Saturday, 31 August 2013

Flood injuries mars Tigers win

It’s an interesting exercise trying to describe foul play that you missed and have only heard second hand reports of.  Especially when there is no big screen to get slow-mo replays or even an on hand recording to verify other’s events.

The facts are that Ulster lock Dan Tuohy broke through the line carrying the ball on about halfway; the referee immediately blew his whistle for a foul and sin binned him.  Toby Flood was immobile on the pitch for over 10 minutes and was taken by stretcher straight into the pitchside ambulance.  From the terrace I could not see him moving at all.

So it certainly had an ugly outcome; but what exactly did happen?  Reports from those that claim to have seen it is that there was a swinging arm to Flood’s head.  Now taking the risky gamble that referee Tim Wigglesworth was correct in a yellow card what could have happened? 

On one extreme is that it was a stationary but prominent elbow that caught Flood in the head; the other is that after Flood had grasped him in the tackle he swung an elbow at his head to break him off.  One of those isn’t a penalty; the other, even in these days of yellow cards for manslaughter, is a clear red.  So it must have been something in between those two extremes. 

Best guess?  Dan Tuohy had his arm tight to his chest, Martin Corry style, and rather than taking contact then pushing off, which most refs see as legal, he pushed off prematurely swinging into Flood’s head in the process.

That or he’s a dirty Irish thug who deliberately injures opponents.  Probably the accident.

Well that’s 280 words on the injury what about the tries?

It was nil all when Flood came off and Ulster ended the 14 men stretch 3 points up, Tigers had levelled the score after a clumsy/lazy high tackle from former Northampton player Roger Wilson. 

It was a cracker of a try.  We won’t score too many better this season.  A nothing penalty from Ulster on our 22 was tapped quickly by David Mele.  He had spotted Tom Court, hobbling after the last ruck, exposed as the last man on the end of the line.  Mele to Lamb then Allen inside the 22 before Goneva was freed to round the luckiest Lion since Andy Nicol.  Goneva took it up to about half way before Niall Morris was given it sweeping up from full back.  He showed to give it to Hamilton then burst straight, his pace taking straight to the line from halfway.

A not too dissimilar move ended with Goneva chucking it at Thompstone’s ankles about ten minutes later.
The second try was the kind of masterful manipulation of a forward pack and a blindside that was reminiscent of Adel Kardooni in his pomp.  The maul had been going well, driving Ulster back 15m on the previous occasion before Wigglesworth had blown for an Ulster scrum, and Tigers were now within yards of the line.  It had been a back ball so there was a nice large blindside.  Wary of another random scrum to Ulster this time Tigers decided to get it moving then release the ball. 

Mele was le petit general as he bossed flanker Salvi to burst left and draw the man before seeing of an Ulster challenge to dot down in the corner.  C’est magnificent. 

After halftime Tigers quickly scored another beaut as Dan Bowden’s cut out pass to Hamilton tore the Irish defence to shreds; a lovely out the back of the hand flick to Anthony Allen, lurking on the wing, finished the move.

Ulster came back into it with some nice attacks.  Speedster Paddy Marshall went close after a good bit of broken field play following a Neil Briggs charge down.  Jerome Schuster was sin binned for an impossibly thick bit of play on his own goal line.  With the ball already slow and going nowhere he piled into the scrum half through the side of the ruck.  Now a yellow was harsh given it was the first offence by the entire team that half and the ball was nothing anyway but it was a stupid penalty to give away.  Tigers turned the ball over the next phase so it really was for nothing.  Ulster used the space from the missing man for Chris Henry to score under the posts.

That meant we got to see Fraser Balmian though, and he impressed shoring up the wobbly scrum and clearing rucks aggressively.

The scrum.  Ah, the scrum.  Apparently we have solved it.  So the internet nerds and the Telegraph twitchers tell me.  Well it looks like the Emperor’s New Bollocks to me.  I counted 6 free kicks and 3 penalties, with one highly suspicious squirt out of a scrum that looked suspiciously like it came out the tunnel.  Several collapses and re-starts were present and correct but what scrums we did get seemed de-powered and unstable with far more lateral movement than is normal.

