Saturday, 30 November 2013

Gloucester get a kicking from Tigers

What a difference 6 days makes.  From the shambles at home to London Irish where the backs looked like they had never met each other to a fantastic statement of intent against Gloucester.  The match had been billed as Gloucester’s backs vs Leicester’s pack, but Tigers backs found their stride in a 22-17 victory at Kingsholm.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves; there was still plenty of rust on the engine, plenty of rough edges needing sanding down, plenty of French polish for Cockerill to still apply.  Both their tries game from loose play.  The first an interception by Freddie Burns.  Flood’s heir apparent and in Tigers sights, apparently, he picked off a flat Flood pass and streaked away in the 9th minute for the opening score.  Flood was aggrieved with a short advantage from referee Greg Garner.

It was Burns's only contribution on the night.  He had a shocker with the boot, as did replacement kicker Rob Cook, and it killed a lot of Gloucester’s momentum, it stopped them building a lead at any stage.  In contrast Flood responded to his mistake well.  It didn’t cow him and he kept playing aggressively and close to the defence.  He kicked his goals well, 6/9 is a fine return if not spectacular, though the misses will grate.

The second Gloucester score was just as opportune but did require a touch more skill.  Tigers by this stage were 13-7 ahead after 2 Flood penalties and a terrific score from Dan Bowden.  While we're here let’s talk about that; it all came from a scrum.

And that scrum came from an exhilarating piece of forward interplay down the left touchline.  Flood found Deacon on the half way line, his inside line drew the man and he offloaded to an on rushing Waldrom.  Waldrom then Kitchener passed a little early for my taste but Ayerza now had it on the 22, in the excitement of all that passing and running he lost his head and threw the miracle off load about 10 meters forward.

Some more context, we’d just pushed them off the last scrum, we were in their heads.  This time Gloucester got the heel but was under pressure.  Robson just wanted to get it out, just get it away.  He panicked and Ben Youngs was in like a shot intercepting his pass.

With the Gloucester defence in disarray he found Salvi then brother Tom Youngs on the charge.  The Cherry ‘n’ White defence never re-set properly and Flood was against Nick Wood and lock Lua Lokotui, he danced in off his right foot to almost break the tackle but Dan Bowden, so anonymous last week but so impressive this, was on his shoulder for the back of the hand pass and the easy dive over for the try.

Back to Gloucester’s 2nd try; you can see why we were confident, why we had our tails up and trying silly things.  Confidence was seeping into our play and visibly draining from Gloucester. 

Quick hands down the backline and a good Tom Croft impression from Jamie Gibson saw the Tigers go from halfway to inside the 22 with clock as good as gone 40.  Tigers were pouring forwards but all the backs were in the ruck, Miles Benjamin ran a perfect line and was through the hole looking, seeking, searching for the killer off load.  But it wasn’t there.  But he threw it any way. 

Taken by Dawiduick he sent it to Trinder, only Dan Cole, Marcos Ayerza and Kitchener were between Jonny May and the try line all 90 meters away.  Trinder kicked forward.  The bounce was perhaps fortuitous but there was no Tiger near enough to take advantage if we had got the bounce.

The second half was a nervier affair as Tigers tightened up and Gloucester desperately tried to hang on.  Gloucester pushed to 17-13 after Blaine Scully was adjudged to be holding on; Billy Twelvetrees the third Gloucester kicker to have a crack at the posts after Cook had missed an earlier attempt. 

Time was beginning to run down, with 16 minutes left Gloucester took Ben Youngs out at the back of a ruck following a Graham Kitchener break and Toby Flood reduced the arrears to a point.   

Four minutes later Tigers should have been in the corner but an early pass from Hamilton, a poor hand off from Scully and a great effort in defence from Cook combined to keep Tigers out.

But Tigers moved ahead anyway, Gloucester fumbled the lineout and disintegrated in the scrum.  A quick word here on advantage.  When the scrum wheels like that why is it not advantage, letting the number 8 pick it up and score the try?  We had committed no offence so why can’t we walk over the line and score a try?  Another question for another day.

19-17 now to the visitors.  And it became 22-17 when the scrum wreaked more havoc with 5 minutes to go.  Tigers executed the current fad “choke” tackle through Kitchener, Ayerza and Waldrom then marched the Gloucester pack to gain the penalty reward.

Tigers had the chance to deny Gloucester the bonus point after Gloucester pulled down the Tigers maul but Flood missed the kick. Gloucester had one last chance for victory.  Gloucester needed to be perfect and go from behind their own posts.  They were for 3 minutes with the clock dead.  Then the mistake, a crossing penalty and Tigers had won.

Graham Kitchener and Dan Cole were outstanding with their contributions whilst Jamie Gibson had his best game in a Leicester shirt, I’m still not a fan but he certainly played well here.  Miles Benjamin has really found his grove; his floating style is predicated on an understanding with the fly half and rest of the team, after 4 straight starts he is finding that now.  

There was such a vast improvement from 6 days previously how much better can we get in the 9 days before we face Montpellier?

Friday, 29 November 2013

Just Gr8 experience for Tigers Development Squad

8 members of the Leicester Tigers development squad will be in dual registration action this weekend.  Nottingham and Doncaster have 3 Tigers a piece whilst Loughborough Students have 2 young Tigers in the tight five.

In the Greene King IPA Championship Ryan Bower will start for Nottingham against the Cornish Pirates.  Bower plays his 39th game in his third season dual registered with the Green 'n' Whites.  Also involved are Tom Price and Harry Thacker who are named on the bench.  Former Tigers in the Nottingham squad include Finlay Barnham, Rory Lynn, Michael Holford, Dan Montague, Alex Shaw and Brent Wilson.  

