Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Tigers grab the Lions Share

Six Leicester Tigers have today been selected to tour Australia with the British Lions.  Ben & Tom Youngs will be the first brothers to tour together since fellow Tigers Rory & Tony Underwood 20 years ago; they are joined by Geoff Parling, Dan Cole, Manu Tuilagi and Tom Croft.

Croft, who played in all 3 test matches four years ago in South Africa, becomes the 10th Tigers player to go on a second tour after Neil Back (1997 ,2001, 2005), Martin Johnson (1993, 1997, 2001), Dean Richards (1989, 1993), Rory Underwood (1989, 1993), Peter Wheeler (1977, 1980), Martin Corry (2001, 2005), Graham Rowntree (1997, 2005), Clive Woodward (1980, 1983) and Austin Healey (1997, 2001).

Rowntree is of course going on this summer's tour as forwards coach and was an assistant coach in 2009.  Clive Woodward coached the 2005 tourists and 1930 Tour captain Doug Prentice, a lock and number 8, was manager of the 1936 tour.

The 6 selected is the second most Tigers to tour behind the 8 named for the 2005 Lions and ties with the number who toured South Africa with the victorious 1997 Lions.  Tigers last solo tourist was Peter Wheeler in 1977 and the last tour to have no representation from Leicester was 1968.

Manu Tuilagi and Dan Cole are the 16th and 17th players educated in Leicestershire & Rutland to be selected for the Lions after Alfred Hind (1903), Tom Smith (1908), Kenneth Wood (1910), Doug Prentice (1930), Doug Kendrew (1930), Bernard Gadney (1936), Paul Dodge (1980), Dean Richards (1989, 1993), Martin Johnson (1993, 1997, 2001), Graham Rowntree (1997, 2005), Dorian West (2001), Lewis Moody (2005), Ollie Smith (2005), Harry Ellis (2009) and Tom Croft (2009, 2013).  Prentice, Gadney and Johnson all captained a Lions tour, Johnson famously being the only man to lead the Lions twice in both 1997 and 2001.

The 2013 squad is dominated by Gatland's Welsh players as they provide 15 of the 37 man party, though club-wise it is Tigers and Leinster who supply the most players with 6 players apiece, reigning RaboDirect Champions the Ospreys provide 5 players whilst English champions Harlequins have been snubbed with no players selected.  Chris Robshaw becomes the 3rd England captain in the last 5 tours to miss out on selection after Phil De Glanville (1997) and Steve Borthwick (2009).  

The surprise picks are the kilted kiwi Sean Maitland and English prop Matt Stevens who has retired from international duty with England.  Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson has ruled himself out of contention as he commits himself to the French side's quest for a league and cup double, unlike Gethin Jenkins.  The Welsh prop will presumably rule himself out of any potential Top 14 final to take his seat on the plane for Hong Kong which leaves the week before.  That won't win him many friends in the south of France but as he has already signed for next season at Cardiff I doubt he minds much.  

2013 British & Irish Lions squad

Leigh Halfpenny (Cardiff & Wales)
Stuart Hogg (Glasgow & Scotland)
Rob Kearney (Leinster & Ireland)
Tommy Bowe (Ulster & Ireland)
Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff & Wales)
Sean Maitland (Glasgow & Scotland)
George North (Llanelli & Wales)
Jonathan Davies (Llanelli & Wales)
Brian O'Driscoll (Leinster & Ireland)
Jamie Roberts (Cardiff & Wales)
Manu Tuilagi (Leicester & England)
Owen Farrell (Saracens & England)
Jonathan Sexton (Leinster & Ireland)
Conor Murray (Munster & Ireland)
Mike Phillips (Bayonne & Wales)
Ben Youngs (Leicester & England)

Dan Cole (Leicester & England)

Cian Healy (Leinster & Ireland)
Gethin Jenkins (Toulon & Wales)
Adam Jones (Ospreys & Wales)
Matt Stevens (Saracens & England)
Mako Vunipola (Saracens & England)
Dylan Hartley (Northampton & England)
Richard "My Eyes" Hibbard (Ospreys & Wales)
Tom Youngs (Leicester & England)
Ian Evans (Ospreys & Wales)
Richie Gray (Sale & Scotland)
Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys & Wales)
Paul O'Connell (Munster & Ireland)
Geoff Parling (Leicester & England)
Tom Croft (Leicester & England)