Now we had duff games under last year’s rules too so I’m not poo-pooing the new rules just yet, but Richard Cockerill’s allegations of swapping one mess for another seems on the money after that display.

Back to the game and there was one final try as Tigers pushed for the imaginary bonus point.  Always good to train the mind as well as the body.  Perry Humphreys, last year’s title winning Under 18s full back, was fed a superb inside ball by Ryan Lamb and gained some good ground.  He recycled and the ball went left.  A huge cut out pass from Lamb found Waldrom on the charge who went close to the line, off loading for De Chaves who was driven over by Briggs to score in the corner.  Had there been a TMO I’m sure he would have been consulted but there wasn’t so we got a try rather than a wait.

Lamb’s conversion hit the post to round out the score at 30-10.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Meet the New Guys: Part Two

Name: Jamie Gibson
D.o.B.: 29/7/1990 (23 years old)
Position: Flanker
Experience: 69 Pro Games (London Irish)

At 6’5” and well over 16 stones it is fair to say that Gibson is hardly from the Neil Back School of opensides.  Frankly being openly sizest I doubt he can actually cut it as an openside with that height to overcome.  But apparently he is to be competition not for Steve Mafi and Tom Croft at 6 but for Julian Salvi as a 7.

Gibson is not altogether a typical Tigers player having gone to super posh Marlborough School, whose fees of over £30,000 a year will be more than most Tigers fans earn in the same period.  After that school of hard knocks Gibson went on to read Classics (that’s the super useful subject of ancient Greek and Latin) at University College, Oxford for the bargain price of £9,000 a year. 

At least he should be able to give Richard Cockerill some posher insults to hurl at the officials.
Despite the claim he will be covering 7 I can’t help but feel Gibson will be used mostly as a utility back row sub replacing whoever is playing worst.

Name: David Mele
D.o.B.: 22/10/1985 (27 years old)
Position: Scrum Half
Experience: 141 Pro Games (Perpignan)

Mele is your typical French scrum half.  Short, aggressive, prone to a bit of diving, a goal kicker and confident enough to turn his hand to fly half.  Mele was an ever present for Perpignan last season slotting in at both his favoured scrum half position and at fly half.  A prodigious goal kicker, including 14 drop goals (compared to Flood’s singular effort for Tigers) he doesn’t trouble the scorers with tries too often as he has only scored twice in his 141 games for the Catalan side.

Mele has come with the intention of ousting Lions scrum half Ben Youngs from the side and winning French international caps but may have to make do with scrapping against Sam Harrison for the right to warm the bench.  Harrison has seen off many pretenders to his position in recent years so I wouldn’t bet against him.

Primarily Mele will be used when Youngs is on England duty and should be good enough to allow a little bit more rotation as Tigers push for trophies on three fronts this season.

Name: Neil Briggs
D.o.B.: 1/6/1985 (28 years old)
Position: Hooker
Experience: 185 games (2 Sheffield, 22 Rotherham, 122 Sale, 21 Bourgoin, 18 London Welsh)

There would have been a time when a player moving on to his 6th club by the time he was 28 would have been the butt of the old “more clubs than Tigers Woods” jokes.  These days it seems to be if not exactly common certainly unremarkable.  Except I am remarking on it.  Well whatever.

Briggs started his career proper by playing a season at Rotherham before spending the bulk of his career to date at Sale, where he was part of their Champion side in 2006.  A fall out with Mike Brewer saw a move to ProD2 with recently relegated Bourgoin, after their monetary problems he joined Lyn Jones for London Welsh’s Premiership adventure.

Briggs is coming to provide more competition to Tom Youngs as first choice hooker and will probably force Rob Hawkins, who has never quite convinced, down to third place.  Like many of the current squad Briggs in the 27-28 age bracket so should be entering his prime.  Almost like Cockerill has had a long term plan or something.

Name: Gonzalo Camacho
D.o.B.: 28/8/1984 (29 years old)
Position: Winger
Experience: 77 Pro Games (21 Argentina, 30 Harlequins, 26 Exeter)

Camacho joins Tigers from Exeter Chiefs where the emergence of Cornish youngster Jack Nowell limited his opportunities last season to just 8 games.  The previous season he had been a mainstay of the Exeter side as he featured 18 times.

