode being mentored by Pat Howard then tried every man and his dog before going back to Goodey to steer the ship.  Whilst he was at the helm of arguably our best ever side in 2007 even his biggest fans, and I included myself in that, could be left tearing their hair out at his inconsistency.  The problem was that you could never tell when he’d play badly or when he’d be the best Fly Half of his generation.  He won us as much as he lost but when the offer for his services came in from Brive I think a lot of us were happy to leave on good terms, pocket a transfer fee and try our luck with a talented young lad from Newcastle.

Flood’s transformation from a rather down beat, physically and mentally questionable 22 year old to the strident leader of men he is today has been remarkable.  I remember when we signed him Shaun Edwards questioned whether he could lead a club like Leicester, or whether he would wilt under the pressure; he has more than banished the doubters, he is now arguably the biggest influence on the side and the biggest voice within the club.  He has brought stability to the side after years of searching for a fly half like Hernandez or Wilkinson and with Allen, Tuilagi and Ben Youngs has formed a mid field foursome that has an incredible track record. 

I honestly believe if he hadn’t missed the 2009 Heineken Cup final the Leinster era would have been still born whilst we’d have beaten Harlequins last summer too, just compare the game at the Stoop where he was available to coolly guide the come back and the final with Ford.

Once Ford has laid down what effectively is an ultimatum, it’s him or me, the club was left with no choice.  Flood is a mature leader, who’s just approaching his peak, who’s had 5 great years with us and at only 27 is more likely than not to have another 5 great years.  How can you really justify destabilising the whole club to massage the ego of a 19 year old who has shown glimpses but no more than that? 

I wonder whether Ford has really got what he wanted and whether he has set his sights too high.  Did he really enter into negotiations only willing to stay if the club moulded the entire side round him for the next 10 years?  Because if what the Mercury says is true then that is the position he has ended up in.  I suppose we are only in January and talks would have only started in November at the earliest so perhaps that was his opening gambit.  Ford has been told from an early age that he is Jonny Wilkinson re-incarnate and I wonder whether it has gone to his head.  Looking at the stark facts he is the youngest ever player for the first team, has played 33 games before his 20th birthday and is currently only being kept out of the side by a 50 cap current England international in the prime of his career.  He’s hardly stuck behind some honest John club slogger is he?  

Is Bath really where he wanted to go?  Moving to a club where his Dad works is a risky business, especially when he will be in direct competition with Tom Heathcote and Ollie Devoto, a year older and younger than him respectively, both of whom are local lads to Bath.  Bath is a proud city and there will be significant blocks of support for the two locals until Ford proves that he is well beyond the both of them, and whilst he is doing that the whispers will follow every bad game that he’s only being picked because his Dad’s the coach and that the local boys are being frozen out.  I suppose given the stick he’ll get in Leicester for the rest of the year if he hasn’t got a hide as thick as a rhino’s already he will have by June.

But we can’t get too het up about him moving on to further his career, after all it’s the only reason he is with us or in Rugby at all.  We signed him from Bradford Bulls in the Superleague at 16 because he felt that there was more money and more glory in Rugby, but before that he’d already been at Wigan.  4 clubs before your 20th birthday is hardly the sign of a man who values loyalty or patience.   This isn’t meant to be a character assassination, just presenting some of the facts that might have been missed by other people in the rush to condemn Cockerill for any number of sins.  On the positive side there has been next to no discussions about money in the public sphere, so it doesn’t seem to be motivated by cash, unlike Billy Twelvetrees’s two day about turn after Gloucester wafted £50k in his direction.

But that is why it is more baffling and more frustrating.  Cockerill does what he thinks is best for the club, he doesn’t hold vendettas and doesn’t really have golden boys (though some seem to be held in much higher regard inside the clubhouse than outside), if Ford had impressed significantly in the ample opportunities he has had or is about to have during the Six Nations he would have been given the shirt. 

It is also instructive to think about what sort of development he will get at Bath compared to Tigers.  In Leicester he is near as damn it guaranteed Heineken Cup rugby every year and few years outside the play offs, whilst at the moment he won’t play 100% of those games he will play some, this weekend he played in a decisive Heineken Cup winner takes all pool decider against Toulouse; Bath played against Bucharest in the Amlin Challenge Cup.  Last season he played in the semi-final and the final of both major domestic competitions, the last time Bath got to the Premiership final was 2004.

At the end of the day though if he wants to leave he wants to leave and we should just take the £45k compensation and move on.  If we think Dan Bowden can be our reserve number 10, and given his form for London Irish last year there is every reason to think he can, then he can simply slip into 10 and we can look to recruit a centre or another young fly half.