Toby Faletau (Newport & Wales)
Jamie Heaslip (Leinster & Ireland)
Dan Lydiate (Newport & Wales)
Sean O'Brien (Leinster & Ireland)
Justin Tipuric (Ospreys & Wales)
Sam Warburton (c) (Cardiff & Wales)

Breakdown by Club:
Leicester: 6
Leinster: 6
Ospreys: 5
Cardiff: 4
Saracens: 3
Glasgow, Munster, Newport, Llanelli: 2
Northampton, Sale, Toulon, Bayonne, Ulster: 1

Leicester's 36 Previous Lions:

By position (Bold have Test caps)
FB: John Jackett (1908), Dusty Hare (1983), Geordan Murphy (2005)
W: Alfred Hind (1903), Alexander Obolonsky (1936), Rory Underwood (1989, 1993), Tony Underwood (1993)
C: Ken Wood (1910), Clive Woodward (1980, 1983), Paul Dodge (1980), Will Greenwood (1997), Ollie Smith (2005)
FH: J.P. Horrocks-Taylor (1959), Alan Old (1974)
SH: Bernard Gadney (1936), Austin Healey (1997, 2001), Harry Ellis (2009)
P: Doug Kendrew (1930), Graham Rowntree (1997, 2005), Julian White (2005)
H: Peter Wheeler (1977, 1980), Dorian West (2001)
L: Tom Smith (1908), Doug Prentice (1930), Charles Beamish (1936), Martin Johnson (1993, 1997, 2001), Ben Kay (2005)
F: Roger Arneil (1971), Neil Back (1997, 2001, 2005), Eric Miller (1997), Lewis Moody (2005), Tom Croft (2009)
8: Fred Jackson (1908), George Beamish (1930), Dean Richards (1989, 1993), Martin Corry (2001, 2005)

Monday, 29 April 2013

Tigers Props make Junior World Rugby Trophy Squads

Two Tigers Academy props have been selected to represent their nations in this year's Junior World Rugby Trophy in Chile.  Djustice Sears-Duru has been selected by Canada and Tiziano Pasquali carries on from the Under 20s 6 Nations for Italy.  Both are still only 18 and will be available for next year's tournament.  

Italy have been drawn in Pool A alongside hosts Chile, African champions Namibia and European qualifiers Portugal. 

In the other pool Canada have been drawn with Tonga, Japan and Uruguay.

The two pool winners will meet in a final with the winner promoted to the 2014 edition of the Junior World Cup.  Last year the USA won the JRWT to gain promotion whilst Italy finished 12th in the Junior World Cup and were relegated to this level.

The favourites for the title are probably Japan, Italy and Tonga, with Japan perhaps my sneaky favourites to gain promotion after losing the final in each of the past 3 seasons.

Neil Courtney (Capilano / UBC Thunderbirds), Jason Galbraith (Meralomas), Ryan March (Abbotsford), Djustice Sears-Duru (Barrie / Leicester Tigers), Sawyer Herron (Oakville Crusaders / UVic Vikes), Alex Mascott (Vancouver Rowing Club / UBC Thunderbirds), Lukas Balkovec (Waterloo County / UVic Vikes), Connor Hamilton (Vancouver Rowing Club / UBC Thunderbirds), Thomas Roche (Meralomas), Haydn Evans (Cowichan / UVic Vikes), Jordan Harvey (Capilano), Matthew Heaton (Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue / James Bay), Jack Smith (Peterborough Pagans / Humber Hawks), Charlie Thorpe (UBC Old Boys / UBC Thunderbirds).