One level further down there is also plenty of interest as Doncaster face Rosslyn Park whilst Loughborough Students are at home to Cinderford in SSE National League 1.

Italian tighthead Tiziano Pasquali continues his apprenticeship at this level for the Knights and he is joined in the starting XV by Lucas Guillaume.  Guillaume made his Doncaster debut from the bench in last week's victory against Esher which saw the Yorkshire men return to the top of the pile.  Further Tigers interest is on the bench with Riccardo Brugnara.  The 19 year old loosehead from Italy could make his league debut if he features and if he replaces ex-Tiger Darren Morris in the front row the Knights will be fielding an all-Italian front row alongside Parsquali and countryman Santamaria.

Rosslyn Park are Doncaster's closest challengers at this stage so it is a big vote of confidence in the Tigers trio to be included.

Loughborough feature England Under 20s forwards Harry Rudkin at loosehead and Harry Wells at lock.  Wells featured from the bench last week and partners former Tigers academy captain Jake Albon in the engine room. 

Loughborough Students:
1 Harry Rudkin 
2 Jacob Fields 
3 Danny Herriot 
4 Harry Wells 
5 Jake Albon 
6 James Freeman (C) 
7 Eoin Cremen 
8 Ben Pons 
9 Henry Taylor 
10 Chris Surman 
11 Alex Davis 
12 Jack Bradford 
13 Rhys Owen 
14 Craig Dowsett 
15 Jack Pons 
16 Biyi Alo 
17 Gareth Harris 
18 Christian S-W 
19 Tom Bliss 
20 George Eastwell

15. Glenn Bryce
14. Paul Jarvis
13. Mat Clark
12. Bevon Armitage
11. Tyson Lewis
10. Paul Roberts
9. Bruno Bravo
1. Darren Morris
2. Roberto Santamaria
3. Tiziano Pasquali
4. Matt Challinor (C)
5. Michael Walker-Fitton
6. Lucas Guillame
7. Shaun Jones
8. Adam Kettle
16. Riccardo Brugnara
17. Ben Hunter
18. Glen Kenworthy
19. James Munro
20. Jamie Lennard.

15) Andrew SAVAGE
14) Sean MORRIS
12) Joe MUNRO
11) Ryan HOUGH
10) Rory LYNN
9) Finlay BARNHAM
1) Ryan BOWER
2) Alun WALKER
3) Michael HOLFORD
4) Neilus KEOGH
7) Brent WILSON (Captain)
8) Alex SHAW
16) Harry THACKER
17) Harry WILLIAMS
18) Tom PRICE
19) Joe BURTON
20) Sean ROMANS
21) Matthew JARVIS
22) Jacob KNIGHT

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Gloucester Preview

Richard Cockerill makes 5 changes to his Leicester side that struggled to victory against London Irish as they travel to face Gloucester at Kingsholm.  The Cherry 'n' Whites have recalls for Dan Robson, Darren Dawiduick and Lua Lokotui after their defeat away to Harlequins.

Tigers and Gloucester share a long rivalry; their first meeting was in 1891 and Friday night's is the 212th clash with the west country giants.  Recent history favours Gloucester with Tigers only winning once in the past 4 visits to their Kingsholm citadel but the Elver Eaters form this season has been poor.  Gloucester have won only one home league game all season; and that was with the controversial Northampton game.

With Tigers crippling injury crisis claiming another victim last week in Matt Smith the count now stands at 14 (Hawkins, Mulipola, Slater, Parling, Croft, Mafi, Steele, Lamb, Allen, Tuilagi, Smith, Goneva, Camacho & Tait) so Tigers will be hard pressed to justify their tag as bookies favourites.

Ayerza returns for his first start of the season after missing the early season with Argentina.  He joins Tom Youngs and Dan Cole in an all international front row.

Deacon and Kitchener continue in the engine room whilst Jamie Gibson gets another chance after failing to impress against London Irish.  Thomas Waldrom rotates with Jordan Crane at 8.

England half backs Youngs and Flood continue with Dan Bowden at 12.  For the injured Matt Smith Adam Thompstone moves to the centres.  The back three sees a controversial selection as Niall Morris misses out completely.  USA international Blaine Scully is preferred on the wing whilst Hamilton gets the nod at full back.  Miles Benjamin completes the team.

Morris's international call up and LV break seem to have done him more harm than good.

Javiah Pohe, the physical Cornish-kiwi centre, could make his Premiership debut if he features from the bench.  Sam Harrison is preferred to David Mele as reserve scrum half.  Mele would not cope well with the Shed so this is probably for the best.  Harrison will make his 50th appearance for the first team if required.

Tomorrow's referee is Greg Garner.  Garner, previously a school teacher in Surrey, went to the same Coventry private school in the same year group as Tigers legend Andy Goode.  With his white boots, spray tan and suspiciously white teeth he is very much of the modern generation of show off refs.  He has a strong reputation as a "homer" and a vocal Shed will be sure to offer plenty of advice should be stray from that reputation.