2 Tigers on ERC European Player of the Year Longlist

2 Tigers players have been nominated for the ERC's European Player of the Season.  England test pair Dan Cole and Geoff Parling have been rewarded for their outstanding contribution to Tigers winning the Pool of Death.  

The pair are part of a 15 strong longlist of contenders that will be cut to a 5 man shortlist after the semi finals in late April.  The longlist has been compiled by a panel of journalists from ERC's sponsors in England, France and Ireland including former Tiger Will Greenwood.  The fact that all nominees play in these three countries is of course entirely coincidental.

The award will be voted for by each of the 44 clubs in this season Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup as well as members of the panel. 

Steffon Armitage (Toulon)
Rory Best (Ulster Rugby)  
Julien Bonnaire (ASM Clermont Auvergne)  
Mike Brown (Harlequins)
Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers)

Owen Farrell (Saracens)  
Wesley Fofana (ASM Clermont Auvergne)
Mamuka Gorgodze (Montpellier)
Charlie Hodgson (Saracens)
James Johnston (Harlequins)  
Joe Launchbury (London Wasps)  
Morgan Parra (ASM Clermont Auvergne)  
Geoff Parling (Leicester Tigers)
Ruan Pienaar (Ulster Rugby)  
Simon Zebo (Munster Rugby)

The Judging Panel for this season's award is: Stuart Barnes (Sky Sports), Will Greenwood (Daily Telegraph, World Cup winner and two-time Challenge Cup winner), Stephen Jones (Rugby Correspondent, Sunday Times), Emmanuel Massicard (Editor, Midi Olympique) and Gerry Thornley (Rugby Correspondent, Irish Times).

Monday, 21 January 2013

Poll Results In: UltraSubMarines Faith Rewarded!

Poll Results In:

Before the Ospreys game we asked you, our readers, to vote on whether Tigers would get through to the Quarter Finals of Heineken Cup or not; voting closed on Sunday at 2:59PM just before the kick off of the Toulouse game.  

The votes have been counted and verified; and we can reveal that 93% thought that Tigers would qualify.  We haven't seen those numbers this side of the Iron Curtain!

Tigers backed up their fans' faith with a huge performance to knock out Toulouse and set up a mouth watering quarter final with Jonny Wilkinson's star studded Toulon.

Tigers to face Mayol Challenge?

Rumours are circulating that Toulon President Mourad Boudjellal has decided against moving his side's Blue Ribbon Heineken Cup Quarter Final against the Tigers to either Lyon or Marseilles, shunning up to €500,000 in the process, to give his side their best chance of getting through to a maiden semi final.  

ERC has the power to force sides to move a quarter final to a ground with a capacity greater than 15,000 and with the Mayol holding only 14,750 there were concerns in France that ERC could have forced a move.  However the Mayor of Toulon, Hubert Falco, has confirmed that they can squeeze in another 1,000 with temporary seating to avoid that possibility and keep the match in the city.

Tigers will have the right to a 3,938 allocation if the game goes ahead at a 15,750 capacity Mayol.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Snow way past Tigers, Toulouse crash out

Tigers secured a place in the Heineken Cup quarter finals with a 9-5 win against Toulouse in arctic conditions.  The game was extremely sloppy, with Tigers poor hands being out matched by Toulouse’s shocking display with the boot.  If Toulouse had got any two of their 6 kicks (4 penalties, 1 conversion and 1 drop goal) they had won the game and still be in the cup.  But looking at the positives Tigers defence was outstanding completely smothering Toulouse’s decent enough attacking game.

The game’s only try was not one for the scrap books; only the scrappy ones.  Mat Tait, under no pressure, had his poor clearing kick boomed back over his head by Lionel Beauxis putting Tigers back on their own 22.  Tom Youngs and the Tigers forwards compounded that error by not securing our own lineout ball before Luke McAlister put up a huge Garryowen.  For a tactic named after a Munster club side it is currently only really used by French sides, Brock James did it to Alesana Tuilagi last year too.  Mat “safe hands” Tait, as no one calls him, juggled with the ball before finally getting his hands on it.  If only that was the end.  He tried to clear the ball, clearly the right decision to his credit, but produced an air shot as he was tackled by Thierry Dusautoir.  With the ball squirting away Yohan Huget slide through the sludge to claim the try.