Jordan Best (Abbotsford), James Pitblado (Vancouver Rowing Club / UVic Vikes), Conor McCann (Balmy Beach / Clermont Auvergne), Adam McQueen (Banff / Queen's Golden Gaels), Shane O'Leary (Young Munster), Patrick Kay (Cowichan / UVic Vikes), Jonny LaPlaca (Barrie), Nathan Yanagiya (Capilano / UVic Vikes), Justin Douglas (Abbotsford), Lucas Hammond (Toronto Nomads / Castaway Wanderers), Jacob Webster (Lindsay / Laurier Golden Hawks), Daniel Mathie (Oakville Crusaders).

Rudy Biancotti, Simone Ferrari, Sami Panico, Tiziano Pasquali, Luca Scarsini, Alain Moriconi, Michele Andreotti, Andrea Trotta, Alessio Zdrilich, Vittorio Marazzi, Jacopo Salvetti, Filippo Scalvi, Gianmanrco Vian, Maxime Mbanda
Simone Marinaro, Marcello Violi, Filippo Buscem, Edoardo Padovani, Giovanni Benvenuti, Andrea Bettin, Michele Campagnaro, Abou Souare, Filippo Guarducci, David Odiete, Samuel Seno, Angelo Esposito.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pride of Britain: My Lions Selection

On Tuesday Warren Gatland will announce his squad for the Welsh Lions tour to Australia this summer.  

Early rumours from the usual well placed journalists seem to be suggesting that as few as 7 Englishmen will tour and the vast majority of the squad will be from the Wales side that this season lost 7 games on the spin; including four losses to Australia plus a humiliating defeat at home to Samoa.  England of course did manage to flukily squeak past the All Blacks by just the 17 points, whilst England, Ireland and Scotland have all won down under in their most recent visits.  But we all know Wales is the supreme force in British rugby as their mighty tally of victories against the Springboks, All Blacks and Wallabies attests.

But I know what you are desperate to say "Mr. Ultra SubMarines, begging your pardon, but who would you select if you were the mighty over-lord of selection?"  

Well your prayers are answered I am here to tell you what to think and to provide a stinging rebuke to Celtic based pundits like soft Eddie Butler, whose Lions team had 1 non-Celt in it: the kilted Kiwi Sean Maitland!

So enough waffle lets get down and dirty: who should tour?

At prop there are some obvious ones, Dan Cole and Adam Jones must tour because they are head and shoulders above all the others at tighthead.  You would think that Cian "Stampy" Healy has done enough to take one of the loosehead spots, unless he has another attack at a defenseless player's leg of course.  If his fitness holds Alex Corbiseiro has been a rock for England and his absence was telling in the 6 Nations.  Then we hit some harder calls.  Is Toulon's Gethin Jenkins first of all actually good enough for a call up and secondly, as he will miss the first game and have to fly out on his own, worth making an exception for?  I think he is probably good enough to go all things being equal, but they aren't equal.  Toulon will surely make the French Championship final and he will literally miss the boat, or rather the plane, okay it wasn't literally literal only figuratively literal.  Still.  

So presuming 4 props isn't enough (it isn't) who else will tour?  For me the options at tighthead are Euan Murray, Mike Ross, Craig Mitchell or Davy Boy Wilson.  There are no Sunday games (I think) so Euan Murray's bizarre religiosity shouldn't count against him; so he doesn't tour for me because he's not good enough instead.  Craig Mitchell has struggled to impose himself at Exeter so again he misses out.  Mike Ross has been good for Leinster and okay for Ireland but for me the Geordie prop Davy Boy Wilson gets the nod.  He has struggled to get past Dan Cole for England but then Leibniz struggles to gain recognition ahead of Newton, it doesn't make you a bad prop or physicist to be second best to one of the greatest talents to grace this earth.  

We've dealt with the right hand props so what about the lefty looseheads? Ryan Grant of Scotland has his admirers but we already have two normal looseheads, if one goes down injured we can call on a talent like Grant or maybe Jenkins.  This is a squad and needs its balance of carriers too.  Mako Vunipola probably isn't the best prop available but he has a destructive carrying game and should be a massive impact sub for the mid-week side.  And if his form holds maybe more.