15 Scott Hamilton
14 Blaine Scully
13 Adam Thompstone
12 Dan Bowden
11 Miles Benjamin
10 Toby Flood (c)
9 Ben Youngs
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Tom Youngs
3 Dan Cole
4 Louis Deacon
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Neil Briggs
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Jordan Crane
21 Sam Harrison
22 Owen Williams
23 Javiah Pohe

Gloucester Rugby: 
15 Rob Cook
14 Shane Monahan
13 Henry Trinder
12 Billy Twelvetrees
11 Jonny May
10 Freddie Burns
9 Dan Robson
1 Nick Wood
2 Darren Dawidiuk
3 Shaun Knight
4 Lua Lokotui
5 James Hudson
6 Tom Savage (c)
7 Matt Kvesic
8 Ben Morgan. Replacements: 
16 Huia Edmonds
17 Yann Thomas
18 Rupert Harden
19 Elliott Stooke
20 Matt Cox
21 Jimmy Cowan
22 Mike Tindall
23 Martyn Thomas.

Gloucester Kit:

Leicester Kit:

Referee: Greg Garner
Touch Judges: Paul Burton & Gareth Copsey
TV: Live on BT Sport 1HD, 7:00 PM Friday 29 Nov (K.O. 7:45)

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Magnificent 7 gain experience on loan

7 members of the Leicester Tigers development squad featured in loan action this weekend across 3 sides.

Javiah Pohe was a try scorer for Nottingham in a losing effort away to Rotherham; the game also saw Henry Purdy leave the field injured after 25 minutes.  Ryan Bower started at loosehead.

In National League Division One Italian tighthead Tiziano Pasquali played the whole game for Doncaster as the defeated Old Albanians 33-17 in St Albans.  French flanker Lucas Guillaume played the final 23 minutes for the Yorkshiremen.  

Harry Rudkin played at loosehead for Loughborough Students as they travelled to Hull Ionians and won 26-24.  Harry Wells was a half time replacement in the second row and he was shown yellow in the closing stages as the Students hung on for victory.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Job Done

A win is a win they say.  4 points in the bag; they don’t paint pictures on the scoreboard.   Which is true enough, come May the performance today will be a distant memory but the 4 points last forever.  Or at least until the end of the season.
If you haven’t heard it was a win.  20 points to 11, 4 for us and none for them.  And that is pretty much that.

It was a match that thoroughly failed to spark at any point.  Tigers were ahead for the whole match and didn’t have to get out of 2nd gear.  So they didn’t.  Content to chug along in low gear grinding it out up the hill.  Irish looked lively at points but there was never any final product, so their watchable approach play was in the end meaningless.

The tries were both from the referee’s whistle rather than any moment of magic.  One in each half.  The first half effort was the primary score in the match after Toby Flood pulled his first penalty wide.  Given an immediate second chance after Irish tackled our man in the air he instead went to touch.  After a series of drives, and a series of penalties for pulling the maul down, Tigers went wide and were “choked” into a turnover. 

But a scrum turnover set the scene and Martin Fox wasted no time in racing under the posts.

In contrast the second half’s penalty try took an age.  Depending on your point of view it came from great Irish defence or fairly substandard Tigers finishing.  Niall Morris had charged down a James O'Connor clearance.  It had fallen perfectly into his hands and he charged for the posts.  But he couldn’t get it down; Marland Yarde had chased him back hard and got underneath him. 

It took almost 13 minutes.  13 minutes of pure scrummaging.  At times Tigers had them seriously rocking backwards.  The try could have been conceded on the second scrum when the Irish challenged disintegrated.  But after going under the posts on the first collapse in the first half he hesitated and went for a vanilla penalty.

It didn’t all go Tigers way.  After god knows how many penalties and resets we mucked it up.  Just like against Saints we were going forward too fast.  The tight five were practically sprinting forward; at the back Crane failed to keep it under control.  Thankfully Blair Cowen knocked on the loose ball and Tigers could ramp the pressure up again.

After umpteen warnings and talkings to Welshman John Yapp was sin binned.  Irish sacrificed Topsy Ojo, on his 200th appearance for the Exiles, so as not to lose a man in the pack.  Did Tigers accept the gambit of the overlap and unguarded wing? 

Of course they bloody didn’t.  

They thundered and they gouged and they smashed their way in the scrums until Fox put the Irish out of their misery.  13 minutes of literally nothing but scrums.  I wonder what visiting Wallaby James O’Conner thought about that?

Irish scored a late consolation through centre Fergus Mulchrone, a summer singing from Rotherham.  It was a length of the field break away with Mulchrone evading several tacklers as he ran diagonally to score in the corner. 

So that was the tries but it was a funny old game.  Tigers scrum scored both tries and one of the penalties.  Clearly we were dominant there.  But we were completely out muscled in the ruck.  It seemed every contact situation resulted in Irish going forward.  Eamon Sheridan, another unheralded arrival from Rotherham, completely dominated Dan Bowden.  The modern fad of “choke” tackling was everywhere as the massive Sheridan (something in the name?) stepped round and smothered any attack we had. 

Chris Hala’ufia is always good for some impetus and Canadian Jebb Sinclair, who by all rights should have been in Portugal with the Cannuck national team, was again physically impressive.  In contrast Crane was plodding and often went backwards in contact.  With Tom Croft he seems so much better, ying to Croft’s yang, but without Croft he seems lost and the backrow fails to function.  Salvi could, generously, be said to be doing the “unseen work” in the ruck.  Gibson however has been a busted flush at blindside.  The idea was that he would provide the savvy break down work of a 7 and the industry of a 6.  But instead he provided the incontinent stream of ruck penalties of a so-so seven and the power of a powder puff 6. 

Time to see if Waldrom and Crane can be the wrecking balls to get our game going, or if Michael Noone’s LV Cup form will carry through to the Premiership? 

Irish’s cynical defence gave away a penalty every time Tigers got a hint of decent ball; combined with Matt Smith’s injury and yet another centre partnership it is perhaps none too surprising that our attack was neutered but it was painful to watch.