Previous to his stint at Exeter Camacho had become a crucial part of a resurgent Quins side, leaving the summer before they won their inaugural title having played 26 times in 2010/11.

Never exactly a prolific winger Camacho has only scored 7 tries in 56 games of English Rugby; those numbers do warrant the question of what exactly do we want with a 29 year old winger who will be missing until October when we have Morris, Goneva, Thompstone, Benjamin and Hamilton as well as a plethora of academy lads available to us?

Argentina regularly pick him ahead of Horacio Agulla, who impressed us all so much, so maybe these highly paid professional coaches see something I am missing.  Argentina test commitments mean Camacho will be missing until the Ulster away game at the very earliest as that is 6 days after the last game in the Rugby Championship.

Name: Blaine Scully
D.o.B.: 29/2/1988
Position: Full Back
Experience: 12 Pro Games (USA)

Californian Scully joined the club on trial over the summer, as exclusively revealed by @LTUSM, and impressed in Tigers best ever campaign in the J.P. Morgan 7s.  Scully was an ever present in the Eagles line up for the 2011 World Cup at Full Back and it seems that is the position he will fill for the Tigers.

Born and raised in Sacramento, California, Scully only took up Rugby when he enrolled at UCLA where he played for two years before transferring to Cal, which is the University of California Berkeley, for a further three years.   At Cal he won two national titles and was named as an All American.  All of this makes Tigers his first ever proper Rugby club!  Might as well start at the top I suppose.

Scully is providing cover at full back whilst Mat Tait recovers from a summer operation and his initial deal runs until Christmas.  Scully will probably get his chance in the A League and the LV Cup to press his claims for further game time.  

Read Part One Here 

The Big One: Tigers' Season Preview


Nickname: Tigers

Founded: 1880

Last Year: Champions (2nd in Prem, 74 points), Quarter Finals in Heineken Cup, Group Stage in Anglo-Welsh

Europe: Heineken Cup

Director of Rugby: Richard Cockerill


In: Gonzalo Camacho (Exeter), Ryan Lamb (Northampton), Jamie Gibson (London Irish), Neil Briggs (London Welsh), David Mele (Perpignan), Jerome Shuster (Perpignan), Sebastian de Chaves (Mont du Marsan),  Owen Williams (Llanelli Scarlets), Tom Bristow (London Welsh), Blaine Scully (USA 7s)

Out: Geordan Murphy (Retiring –coaching staff), Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon),  George Ford (Bath), Micky Young (Bath), Kieran Brookes (Newcastle), Jonny Harris (London Irish), Jimmy Stevens (London Irish), Alex Lewington (London Irish), Andy Forsyth (Sale), Andy Symons (Tasman), Charlie Clare (Bedford), Camilo Parilli-Ocampo (Ealing), Richard Thorpe (London Welsh), Brett Deacon (Unknown-Now Staying?), Matt Cornwell (Mogliano), Rob Andrew (London Welsh), George Oliver (Unknown), Harrison Lee-Everton (Nottingham), Luke Jones (Cornish Pirates)

Ins: 10

Outs: 19

Tigers finished last season celebrating at Twickenham.  They securing their record extending 10th English Title against closest rivals Northampton.  Leicester won 7 out of their last 8 domestic games on a scintillating run of form that saw them run in 4 tries in both the Semi Final and the Final of the Play Offs.

Unfortunately a bitter minority of Saints fans felt the need to try and tarnish such an amazing achievement with their internet campaign against Richard Cockerill; even worse the RFU, egged on by Jim Mallinder’s school boy chum Brian Moore, bought it and handed out the draconian sentence that will see Cockerill banned from match day contact with the team for the first 5 Premiership games.

Tigers coaching staff sees another change as Matt O’Conner switches to recent triple European Champions Leinster as head honcho.  O’Conner split opinions in Tigers' fandom.  Some say he was an inspirational genius who made us the most potent backline in the Premiership; others that his one dimensional approach and lack of faith in potential like Billy Twelvetrees has held us back at the highest levels of the Heineken Cup.