Similarly at hooker our own Tom Youngs has an impact around the field that can't be matched world wide so must tour.  I would bring only 3 hookers so who is to fill the other berths? The options for me are Dylan Hartly, Richard "My Eyes" Hibbard and Rory Best.  Given the attrition rate of hookers all three will probably be required at some stage and perhaps Ken Owens too.  But for the initial party I would take "My Eyes" Hibbard and Dylan Hartly.  Both are large units and mobile with it as well as being leaders on the field.  None of the hookers have 100% lineout accuracy which is a weakness so we just have to embrace what they will give us round the field rather than worry about what they might not give us at the line out.  

Locking out the scrum there are few stand out contenders.  Paul O'Connell has been on top form for Munster in the Heineken Cup but hasn't played test match rugby at that standard for a long time.  He's in my squad but only grudgingly as there are not many options that can match him if he can bring the A game.  Alun Wyn Jones is a favourite of mine so he's in the party.  He's strong in the air and the ruck, as captain of the Ospreys he is a leader which will be needed too.  So who else is to tour?  Our own Geoff Parling? Cov's favourite Scotsman Jim Hamilton?  One name I think will go but won't name in my party is Wyn Jones's Ospreys team mate Ian Evans.  The thug who ruined Harry Ellis's knee is not welcome in my party.

I would take Leicester's Geoff Parling and Wasps' Joe Launchbury but would be reasonably happy with Munster's Donncha Ryan or Gloucester's Jim Hamilton.  Cardiff's Brad Davies is a good player also but has struggled with injuries so misses out for me.  The only player that the press is bigging up that I can't fathom is Sale's Ritchie Gray.  His form has been atrocious at both club and country level, for Sale he has been played out of the team by the Russian Ostrikov and local boy Tom Holmes.  Courtney Lawes seems to have fallen from grace but I still like him and he'd be on my standby list.

The back row is probably the most competitive area of the team you can just keep on throwing in names that have looked excellent all season.  The standout "pure" 7 has been the Ospreys' Justin Tipuric so he must tour.  Sam Warburton might not have been as good as he was last season but is still a quality operator and like Richard Hill or Lewis Moody he has the bulk to slip to 6 if required.  Tom Wood returned to international action this season and was Man of the Match in that lucky win against New Zealand.  The Welsh would go ballistic if a player who had put in a performance like that was ignored for the Lions.  

Tigers own Tom Croft has to tour for me simply because of his difference to the other options.  Guys like Warburton, Brown, O'Brien, Lydiate, Robshaw are all great flankers but are ten a penny, the gazelle like Croft is one of a kind.  Of those "ten a penny" options I would take Kelly Brown.  You have to have some Scots on the tour and he is as good as any of the others.

Lydiate is perhaps the best player but he hasn't played internationally for a long time now.  Injuries will happen though so I would tell him to dominate for Wales in Japan and he'll be the first man called up.  As Croft showed last time you can miss the initial party and still play in all of the tests.

For number 8 there are again a litany of options.  You have pacier 8s like Heaslip or Beattie, you have big carrying 8s like Ben Morgan or players with a bit of bath like Toby Faletau.  You also have "jack of all trade" back rows like Sean O'Brien or Jimmy Haskell.  For me the jack of all trades is, as they say, master of none so Haskell and O'Brien miss out as their flexibility just isn't needed when I'm bringing 7 back rows.  At 8 even though I would like a barrel chested barnstormer like Morgan you have to go with class and Heaslip and Faletau have that.

Now, for those that have struggled through this so far, we get to the backs.

The back three is an interesting area for the selectors.  England's three full backs are all good options with Brown in particular good form domestically but being roasted by Alex Cuthbert in Cardiff,even though he was playing on the wing, has scorched his chances I fear.  Alex Goode has his admirers though I am not one and Ben Foden hasn't been playing for England and has struggled with niggling injuries.  

Clermont has Lee Byrne but his likely involvement with the French play offs precludes his selection, whilst Rob Kearney will probably be in Gatland's merry bunch he won't be in mine.  In terms of wingers there are fewer options especially when I take my principled stand against Tim Visser and Sean Maitland playing for the Lions despite being Dutch and Kiwi as they are.  Ulster has Tommy Bowe and Craig Gilroy, both fine players but not quite having enough form or class to break into my selection.