We simply don’t run straight or draw the man.  Instead we crab across the pitch, taking our wingers space and running it into touch away from the forwards.  Dan Bowden and his wide passes are completely counterproductive as they eat up all the space, rather than creating it.  Come back Anthony Allen, all is forgiven!   

With Allen’s rotting leg still healing I think I will repeat my call for Javiah Pohe or Pasqualle Dunn to feature.  Gloucester away might not be the ideal place to blood a young centre but we need the target they would provide. 

Then again a win is a win.  They don’t paint pictures on the scoreboard and the result was never in doubt.  Can that really be deemed a bad match?

Friday, 22 November 2013

Six Tiger Cubs in Loan Action

Six members of Tigers Development Squad are out in loan action this weekend as they seek to broaden their experiences and force their way into Richard Cockerill's first team squad.

In the Greene King IPA Championship Nottingham have named 4 Tigers players in their squad that travels to Rotherham.  The Green 'n' Whites suffered cut backs over the summer and are languishing in 9th place, whilst home side Rotherham are riding high in 3rd.

Ryan Bower starts at loosehead with Javiah Pohe and Henry Purdy in the backs.  Pohe starts at inside centre and Purdy on the right wing.  Recent Tigers Man of the Match Harry Thacker is on the bench and will make his league debut if used.

Also named are former Tigers Michael Holford, Dan Montague and Brent Wilson in the pack; with half back pairing Finlay Barnham and Rory Lynn also spending time at the Oval Park academy.

Nottingham (To play Rotherham):
15) Ed Styles
14) Henry Purdy
13) Joe Munro
12) Javiah Pohe
11) Ryan Hough
10) Rory Lynn
9)  Finlay Barnham

1)  Ryan Bower
2)  Alun Walker
3)  Michael Holford
4)  Neilus Keogh
5)  Dan Montagu
6)  Tom Calladine
7)  Brent Wilson (c)
8)  Alex Shaw

16) Harry Thacker
17) Harry Williams
18) Kiefer Laxton
19) Joe Burton
20) Sean Romans
21) Matthew Jarvis
22) Jacob Knight

In SSE National League 1 table toppers Doncaster travel to St.Albans to face Old Albanians.  Italian Tighthead prop Tiziano Pasquali starts his second consecutive game as the Yorkshire men try to bounce back to the Championship at the first time of asking.

New loan signing Lucas Guillaume is named on a 5 man bench.  Not named in the squad but announced as signing Dual Registration terms this week was Riccardo Brugnara.  The Italian has played all across the front row but is primarily a loosehead prop.  

One other stand out name in the Doncaster side is Tigers legend Darren "Dazzler" Morris.  Morris played 75 times for the club between 2003 and 2006.  The 39 year old is still going strong after a recent 9 game spell with Kuban Krasnodar in the Russian Premier League. 

Doncaster (To play St. Albans):
15) Glenn Bryce
14) Paul Jarvis
13) Stephen Bannister
12) Bevon Armitage
11) Tyson Lewis
10) Paul Roberts
9) Bruno Bravo
1) Darren Morris
2) Roberto Santamaria 

3) Tiziano Pasquali
4) Glen Kenworthy
5) Mike Walker-Fitton
6) Matt Challinor ©
7) Shaun Jones
8) Adam Kettle

16) Jack Bergmanas
17) Ben Hunter
18) Lucas Guillaume 
19) Jamie Lennard
20) James Munro
Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill has made wholesale changes to his Leicester side as the club's England contingent return from international action.  4 are returned to the matchday 23.  Tom & Ben Youngs plus Toby Flood start whilst Dan Cole is on the bench.  That means a second ever Premiership start for Fraser Balmain at tighthead.

Niall Morris, Dan Bowden, Graham Kitchener and Julian Salvi all return after taking a break in the LV Cup whilst Scott Hamilton and Miles Benjamin have used said break to cement their return to the side ahead of Adam Thompstone who benches against his former employers.

London Irish include 10 internationals in their starting XV including the likes of James O'Connor at full back and new England winger Marland Yarde on the wing.  Former Tiger Jimmy Stevens is the on the bench covering hooker.

Tigers have won their last two matches in the LV Cup but go into the game on stinking league form.  2 defeats and a draw in the last three matches makes this our second longest winless streak in the history of league rugby.  The longest?  During the 2003 Rugby World Cup when we lost 5 games straight.

Irish have only ever won one match at Welford Road, a one point victory in 2003 when Tigers were collapsing to their lowest ever league finish of 6th.

In the last month London Irish fans can be forgiven for a strong feeling of deja vu.  Their last four fixtures have been Newcastle away then Northampton at home in the Premiership, then Newcastle away and Northampton at home in the LV Cup!

Saturday's referee will be local man Martin Fox.  Born in Leicester and resident in Ashby Magna the 51 year old company director won't have far to travel for his first Premiership game at Welford Road.  Presumably fears of a media storm over his clear links to Leicester have prevented Fox refereeing the club more often, despite almost a 100 premiership games he only refereed Leicester for the first time last year against Saracens at Wembley.