He has been replaced internally by promotion for Paul Burke and Geordan Murphy joining the coaching staff.

Transfer activity has been more frequent than usual with 10 players arriving and almost 20 leaving.  Youngsters like Alex Lewington, Jimmy Stevens and Jonny Harris move on to London Irish after failing to make the grade and feeling their chances were better served elsewhere.  Other youngsters moving on are Charlie Clare to Bedford, Camilo Parilli-Ocampo to Ealing, Harrison Lee-Everton to Nottingham, Luke Jones to the Cornish Pirates and Andy Symons to New Zealand’s Tasman.

Senior levers are the iconic pair of Martin Castrogiovanni, who leaves to Toulon, and the aforementioned Geordan Murphy.  Reserve half backs George Ford and Micky Young move to Bath whilst a smattering of other players from the A team also move on to pastures new.

Incoming is Argentine Test winger Gonzalo Camacho who joins in October after international commitments; Welsh Fly Half Owen Williams who impressed in Llanelli’s run to the Pro12 Semi Finals; US Eagle Blaine Scully on a short deal until Christmas; Perpignan pair Jerome Shuster and David Mele; London Welsh front row forwards Tom Bristow and Neil Briggs; experienced Fly Half Ryan Lamb as well as young forwards Sebastian de Chaves and Jamie Gibson.

Those transfers leave Tigers with incredible strength in depth right across the squad.

Up front we have senior test props Marcos Ayerza and Dan Cole, backed up by quality in Logovi’i Mulipola and Jerome Schuster and youth with Tom Bristow and Fraser Balmain.  Hooker sees 4 options: Capped pair Tom Youngs and George Chuter, new signing Neil Briggs and handy understudy Rob Hawkins.

In the engine room we have last year’s powerful quartet: Louis Deacon, Geoff Parling, Ed Slater and Graham Kitchener.  Try and pick a bad pair from that.  Supporting the core 4 is new boy Sebastian de Chaves and a trio of young locks in Tom Price, Harry Wells and Joe Cain.

In the back row our talent at 6 & 8 is crazy.  The Tongan Octopus Steve Mafi would be most teams’ star player but we have Lionheart Tom Croft as competition in the same position.  Our Lord and Saviour Jordan Crane must fight it out guerrilla style ruck by ruck with Thomas “the Tank” Waldrom for the right to wear 8.  7 might not have the same depth with Julian Salvi head and shoulders above Jamie Gibson, or should that be below?  Our third choice at 8 quicksilver Irishman Michael Noone is waiting in the wings to explode and take the Premiership by storm.

At half back we have England players Ben Youngs and Toby Flood.  They have capable experienced cover in David Mele and Ryan Lamb as well as youthful and exciting cover in Sam Harrison and Owen Williams.  We have scrum halves coming out of our ears with Scott Steele and George Tresidder also humongously talented.

In the centres we have the steady hand on the tiller of Anthony Allen and the rollercoaster thrill of Manu Tuilagi.  Backing them up is pint sized playmaker Dan Bowden and clubman Matt Smith.  Centre is another position where the youth is seemingly never ending.  Henry Purdy, Javier Pohe, Pasqualle Dunn and George Catchpole will all be looking to move into first team recognition and all are capable of it.

Outwide we are stuffed to the gunnels with choice talent.  Niall Morris and Vereniki Goneva ended last season as first choice wingers but they will face a bitter fight with Adam Thompstone, newboy Gonzalo Camacho and potentially fit again Miles Benjamin.  Benjamin could be an incredible addition if he can overcome his neck injury.  At full back we have American trialist Blaine Scully and ever dependable ex-All Black Scott Hamilton in reserve to the resurgent Mat Tait.

Tigers will as ever be destabilised by the ever increasing demands of international rugby.  This year we face 17 games which will be adversely affected by one international or another.  The IRB in yielding to the demands of the greedy international sides have failed in their duty to protect the club game.  This figure is shocking and surely the balance must start to come back to the fixture list before the international game destroys all in its path?

International Fixture Disruption
Tigers face Wasps (A), Quins (H), Worcester (A), Gloucester (H), Irish (A) and Newcastle (A) without their England stars.  How they cope, and how many Lancaster decides to take, will be the difference between top, second or a daunting trip to a rival for an away semi final. 