By process of elimination you have probably worked out the 6 I would take the cover the back three.  At full back Leigh Halfpenny has been imperious (and linked to Leicester, we can but hope) and is favourite for the test jersey whilst Stuart Hogg is the coming man.  Lions tours are for the coming players and Hogg is on the crest of a wave for both Glasgow and the Scots.

My wingers would be Welsh wizards George North and Alex Cuthbert who provide pace and power, Taff Tuilagis if you will.  Simon Zebo has a touch of class and that Munster spirit, I have a feeling he is one who could really flourish on tour then maybe fade away in the next couple of season; but Lions tours are of the now and now is his time.  

Perhaps contradicting that slightly is my next pick of Chris Ashton.  Okay he has perhaps not been the best in the 6 Nations but he has the finishers nose and the kind of character that would suit the Lions.  He doesn't seem a sulker so could be a good tourist.  Zebo and Ashton both can cover full back in an emergency too.

In the centres there seems to be 5 standout options and not really much to debate.  Brian O'Driscoll might be in the winter of his career but still looks to have that touch of class.  He might have to cede a test place to the bullocking Manu Tuialgi but as an experienced head and talent wise he is still full value for his place.  To go with Manu and BOD is the Welsh pairing of Jonathan Davies (no not that one) and Dr. Jamie Roberts.  Nicely balanced and both capable of playing anywhere in the backline they will surely tour.  My 5th centre would be England's Zimbabwean heartbeat Brad Barritt.  Now I know above I have said on principle the British Lions is for British players but Barritt has been here a long time and rules are made to be broken!  If I were to bow to principle then I reckon Matt Scott from Edinburgh would fill the berth as I do quite like him.

Finally we approach the end of this marathon article as we reach the final mile and the half backs.

I've read some funny things about half backs recently.  Soft Eddie Butler would have Lloyd Williams in the party, I must admit I didn't have a clue who that was and had to look him up!  Hardly a sign of a good player is it?  The realistic options at 9 seem to me to be Ben Youngs, Danny Care, Connor Murray or Mike Phillips.  Phillips availability won't be a problem as Bayonne are 15 points of the play offs with 1 game to go.  I imagine Gatland will leave Care at home but I would have Drunken Danny and have Connor Murray miss out.  Murray almost changed my mind yesterday but Youngs and Care are a pair of live wires who feed off each other whilst Mike Phillips provides his bull strength.  

I would also take Greg Laidlaw the Scotch switch back; primarily as a fly half but providing cover at 9 as well.  Fly half is another position you hear some funny things about.  There is talk of not taking Owen Farrell but picking both Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland.  Jonathan Sexton is a tad over rated but he is still a quality conductor at 10 and will surely tour.  I still think there is an outside chance of Toby Flood touring but maybe not.  He fits more naturally into the same type of game as Sexton and Priestland than Farrell.  Again a strong finish to the season and a cracking first test against the Argentinians might propel him into contention should there be an injury on tour.

So that is my tour party and that is my reasons.  Hang me high or shoot me down.  The thing that hopefully Gatland will remember is that a happy camp is paramount and nothing worse for camp atmosphere than the suspicion of favoritism.     

Full Backs: Leigh Halfpenny, Stuart Hogg
Wings: George North, Simon Zebo, Alex Cuthbert, Chris Ashton
Centres: Manu Tuilagi, Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Roberts, Brad Barritt, Jon Davies
Fly Halfs: Jonathan Sexton, Owen Farrell, Greg Laidlaw
Scrum Halfs: Ben Youngs, Danny Care, Mike Phillips
Props: Dan Cole, Adam Jones, Cian “Stampy” Healy, Alex Corbiseiro, Mako Vunipola, Davy Wilson
Hookers: Tom Youngs, Dylan Hartley, Richard “My Eyes” Hibbard
Locks: Paul O’Connell, Alun Wyn Jones, Geoff Parling, Joe Launchbury
Back row: Justin Tipuric, Sam Warburton, Tom Wood, Tom Croft, Kelly Brown, Toby Faletau, Jamie Heaslip

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Two Tigers Lock in place for Junior World Cup

Two Leicester Locks have been named in England's Under 20s squad for this summer's Junior World Cup to be held in France.  20 year old Tom Price, originally from Stratford, and 19 year old Harry Wells, from Peterborough, have been selected by head coaches Nick Walshe and Ian Peel.  