15 Scott Hamilton
14 Niall Morris
13 Matt Smith
12 Dan Bowden
11 Miles Benjamin
10 Toby Flood (c)
9 Ben Youngs
1 Boris Stankovich
2 Tom Youngs
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Louis Deacon
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane
16 Neil Briggs
17 Tom Bristow
18 Dan Cole
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mélé
22 Owen Williams
23 Adam Thompstone

London Irish:
15 James O'Connor
14Topsy Ojo
13 Fergus Mulchrone
12 Eamonn Sheridan
11 Marland Yarde
10 Shane Geraghty
9 Tomás O'Leary
1 John Yapp
2David Paice
3 Leo Halavatau
4 Ian Gough
5 George Skivington (c)
6 Jebb Sinclair
7 Blair Cowan
8 Chris Hala'ufia
16 Jimmy Stevens
17 Matt Parr
18 Jamie Hagan
19 Nic Rouse
20 Danny Kenny
21 Guy Armitage
22 Myles Dorrian
23 Darren Allinson

London Irish Kit:

Leicester Kit:

Referee: Martin Fox
Touch Judges: Peter Huckle & Nigel Carrick
Video Ref: Trevor Fisher
TV: None Live; Highlights on BT Sport 1HD 1P.M. Sunday & Highlights on ITV4 Sunday 8P.M.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Young Guns Secure Second Straight LV Victory

Tigers secured their second straight victory in the LV Cup on Friday night as they held off a late fight back by a determined Worcester to win 21-18 at Sixways.  
Tigers scored two tries through Michael Noone and a penalty try from a scrum, with the balance of the points coming from Welshman Owen Williams’s boot.  The Warriors in contrast were profligate with the boot missing 3 conversions and as many penalties, in such a close game it is hardly cutting edge insight to suggest this was this was the reason for the loss.

Tigers have a terrific record against Worcester with 18 wins out of 20 going into the game and the last loss being back in 2008.  The Warriors are the only current Premiership side to have never won at Welford Road and this win puts the streak back to 2008 at 10 games.

But the Worcester side looked set to break that streak after going 10-0 up after only 16 minutes.  First it was former Tigers centre Andy Symons with the long range penalty that dropped short.  I never saw Symons kick at goal for the Extras so this talent has been well hidden, or perhaps sensibly discouraged.  But the north London giant made up for it by finishing off Max Stelling’s break for the first try, then turning provider for Jake Abbott’s second.

The first was from a quality piece of centre play by Max Stelling.  Stelling beat the on rushing Purdy the grubbered through to keep the move alive.  Symons claimed the loose ball on the floor and the ball went through multiple phases before that man Symons popped up on the wing for the finish.

For the 2nd try Henry Purdy simply failed to catch an up and under on halfway, Symons beat everyone to the bouncing ball, drew the last man and turned it inside to Abbott for the run in.

Owen Williams had struck the post with his first kick at goal but made amends as he guided Tigers back to 10-9 at half time.  His first penalty was for a ruck offence and the second when Worcester were offside. 

As in the Premiership fixture in September Sam Betty was given a ten minute rest by the referee, this time for killing the ball.  Tigers went for the scrum and were close to the try when Williams slotted the drop goal with clock past 40.  This was the first drop goal by a Tigers player for almost 2 years; the last?  Geordan Murphy’s match winner away to Saracens in February 2012.

Quickly after half time Worcester thought they had a 3rd try but it was ruled out for a forward pass and it was Tigers who grabbed the next score through Michael Noone, scoring his 4th in 5 games.  Noone went in at the corner after blindside work by Mele and quick hands from Jordan Crane.

Worcester’s Warwick was finally on the board with the boot in the 52nd minute but Tigers stretched their lead again with our old friend the penalty try making an appearance.  Outsized openside Jamie Gibson burst through a weak tackle from a Worcester replacement and charged to with a yard of the line.  A piled up ruck saw Tigers awarded the scrum; the pack turned the screw and the result was inevitable.

That was the winning score although Worcester was by no means done.  The last try was scored by Christian Scotland-Williamson sneaking into the corner after a lineout.  Former Tigers trialist Ignacio Mieres missed the quickly taken drop goal conversion.  There was time for one last attack but a cover tackle from debutant Pasqualle Dunn snuffed out any danger; in Worcester’s attempts to go wide the ball went to ground for Benjamin to hack into touch and end the game.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Worcester Away LV Cup Preview

Tigers young cubs face another stern test of their credentials tonight as they face a strong Worcester side away from home. 

Richard Cockerill makes 4 changes from the side that beat the Ospreys last week; the cruel hand of concussion takes Sam Harrison at scrum half but returns Matt Smith after a week's absence, Mele comes in a half back whilst George Catchpole makes way in the centre.  The other changes are Blaine Scully, away on international duty, being replaced by Academy winger Henry Purdy, who makes his first start, and Thomas Waldrom who drops out for Jordan Crane.

Dean Ryan's Worcester name a very strong side as he looks for his maiden home victory.  Welsh international Jonathan Thomas leads from the back row and the pack also contains Argentinean interntional lock forward Mariano Galarza and Tongan test prop Ofa Fainga'anuku.  

James Percival, Chris Brooker, Sam Betty and Jake Abbott add further experience and grit to a tough pack.

In the backs Andy Symons, released by Tigers this summer, plays centre with former Blackheath and Bedford wing James Stephenson has a tremendous scoring record in the 2nd and 3rd tiers.  

Tigers strong and experienced spine running from Boris Stankovich through Jordan Crane and David Mele to Scott Hamilton should allow the youngsters another chance to flourish.   The front row especially will surely have its mettle thoroughly tested once Euan Murray enters the fray for Worcester.

Tonight's referee will be Gwyn Morris from Cardiff.  His claim to fame is from his day job as a P.E. teacher at the school which Gareth Bale and Sam Warburton attended as teenagers.