Looking at the fixtures the chances are that the international game could also decide the relegation battle; if anyone of those sides pulls off a surprise win against a depleted Tigers team it will go a long way to securing safety come May.

This year’s squad is built for an attack on three fronts as Tigers chase the ever illusive Treble.  The stability in the First XV should hopefully see improved results in Europe; the depth of the forwards should see us home to another Premiership semi, even if it is away; and the ever improving batch of lads from the academy means that another LV Cup Triumph is far from unimaginable.  Will Tigers win it all?  Probably not.  But they might, and that is the beauty of sport.

First XV: Tait; Morris, Tuilagi, Allen, Goneva; Flood, B.Youngs; Ayerza, T.Youngs, Cole; Slater, Parling; Croft, Crane, Salvi.

2nd XV: Scully; Camacho, Smith, Bowden, Thompstone; Williams, Mele; Mulipola, Briggs, Schuster; Deacon, Kitchener; Mafi, Waldrom, Gibson.

3rd XV: Hamilton; Benjamin, Dunn, Pohe, Purdy; Lamb, Harrison; Bristow, Hawkins, Balmain; De Chaves, Price; Wells, Noone, Guillaume.

Prediction: 2nd

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Meet the New Guy's: Part One

Name: Jerome Schuster
D.o.B.: 29/6/1985 (28 years old)
Position: Tighthead Prop
Experience: 118 Pro Games (116 Perpignan, 2 France)

Shuster joins after playing 116 times for home town team Perpginan.  In an interview with the Mercury Cockerill described his “prime position” as a tighthead, despite only 3 of those 116 games for Perpignan coming on the right hand side of the scrum.

So even though he clearly is a loosehead, as a guide Graham Rowntree earned a players tie (20 games) at tighthead in a similar time frame and next to nobody considered him as anything other than a loosehead, Cockerill seems set to feature him as a back up to Dan Cole in the number 3 jersey in competition with Fraser Balmain.  This would also suggest that Logovi’i Mulipola will remain primarily as a loosehead.

Schuster will be needed early in the season as both Ayerza and Cole will be missing for the first game against Worcester, and then Cole will be required by England for 11 games.  Cole played over 40 games last season after England then the Lions flogged him; so will require plenty of rest from us for him to be right by the end of the season.

Name: Owen Williams
D.o.B.: 27/2/1992 (21 years old)
Position: Fly Half
Experience: 13 Pro Games for Scarlets, 48 Semi-Pro games for Llanelli R.F.C.

Williams move has raised quite a stink in South Wales as he was highly rated by Scarlets’ boss Simon Easterby.  An accurate goal-kicker whose percentages have been high 80s in the Welsh Premiership he is seen as a replacement for George Ford as a young heir apparent for Toby Flood; though Ryan Lamb will probably start the season as his back up, Lamb’s well know frailties in defence and with pressure kicks could see the Welshman jump the queue. 

Williams will primarily feature for the A side and in LV Cup games as he seeks to bed into his new surroundings.  He has played at centre for Llanelli so could well be used at 12 this season to ease him into the First XV.  Williams played in the Scarlets run to the Pro12 Semi Finals so he will not be unaccustomed to playing in high pressure and quality games.

Originally from Ystradgynlais, a Valley’s town up from Neath, Williams played for the Ospreys at U-16s and 18s before briefly flirting with League, playing for Great Britain again at U-18s, then returning to Rugby with Llanelli.

Name: Ryan Lamb
D.o.B.: 18/5/1986 (27 years old)
Position: Fly Half
Experience: 190 Pro Games (85 for Gloucester, 49 for London Irish, 56 for Northampton)

After early promise for his home town team Gloucester, Lamb led the Cherry & Whites to back to back top placed finishes only to fall to Tigers and Alesana Tuilagi both times, boss Dean Ryan decided that Lamb wasn’t the man to lead Gloucester to Premiership glory after all and dumped him. 

Unsettled spells at London Irish and then Northampton, where once again Lamb was part of a side that lost to Tigers in both a League and Cup final, have led Lamb to declare “If you can’t beat them, join them!”