Both Price and Wells have made their first team debuts this season; Price starting the LV Cup at home to Wasps before his injury gave Wells his debut in the same game before starting against the Scarlets in Llanelli a week later.

Wells has also been a regular in the A League over the last two seasons starting 6 games with a further 3 appearances from the bench over the past 2 seasons, scoring one try at home to Sale last season.  Price has been used less in the A League starting only once, against Newcastle in March 2011, and featuring a further 4 times as a sub.

The two Tigers' Tyros will face competition from Leeds' Dominic Barrow and Gloucester's Elliot Stooke for the locking berths; though versatile Wells played flanker in England's victorious Six Nations campaign, bagging two tries in the final game against Wales.

England will play all their group games in La Roche-sur-Yon on the Atlantic coast; they start the tournament against hosts France on Wednesday June 5th before facing last year's World Champions South Africa, dubbed the "Baby Boks", 4 days later.  They round off the tournament with what they would hope will be an easier game against the USA, though the Americans qualified for this tournament by winning the Junior World Trophy last summer so will be no mugs.  

England Under20 squad:
Forwards: Dom Barrow (Leeds Carnegie), Jack Clifford (Harlequins), Joel Conlon (Exeter Chiefs), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Matt Hankin (Saracens), Alec Hepburn (London Wasps), Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi (Northampton Saints), Ross Moriarty (Gloucester Rugby), Nathan Morris (London Wasps), Tom Price (Leicester Tigers), David Sisi (London Irish), Tom Smallbone (London Irish), Scott Spurling (Saracens), Elliott Stooke (Gloucester Rugby), Harry Wells (Leicester Tigers), Scott Wilson (Newcastle Falcons).
Backs: Callum Braley (Bristol Rugby), Alex Day (Northampton Saints), Ollie Devoto (Bath Rugby), Sam Hill (Exeter Chiefs), Will Hooley (Northampton Saints), Ben Howard (Worcester Warriors), Mark Jennings (Sale Sharks), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Harry Sloan (Harlequins), Tom Stephenson (Northampton Saints), Anthony Watson (London Irish).

Game 1 – England v France, Wednesday June 5, 17:45 (GMT)
Game 2 – England v South Africa, Sunday June 9, 15:45 (GMT)
Game 3 – England v USA, Thursday June 13, 17:45 (GMT)
Semi-final – Tuesday June 18
Final – Sunday June 23

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Tigers drown in Bath

Tigers missed their chance of securing a home semi final as they slipped up away to Bath surrendering an 8 point lead at one stage to lose 27-26.  Francois Louw crushed Tigers’ hopes with his break away try for Bath to take the lead with 5 minutes remaining.  Tigers still had time to get camped into Bath territory but referee Tim Wigglesworth deemed Louw’s counter rucking legal and rather than a kick to win the match Bath had the ball with the clock past 80.

Bath started the game with real purpose and good territory although Tigers got on the board first as Flood converted his penalty whilst Donald had skewed wide his attempt for Bath.  It wasn’t long before Bath did on the scoresheet however.  A slipped pass between Mat Tait and Manu Tuilagi in a maul gave Bath good field position on the left hand touchline of the 22.  A strong right shoulder from the impressive Davy Boy Wilson took Tigers back row that crucial 3 or 4 yards further away from the first break down and Bath were on the front foot rampaging through the 22.  Stout defence from the Tigers meant it still took several phases but with the defence retreating at every ruck it was only a matter of time until the departing Simon Taylor plunged through to score on what will be his last time in Blue, Black and White at the Rec.

Donald was down injured so youngster Ollie Devoto slotted the conversion.