15 Scott Hamilton
14 Henry Purdy
13 Matt Smith
12 Javiah Pohe
11 Miles Benjamin
10 Owen Williams
9 David Mélé
1 Boris Stankovich (c)
2 Harry Thacker
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Joe Cain
5 Sebastian de Chaves
6 Michael Noone
7 Jamie Gibson
8 Jordan Crane

16 Neil Briggs
17 Tom Bristow
18 Jérôme Schuster
19 Tom Price
20 Harry Wells
21 George Tresidder
22 Pasqualle Dunn
23 Perry Humphreys

15 Ben Howard
14 James Stephenson
13 Max Stelling
12 Andy Symons
11 Ravai Fatiaki
10 Paul Warwick
9 Jonny Arr
1 Ofa Fainga'anuku
2 Chris Brooker
3 Rob O'Donnell
4 James Percival
5 Mariano Galarza
6 Sam Betty
7 Jake Abbott
8 Jonathan Thomas (C)

16 Ed Shervington
17 Jeremy Becasseau
18 Euan Murray
19 Christian Scotland-Williamson
20 Richard de Carpentier
21 George de Cothi
22 Ignacio Mieres
23 Dean Hammond

Referee: Gwyn Morris (Wales)
TV: None Live, Highlights Sunday 8pm ITV 4

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Tigers Roar Back into Form

A young and inexperienced Tigers side roared out of their recent slump in form with a revitalising 39-16 win.  The 4 try bonus point was only secured on the last play but a dominant second half saw Tigers retain almost 80% of possession and the Ospreys defence wilt under the constant pressure.  It was reminiscent of a Tigers game from the early 2000s as a game opposition kept it close for an hour before the Tigers inexorably pulled away.

Richard Cockerill had picked a balanced side with experienced players down the spine of loosehead prop, number 8, scrum half and full back given the structure and support for the young players around them to fulfill their potential.

The Ospreys meanwhile were slightly younger, an average age of 23 compared to 24 of Leicester, which will have an affect at this level.  Boasting Junior World Player of the Year Sam Davies in their ranks they were a side, though, which would take some beating.

Leicester started well with strong breaks by young centre pair Javiah Pohe and George Catchpole to set up a position in the 22, a few phases later and the Ospreys infringed to give Owen Williams the first 3 points of the match.  Almost straightaway the Welsh side were caught for their backs not being 10 meters behind the lineout and Williams had a 40 meter effort to make it 6-0 after 7 minutes.

The confidence was flooding into Williams now has he spotted the Ospreys defence of a 22 drop out asleep and went with a quick grubber to Michael Noone.  The former Ospreys age group player made it 9-0 after an eye catching break by Sebastian De Chaves the Portuguese-English-South African.

A poor box kick from Sam Harrison and lazy retreating from the Tigers pack gave the Ospreys their first points.  The kick off was out on the full but the Ospreys took the quick lineout, rather than waiting for the scrum, and were rewarded with a lineout on our 22.  They had kicked through and Williams had scrambled back to prevent any try threat.

They made it 9-6 after a glass jaw moment from their tighthead Joe Rees.  Boris Stankovich barely touched him and collapsed like a house of cards.  It was late so fair enough a penalty I suppose; but on watching the game back on Sky Scott "SQ" Quinnell and Johnny "Taffy lover" Hammond were calling for a red card!  If all they want are passionate one eyed idiots to commentate on the games then I am available.

Ospreys had a chance to level the scores on 23 minutes; but even after stealing a yard and a half wunderkind Sam Davies could only strike the bar.  Clearly goal kicking is not high on the IRB's priorities for World Player of Year after watching George Ford for 3 years.

But 4 minutes later it was Tigers who scored the game's first try through Thomas "the tank" Waldrom.  A smashed tackle from the Javiah Pohe on halfway got Tigers onto the front foot.  Williams on the half break feed Sam Harrison who took it up to the 22, good awareness from Harry Thacker saw him step into the scrum half position to keep the tempo up.  It was then 3 phases before Harrison found Waldrom on the tightline cutting back towards the ruck, the kiwi broke the first up tackle and powered through full back Ross Jones attempted tackle to claim the score making it 14-6.

A fairly harsh penalty on Irishman Michael Noone for failing to release the tackled player gave SAm Davies the easy 3 points to drag it back to 14-9 at half time. 

Tigers were straight back onto the attack after half time.  The possession was lost though and it took a cheeky break by Jamie Gibson through the middle of the maul to get us back into the Ospreys half.  Thacker made the meters after Gibson's show and go at the front of the lineout bamboozled the Welsh defenders.  More strong and straight running from Pohe, curing us of our drifting problem so evident against Wasps, took the play to the 10m line where the Ospreys again offended.  Poor officating from Rose saw Sam Harrison's quick tap pulled back but Williams slotted the goal for a 17-9 lead.

At this point the Ospreys just could retain the ball and Tigers attacks crashed down on them wave after wave.  Williams missed one penalty, after the Tigers' lineout jumpers were taken in the air, but made no mistake 3 minutes later.  From the 22 clearout of the last miss Tigers scorched through the middle.  Scott Hamilton made initial break, arcing away from the defence, he then turned the ball inside to Gibson who opened his legs and rushed through to 22.  Ospreys defended stoutly to prevent a try but the penalty was inevitable and converted by Williams for 20-9.  

It took 10 minutes for the next try to come but Tigers had an almost complete monopoly of possession and territory.  A midfield penalty was struck to the corner and when the Ospreys infringed again we got to 5m out.  The lineout was driven but not quite over so it was up to Sam Harrison to catch the tiring defence out and sneak over under the posts for the 2nd try, celebrating with his version of Bebeto's famous rocking the baby celebration.  There was 19 minutes left for Tigers to secure the bonus point.