After 190 senior games Lamb is now a thoroughly experienced pro, one might say a journeyman.  He will provide a steady hand on the tiller should Toby Flood take Stuart Lancaster’s fancies, but if Flood remains with the Tigers all season he could well struggle for game time in the same way Dan Bowden has since he joined from London Irish.

All in all seems a rather odd signing and I wait with baited breath to see where the pint sized playmaker fits into Cockerill’s grand master plan.

Name: Sebastian De Chaves
D.o.B.: 30/10/1990 (22 years old)
Position: Lock
Experience: 22 Pro Games (19 for Mont du Marsan, 3 for Lions in Vodacom Cup)

Rather fittingly a man whose name means “key” in Portuguese will be Tigers new Lock.  De Chaves is eligible for England through his mother, Portugal through his father and South Africa as his place of birth was in Johannesburg.  De Chaves played for local side the Lions (formerly Gauteng and even more formerly Transvaal) in the Vodacom Cup, a develop level below Super Rugby, University of Johannesburg and the Baby Boks (SA U-20s) before leaving South Africa for France. 

De Chaves spent last season playing for Mont du Marsan in South-West France where he joined Seru Rabeni, Mont du Marsan was also where Waisale Serevi played after he left Tigers.

De Chaves will probably come into the squad as a direct replacement for fellow South African Rob Andrew, who has left for London Welsh, and will play in the LV Cup and A League games.  He will hope to emulate Ed Slater’s break through into the First XV rather than follow in the footsteps of Rob Andrew.

Name: Tom Bristow
D.o.B.: 8/4/1991 (22 years old)
Position: Loosehead Prop
Experience: 32 Pro Games (London Welsh)

Bristow’s rise has been incredible.  In May 2012 he was playing for Dorking in the 5th tier of English Rugby and Surrey in the County Shield, not even the full County Championship.  Last year he was an ever present for London Welsh playing in every single game in all three competitions.  Now he has signed for the Tigers and will be playing at the top of the European game.

To rise from the same level as South Leicester and Hinckley to be playing Heineken Cup rugby in just 14 months is such a breakneck journey for the young prop it is almost unbelievable.  And to do it in such a physically demanding position as prop is even more incredible.

Bristow will fight it out with Mulipola and Ayerza for the loosehead jersey and initially I would expect him to play A league and LV Cup as he finds his feet at the nation’s biggest club.  The last prop to make such a big jump to the club would probably be Darren Garforth, and we all know how well that ended up.

Read Part Two with the rest of new signings now 

Coaching Changes Threaten Chaos

Tigers face a disrupted start to the season after losing influential Head Coach Matt O’Conner to Leinster and Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill facing 7 matches banned from contact with the team on match days.

In place of Matt O’Conner former A-Team, kicking, backs coach and generally troubleshooter/dogsbody Paul Burke steps up to be solely focused on the first team backs; with former club captain Geordan Murphy hanging up the boots at the end of last season he moves into Burke’s old role as assistant backs coach.

Looking after the forwards on a match day will be Richard Blaze.  Blaze was a promising second row, originally from Moseley, who had to retire after never recovering from a broken bone in the foot.  With the likes of Louis Deacon, Geoff Parling and Dan Cole on hand the forwards should not lack experience of how to prepare for big matches even without Cockerill.

Tigers have run a tight coaching ship in recent years, carrying only the 4 coaches, and this is the first change to the coaching panel since Heyneke Meyer’s forced return home and Cockerill’s ascension in January 2009. 

Over the summer Cockerill has been downplaying any potential disruption; but then he would, wouldn’t he?  The potential for problems, especially in the Heineken Cup group games, is massive.  Even with teams of analysts and the support of the other coaches the decisions of when to listen to them, what to pass on to players, when to make substitutions, when to change tactics and many more is a lot harder than it looks.   

It is a big ask for Burke to step into the decision making role, not as his own man, with his neck on the line, but as a stand in constantly with the thought “What would Cockerill do?” in the back of his mind.