Tigers roared back though with a well finished try.  For Tigers Tom Croft was the hero as he took a superb line through a gaping hole in the Bath defence before rounding young Devoto to score under the posts.  Davy Boy Wilson was this time the villain for Bath as his laziness in defence opened the door.

Tigers now had all the play and with the more open pack selected were enjoying the conditions and playing a lovely game.  But playing loose and wide has its risks just as much as any other strategy and Fijian winger Semesa Rokoduguni took advantage of a loose pass from Mat Tait to intercept and speed home.  A touch of inexperience or perhaps the atmosphere getting to him meant he failed to get under the posts, though Donald should still have slotted the easy conversion it was harder than needs be.

The score was sent up stairs to the TMO before it was awarded however as Tim Wigglesworth felt he had seen a no-arms-tackle but Rob Webber in Tigers attack before the interception.  It would have been a poor reason to bring back a try but once it has gone to the TMO that should not matter.  Needless to say I saw no attempt to wrap the arms at all, and neither could I even fathom what the TMO did see to rule it a fair challenge.  Wigglesworth was letting plenty go, and Bath were making hay whilst the sun shone, but there clearly were no arms in the tackle and the try should not have stood.

Tigers though were not flustered and not put off from their daring attacking play.  Bath had their tail’s up and were attacking into our 22 when Flood forced a holding on penalty against his opposite number.  Bath, presuming Tigers would try to slow the tempo and kick for touch, turned their backs and stopped; the ESPN camera man and commentary team had presumed a break in play and were begging a piece of analysis.  Suddenly we hear Nick Mullins, son of the mighty Birstall and dyed in the wool Tigers fan, crying “He’s through” and the camera try to catch up as Ben Youngs is slaloming through the ragged Bath defence.  Poor Ollie Devoto was again left with too much ground to cover as Youngs raced in for an 80m solo score of the highest calibre.  Flood slotted the conversion for an 8 point lead.

The last 5 minutes of the first half proved crucial.  Tigers scored a beauty of a try with Mat Tait putting Adam Thompstone through a tiny hole before he drew in the full back and put Matt Smith through.  There were no cries of forward from crowd, no murmurs from the commentary team either.  From the angle above and behind the play the pass looks perfectly timed and a beauty.  From the angle in front the play it looks forwards.  This is a clear example of why forward passes shouldn’t be reviewable as cameras show different things depending on their perspective.  The camera that is in front of play makes the pass look forward because the ball is coming towards the lens.  We can’t tell the depth from the 2D rendering on the screen only that the ball is moving left to right towards the camera.  This is A level physics stuff so I don’t expect the unwashed masses and referees to know this but surely the rule makes should take it into account and not put them in that situation.

Let’s be clear the pass was close and if the referee had given it in play there wouldn’t be any mardiness about the decision, maybe a call of let them play but referees have to make calls and you’re not going to like all of them.

But when he’s let it go to have the TMO rule the pass out because of essentially an optical illusion is wrong.  Especially when half the league’s games don’t have the TMO so there is a fair case to say that try would have stood if ESPN had fancied Gloucester v Saracens instead of our game.

Rant Over.

The momentum was all with Bath now as was the referees favour.  Two very soft, and out of character, calls from the referee gave Bath first a line out deep in Tigers’ territory then a free play on advantage.  Donald used the free play to pull an old Pat Howard or Andy Goode move on us as he cross kicked for ex-Tiger Horacio Agulla.  Tait couldn’t decide whether to accelerate and try to take him man and ball, or back off and hope for inside cover.  In the end he did neither and was left in no man’s land as Agulla round him for the try.  I think Cockerill accepts it was a big mistake to release Agulla but there’s no point crying over spilt milk, you can’t put toothpaste back in the tube.  Insert own cliché here.

Donald converted for a 1 point half time deficit.

Tigers were still intent on attacking from deep as the half started; a thoughtless dink through by Donald was claimed on his own 5m line by Thompstone who centred it to Youngs, Tait put it through the hands to Tuilagi who powered out of the 22 up to half way.  Tuilagi found Youngs who flipped it over Mat Tait’s head, somehow knocking it forwards as it went over his head according to Wigglesworth who to be fair was so up with play it had hit him and would have been a scrum down anyway. 