Tigers had the best of the early exchanges, winning a scrum penalty on half way before an Adam Thompstone break looked to have put Niall Morris in for a try.  It was not to be, his own arm dislodging the ball as he went for the grounding, but Tigers forwards were dominant again and won a penalty from Toulouse’s own feed.  Flood made the difficult touchline kick look easy and Tigers had the lead they would never surrender.

Tigers lost Steve Mafi on 15 minutes to a pulled hamstring as he chased through a kick ahead, at the time it was a big worry but JC stepped into the breach man fully to disrupt at the break down and carry fantastically, he saved our bacon on more than one occasion sweeping up a loose ball on the floor.

We rode our luck at times, Toulouse hit the post twice within 4 minutes during a purple patch in the first half but so did they, along with Niall Morris muffing the grounding he also dropped a clear run to the line and kicked straight to touch when Ben Youngs was shouting for it on the inside again clear to the line.

The second penalty was a tale of Toulouse errors mounting.  An overthrown line out was hacked down field by Waldrom, under his pressure Doussain fumbled the ball and Beauxis found a short touch.  Parling was found in the middle of the lineout and came up again to take an inside ball from Crane for good metres.  Tigers spread the ball wide and the Toulouse backs came off their feet at the ruck.  Flood made in 6-0 from in front of the posts.

On 35 minutes Toulouse gained two debateable scrum decisions; winning a put in then a free kick.  Picamoles went for the line, Louis Deacon and Jordan Crane went for his legs whilst Ben Youngs was at his terrier like best to get under the ball, the call went to the TMO that completely missed Picamoles being stripped of the ball by Flood before re-gathering, thankfully it also saw Youngs holding him up.  At the next scrum Johnston dropped it and Tigers could relieve the pressure.

The score moved to 9-0 with a monster penalty by Toby Flood from within his own half.  Geoff Parling was taken out in the air by Gregory Lamboley during a lineout.  Perhaps crucially the referee got the mark massively wrong, giving the penalty just behind the half way line rather than on the 10 metre line where the offence occurred.  Those 8 metres were crucial with ball sneaking over the bar.

The second half was really all about Toulouse’s attempts at attack and Tigers’ defence snuffing them out.  Luke McAlister missed another penalty, after Niall Morris was left with no option but to hold on, after the conversion for their try; in the end that was crucial.  Needing the try for the win Toulouse had to turn down a host of kickable penalties in the closing minutes and Tigers could defend to the edge of laws and often beyond. 

Tigers could have been in real trouble in the 67th minute; Toby Flood was charged down and in the melee was fingered by referee George Clancy for a deliberate knock on.  For me it was a genuine attempt to catch the ball, or at least deflect it backwards, but the refs are consistently over strict on this so it was not too surprising to see the yellow card come out.  I do wonder about our game when a knock on is a yellow card but taking a man out in the air, which can end players careers, is just a penalty.

From the penalty Toulouse turned down the kick at goal and went for the corner, this is the advantage those missed kicks gave us.  It told immediately as we managed to hold the maul up and get the scrum put in.  From the scrum Ben Youngs’s box kick was touched in flight and we had cleared our lines.

The final three minutes was a great piece of backs to the wall play.  Two penalties for Toulouse had marched them 70 odd metres from their own 22 to 9 out from our line.  Flood rejoined the action in time for the final stand.  Another penalty, this time for an in at the side unseen by anyone else, led to another lineout.  The crowd were roaring them on and Tigers came up with the goods.  Geoff Parling leapt like a Salmon to disrupt the ball and Deacon made sure it was Tigers ball with a poacher’s eye for the loose ball. 

Toulouse came again left to right, sweeping forwards from the halfway line to the 22.  One dropped ball, one loose pass, one moment without support and Toulouse were out.  So who do you want carrying you forward at these times?  The inspirational Dusautoir, the titanic Picamoles, the Johnsonian Argentinean Albacete?  No, it fell to Yohan Montes the reserve tighthead prop.  He spilled it.  They get a bad press props, but you have to wonder at that time and in that moment why was he the one holding his hand up for the work load? 

Time for one more scrum, ruled referee Clancy.  Déjà Vu of Gloucester from the last home game a month ago.  Again the opposition pack run wildly round the outside, again the referee doesn’t spot it or at the very least doesn’t give it but this time he just lets it play.  Youngs is caught short and knocks it on, visions of some Toulousain miracle are flooding the mind but no, my nightmare is shattered by the piercing blow of the referees whistle.  It’s over.  We’ve won the game, we’ve won the group.

Onwards and upwards to the quarter finals where Jonny Wilkinson and his Toulon chums lie in wait.