Unfortunately Harrison's game was ended shortly afterwards by a tackle from Hanno Dirksen the American winger.  Dispite the similarities to Stankovich's in the first half I couldn't hear "SQ" calling for Dirksen to receive a red card, only yellow this time.  Clearly "SQ" has never quite got over Nottingham all those years ago.

Tigers didn't let that stop them though as the impressive Harry Wells dug, fought and burrowed his way under a pile of Ospreylian defenders to, just about, ground the ball.  It took the video ref 4 minutes to decide if it was a try or not.  Now I know we benefited from it this time but what view did he see after the first 60 seconds that was different?  Why does he have to take so long?  There are no clear views so you're going to have to make an educated guess either way.  Just make it and carry on.  For the fans at the ground, even with a one off video screen for this match, these delays are incredibly boring.

Either way it was almost all one way traffic now.  Sam Williams did grab a consolation for the visitors after pilfering the ball from the side of a maul then charging 40 meters for the try.  Mele's lack of reaction was not his best moment but in the grand scheme of things better to let them score a quick try than defend for 5 minutes and lose the chance at a 4th try for ourselves.

With the bench now cleared Tigers were hunting the bonus point try.  A series of driving mauls resulted in the try scorer Sam Williams seeing yellow and Tigers kicking to the corner with only 55 seconds remaining.  Before Sam Williams could even reach the bench though Tigers had scored as the power came through and Michael Noone could sheer off the side of the maul and dot down for his 3rd try in 4 games.

Harry Thacker was the offical Man of the Match and it is difficult to argue against that selection.  The hooker was the smallest player on the pitch but thanks to his aggression into contact he rarely, if ever, went backwards and often could scrambled forward for extra yards.  

This match was a long way from the physicality of a Premiership match though so expectations should not get too high too soon.  He is unlikely to play a Premiership match this season, and rightly so as he develops physically for the rigours of the Premiership on the neck and shoulders.  

Others to impress were Jamie Gibson, seemingly more comfortable in the 7 shirt than any other; Javiah Pohe is a solidly built young man, the Cornish-Kiwi could certainly stand up to the strength of the Premiership and his ability to straighten the line and attract defenders is invaluable.  He takes some stopping at any level.  Owen Williams was 7/10 with the boot and I would say the same mark for his game over all.  We saw glimpses of his potential but fly half is such a confidence position that requires regular game time it will be difficult to see more of it once Flood is back from England.

Hopefully the same side will play against Worcester and continue to impress and hopefully this will instil some more confidence into Cockerill to blood one or two of these youngsters into the full blooded games more often.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Young side named to meet Ospreys

The Ospreys have become regular opponents for the Tigers since the Welsh sides inception in 2003.  Friday's game will be the 12th between the two sides in only 8 seasons; Tigers have a won 5, lost 4, drawn 2 record but have won only 2 of the 8 most recent fixtures.  In the Anglo-Welsh Cup we have faced the Swansea side 3 previous times, the victorious first half of the double in 2007, Loffreda's folly in the 2008 final and a particularly dispiriting thrashing in the Bridgend rain with a young side in 2010.

Tigers coach Richard Cockerill has made 13 changes from the side was so disapointing last Friday in defeat to Harlequins.  Harry Thacker, Javiah Pohe and George Catchpole all make their first starts in the First XV, whilst Miles Benjamin, Sebastian De Chaves and Joe Cain all make their home debuts.

Only 4 players in the Tigers side have played for the club more than 10 times: Scott Hamilton, Sam Harrison, Boris Stankovich and Thomas Waldrom.  The side combined has less than 300 starts for the club.

Ospreys pick a fairly young side featuring Sam Davies the 2013 Junior World Player of the Year.  The son of Gloucester's Director of Rugby Nigel Davies is a fly half whose skill and guile led Wales Under 20s to victory over South Africa and a place in the World Cup final.  

Leicester Tigers
15 Scott Hamilton
14 Blaine Scully
13 George Catchpole
12 Javiah Pohe
11 Miles Benjamin
10 Owen Williams
9 Sam Harrison
1 Boris Stankovich (c)
2 Harry Thacker
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Joe Cain
5 Sebastian de Chaves
6 Michael Noone
7 Jamie Gibson
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 George Chuter
17 Tom Bristow
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Tom Price
20 Harry Wells
21 David Mélé
22 Perry Humphreys
23 Henry Purdy

15 Ross Jones
14 Hanno Dirksen
13 Tom Isaacs
12 Matthew Jenkins
11 Tom Grabham
10 Sam Davies
9 Tom Habberfield
1 Marc Thomas
2 Matthew Dwyer
3 Joe Rees
4 Lloyd Peers (c)
5 Rhodri Hughes
6 Graham Knoop
7 Arthur Ellis
8 Morgan Allen
16 Rhys Hutcherson
17 Nicky Smith
18 Dan Suter
19 Sam Williams
20 Jack Jones
21 Jake Cole
22 Nathan Edwards
23 Aisea Natoga

Referee: David Rose
TV: Sky Sports 2HD, 7:30 for a 7:45 KO

Monday, 4 November 2013

How to build an LV Cup Team?

Life, as Stuart Lancaster might say, is a journey.  The rugby season certainly is, and it marches relentlessly on.  We’ve had two weeks of European rugby, two weeks of Premiership rugby now two weeks of Anglo-Welsh action.
As usual Tigers will be “allowing the squad players a chance” or picking the reserves in this competition, so I thought I’d do a little thinking on how do you actually pick an LV Cup team?