In the league with 17 other games to catch up any poor form, and frankly much lower standard of opposition, it is not so much of a worry and a good opportunity to test out the younger coaches.  But a loss against Ulster, or even worse an ever improving Treviso, could kibosh our European dream before it has even begun.

Away from match days Cockerill’s influence might be bigger than ever.  He and Matt O’Conner have been such a double act that for most of the Rugby World it has been impossible to tell their decisions apart. 

Was it Cockerill or O’Conner who preferred Anthony Allen over Billy Twelvetrees?  Was it Cockerill or O’Conner who preferred to keep the starters going and not use the bench?  Was it Cockerill or O’Conner who preferred to kick for touch and rack up the tries against poorer opponents, particularly at home?

Cockerill was the man who defended these decisions to the TV companies so was widely given the blame/praise for the different calls but Matt O’Conner was his senior confidant especially on matters relating to the backs.  He would have had a very significant say even though Cockerill did make the final call.

Burke will now have a greater voice in training, tactics and selection; after his spell in charge of the A team we could well see more of the young players given a chance as he is more au fait with their talents.  But will he be as good a motivator as the passionate Aussie, or as good selector?  Only time will tell.

Who has been responsible for the defence has always been a bit of a secret between the players and coaches.  Vague hints that it was both Cockerill & O’Conner, each individually or no one having ultimate responsibility have been dropped but no definitive answer has ever been forthcoming.   As such it is impossible to say from the outside whether O’Conner’s departure will affect this aspect of the game or not.

Historically Tigers have always adapted well to the departure of a coach, but normally this is after a series of poor results and the motivation to knuckle down is obvious.  Losing O’Conner might be the thing that pushes over the top in Europe with the new ideas and motivation that Burke and Murphy bring, or it might be the loss that finally drops us out of the Premiership’s top 4.  We won’t know until May, but Cockerill’s ban couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Season's Preview: Gloucester


Nickname: Cherry & Whites

Founded: 1873

Years in Top Tier: 26

Last Year: 5th in Prem (60 points), Quarter Finals in Amlin Challenge Cup, Group Stage in Anglo-Welsh Cup

Europe: Heineken Cup

Director of Rugby: Nigel Davies


In: Matt Kvesic (Worcester), James Hudson (Newcastle), Tavis Knoyle (Llanelli), Tom Hicks (Northampton), Johnny Bentley (Cornish Pirates), Dan George (London Welsh)

Out: Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Pete Buxton (Retiring-Coaching Staff), Dave Lewis (Exeter), Dario Chistolini (Zebre), Will Graulich (Cornish Pirates), Drew Locke (Jersey), Tommaso d’Apice (Unknown), Ian Clark (Coventry)

Ins: 6

Outs: 8

Gloucester have had a quiet transfer time this summer with only really one big out, Captain Big Jim Hamilton moving to Montpellier, and a couple of biggish ins: new England openside Matt Kvesic, from neighbours Worcester, and James Hudson who joins from Championship Champions Newcastle.

With Andy Hazell and Akapusi Qera as other options at openside, Sione Kalamafone and Ben Morgan at 8, and Matt Cox and Tom Savage as options at 6 the Gloucester back row has a scary amount of talent.  Probably the best back row in the country.

But up front there is a hint of a soft underbelly.  Nick Wood has never convinced at the truly highest level, too much brain not enough brawn, and Shaun Knight is still young and developing at tighthead.  He should come good, though, as he’s certainly tough enough.  Backing them up is only Rupert Harden and Dan Murphy.  At lock without Big Jim I wonder if there is enough ballast, Savage is still willowy, Hudson has always been more of left lock than a tight one, Lokotui is again more of a left lock than a tight one. 

Their backline is a similar story; Robson, Burns, Twelvetrees, May, Sharples are all top quality operators but all are on England’s radar.  If Burns and Twelvetrees both get the call up to England then Gloucester’s 10 and 12 would have to be Tim Taylor and Tim Molenaar, maybe the untried Ryan Mills.  It’s not a great look for potentially 14 weeks of the season.

This strange mix of strengths and weaknesses means I could honestly see Gloucester finish in the Play Offs and win the title at Twickenham, but also I can see them getting injuries and being involved in a relegation dog fight.

Prediciton: Split the difference 7th