A classic Mat Tait moment almost cost Tigers dearly as he dithered under a high ball, eventually he did the right thing and let it go to run dead but got extremely close and the home fans were baying for a 5m Bath scrum rather than a scrum back inside their own half for Tigers.  They were only more riled up when Tigers pack, with Ed Slater now in the engine room, smashed the scrum and won a penalty.  Francois “Bare faced Liar” Louw then scuffled with Croft; I swear I saw a punch in there but as we know the angelic Mr. Louw would no more hit a man in the face than lie to a disciplinary committee as if he was an Osprey.

Flood made it 23-19 before a high tackle on Ed Slater by opposite number Dom Day gave him the chance to make it 26-19.

Tom Heathcote reduced the arrears when Dan Cole was caught in a ruck and unable to roll away.  This is a trope of modern rugby that annoys me slightly but is at least consistent across referees; we have in the rule book a scrum for when a player is trapped and can’t roll away but instead we give penalties.  It’s a fine line between can’t and won’t of course but that is what the referees are paid for.  Still that’s how the game is ref’d these days so no complaints about the decision.

Tigers went into lock down mode after this with Ben Youngs kicking the leather off the ball.  If we’d made our tackles it might have worked but I’d much rather us have kept playing and kept pushing for that next score.  It was clearly a next score wins type of game and we shut down half our options; we played to stop them rather than playing for ourselves.  It’s a brave call to keep tempo and keep it going when you are only 4 points up but often fortune favours the brave.

Manu Tuilagi defended like a Trojan with one try saving tackle on Agulla a particular beauty and like the mythical Turks we were only undone when we let a rather bulky figure slip through our walls.  The horse in this case was the super sub Samoan prop Anthony Perenise.  As well as having a name that sounds like a nasty STI he is a bullocking presence in the loose. 

It was from a Ben Youngs box kick; Rokoduguni claimed it safely and stayed on his feet, Perenise folded round into the maul before ripping it from the Fijian’s grasp.  Comparisons could be made between the Tigers non-try “forward” pass and Perenise’s position relative to Rokoduguni before he took the ball off him, but nobody seemed to give that much thought.  With the ball now beyond several of the Tigers defenders Perenise could slip through unseen for too long.

His footwork to keep Ben Youngs honest was top draw as was his one handed pass to Francois “Truth teller” Louw.  Hawkins will be disappointed with his effort to take the burly and righteous South African down especially as it was he who Perenise slipped past at the side of the maul.  Flood did well to keep him wide and make the conversion as hard as possible, which bore dividends when Heathcote missed it hooking left.

There was still time for Tigers to make it back into position to win the match and they looked to have earned a chance to win it with the last kick off the match.  But despite Wigglesworth very clearly calling “leave it” to honest Francois Louw he failed to award the penalty when the flanker quite clearly took out the half back Ben Youngs.  I honestly have no idea how he can think that was legal, you are quite clearly not allowed to play a player waiting at the back of the ruck for the ball but this is what he did.  Many other referee’s might also question whether he was not in at the side too, but Wigglesworth had consistently allowed a wide “gate” as they call it so that was a fair decision.

Wigglesworth is of course the referee Cockerill once described as a “fucking useless cunt” during a particularly dodgy Anglo-Welsh cup game with Newport but he was generally very good in this game.  On the Rugby Club a few weeks ago Cockerill picked him as his favourite ref, perhaps ironically but who knows?  The controversial calls were by the TMO in the main, obviously a Bath fan might claim these calls even out over the match but the final call is always so much more controversial because there is no chance for the players to make amends and win despite him. 

Tigers didn’t match Bath’s intensity in the later part of the second half but I don’t see that as too much of a worry.  Tigers have bigger battles to fight and we have learnt the lesson to keep our powder dry and avoid pointless bans after being burned time and time again.  That was their cup final; we should have a real one in a month’s time.

Tigers go into the final game of the season needing 2 points from the home game against London Irish to secure a home semi final.  In what will be our 500th league game hopefully Tigers will mark the occasion with a suitably dominant display.