Let’s start with the basics.  Who can’t you pick?  Marcos Ayerza, Pablo Matera, Dan Cole, Tom Youngs, Geoff Parling, Ben Youngs and Toby Flood will all be at Twickenham and Logo Mulipola is in the Samoan squad.  Blaine Scully is in the USA squad but that is a non-test match against the NZ Maori so may be available.  Ryan Lamb is unfit and banned if he is.

So who do we have to pick?  Are there any last men standing?  At prop Fraser Balmain is due a start, not only has the Geordie Giant been criminally under used so far this season with Cole and Mulipola otherwise engaged he is the sole tighthead available.  Owen Williams is also sure to start as injury has forced us into not playing a fly half for the Extras.  There is simply no one else left.

So by default they are the first names on my team sheet:

3. Fraser Balmain
10. Owen Williams

Next is there anyone we actively don’t want to pick to protect them for future games?  For me Julian Salvi, as the only true 7, Dan Bowden, as the only fit 12, and Niall Morris, main full back until Tait is back, fall into this category.  There are simply no circumstances that will force those guys onto the pitch. 

Who else will be held back?  Neil Briggs is unlikely to see action as backups to international players need to be treated carefully.  A bit of All Black thuggery and Briggs is the main man for the rest of the season.  David Mele is in the same boat.  They aren’t short of game time, we have other options.

With that in mind who will make the second draft of selection?  Sam Harrison will surely start at 9.  Arguably he should have been given a chance to replace Mele in the last two weeks and he could use the LV Cup to reclaim his place on the bench.  In place of Salvi it will surely be Jamie Gibson at 7.  In the A League Lucas Guillaume has been doing sterling work but Gibson is a more natural 7, though not exactly Neil Back naturalness.

3. Fraser Balmain
7. Jamie Gibson
9. Sam Harrison
10. Owen Williams

Then we have the returning players.  Steve Mafi, Scott Hamilton and Matt Smith are all returning from injury.  Are they fit enough to start?  Do they need the game time to get into tip top condition for London Irish?  I’m going to assume yes to both.  Another player to throw into this category is Miles Benjamin.  He did a sterling effort stepping in for the Ulster match, his first major start for 15 months, even though he was not ready and put in a real shift.  I’m going to assume he is in fact fit and ready.

3. Fraser Balmain
6. Steve Mafi
7. Jamie Gibson
9. Sam Harrison
10. Owen Williams
11. Miles Benjamin
13. Matt Smith
15. Scott Hamilton

Now that is building up to be a pretty canny back line and back row.  The next stage for me is does the team need any more experience in any particular positions?  The front row is especially interesting.  The choices are fairly straight forward Stankovich/Bristow and Chuter/Thacker.  We already have a youngster in Balmain, how are we going to balance the front 5?  You also have to manage expectations.  Harry Thacker is a very good player and fairly “showy”.  He could easily be excellent at some open field situations and become a message board darling.  How dare we not pick him every game?  Cockerill is ruining his development! Etc. Etc.

I’d still start him though along with Stankovich to provide some greater scrummage power on the left hand shoulder.

1. Boris Stankovich
2. Harry Thacker
3. Fraser Balmain
6. Steve Mafi
7. Jamie Gibson
9. Sam Harrison
10. Owen Williams
11. Miles Benjamin
13. Matt Smith
15. Scott Hamilton

Now we have 5 slots and a nice smattering of experience so do we have any players particularly on form in the Extras or youngsters who deserve a crack at the first team?

On the wing surely Henry Purdy will get a first team place.  Physical in contact, pacey and with faintly dodgy hands he reminds me of a young Leon Lloyd.  Benjamin will be looking to force his way into the first team but he might find himself leap frogged by this young man. 

At number 8 quicksilver Irishman Michael Noone has captained the Extras, looked fairly tricky with the ball and committed in the nuts and bolts.  The engine room of the second row will be a shoot out between Tom Price, Joe Cain, Harry Wells and Sebastian De Chaves.

Cain was initially the highest rated of the trio but is also the oldest which might explain it.  Price is a lineout operator who has always been preferred by the England selectors.  His age grade contemporaries Elliot Stooke and Dom Barrow are meatier beasts and already impressing in the Premiership.  Wells has been playing more at 6 for the Extras this season but previously has been seen as a lock.  The youngest, he has a lovely mean streak.  Abrasive and aggressive he is certainly a departure from the likes of Croft or Mafi, more like Brett Deacon or Will Johnson.

De Chaves is seemingly preferred by Cockerill; perhaps our academy players should feign foreign accents? So I expect him to start alongside one of the only slightly younger locks.  I would start with Price and have Wells on the bench.

Which leaves us with 12.  Hepetema left the match on Saturday with an apparent concussion, we have so few centres but he is hardly experienced and warranting protection.  Manu is reportedly in training and expected to make it for London Irish so we don’t really need to worry about protecting outside centres.  We also have youngsters Pasqualle Dunn and Javiah Pohe.  Pohe is a beast but his hands on occasion let him down.  Dunn is hardly a lightweight but certainly smaller in comparison.

Who to go with?  I would go with Pohe.  He might drop a few but he’ll commit defenders and seems to have an eye for the big occasion.

So my team would be:
1. Boris Stankovich
2. Harry Thacker
3. Fraser Balmain
4. Sebastian De Chaves
5. Tom Price
6. Steve Mafi
7. Jamie Gibson
8. Michael Noone
9. Sam Harrison
10. Owen Williams
11. Miles Benjamin
12. Javiah Pohe
13. Matt Smith
14. Henry Purdy
15. Scott Hamilton.