Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013: A Statistical Review

This was a good year for the Tigers; another English title was taken home to Leicester, a record extended 10th; victory against Toulouse saw us win our Heineken Cup group; 6 players went on the British Lions tour to Australia and all played at least 1 test. 

That success was achieved despite an incredible amount of flux and change.  70 different players were used in a match day squad in 2013, with 67 of them taking the field at some point.  56 different players were used in the starting XV.

Stalwart number 8 Jordan Crane earned his tag as Cockerill’s favourite, leading the appearance charts with 29 games.  Next was flanker Julian Salvi who started the most games, 27, and appeared once more from the bench for his 28 games.  Despite missing the Premiership Play Offs Adam Thompstone still managed to rack up 27 appearances (24 Starts, 3 Sub).

Dan Cole moved decisively to become the club’s premier tight head as he started 19 games with only 4 appearances from the bench. 

Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Vereniki Goneva, Tom Croft and Manu Tuilagi were all named solely in the starting XV, when they were selected they started without exception.

In reverse was new signing Tom Bristow who is yet to start but has featured 4 times as a substitute.
Injuries to Marcos Ayerza and Boris Stankovich gave young prop Fraser Balmain the chance to be named in the Match Day XXIII on 27 out of 34 occasions; 23 times named on the bench he featured 11 times and was unused 12 times, both seasonal records.

Balmain shared his substitute record with Thomas Waldrom who also entered the fray 11 times. 

28 of the 67 players used during the year scored a try for the club, plus of course our friend Mr. Penalty Try.  Flying Fijian Vereniki Goneva was the top try scorer in the year with 10, an honour he shared with the Penalty try. 

Ben Youngs and Adam Thompstone weighed in with 6 each whilst Ed Slater was top forward after crossing the white wash 5 times.

Toby Flood was the top scorer with 229 points (53 pens, 30 Cons, 2 Tries), followed by Owen Williams with 75 (18 Pens, 9 Cons, 1 Drop Goal).

Tigers played 34 games in 2013 winning 22, drawing 2 and losing 10; some way from our best effort of 31 wins from 35 in 2001 but pretty much bang our long term average of 21 wins per calendar year. 

Scoring 845 points and conceding 621 Tigers had an average winning margin 6.58.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Wizard Williams Steals the Show against Sale

Tigers responded from their record defeat 7 days ago with a patchy display but one that importantly got the win 30-23.  Let us get it right straight from the off this was not a classic Tigers display.  The second half was especially poor.  But a defeat would have left us 8th at best and now we are 5th.

2 points off the play offs but 13 back from Northampton in 2nd.  It will take an almighty collapse from either Saints or Saracens for Tigers to sneak another home semi final.

This game raised more questions than answers: has Dan Bowden quietly become our midfields vital cog?  Why is drawing a man so difficult?  Why do you give such a big crowd and big occasion such a poor referee?

In the first half Tigers were pretty good.  We dominated possession and territory.  The first try came from some genius play by the Welsh wizard Williams at fly half.  His sharp footwork cut the Sale line and his smart off load let Ed Slater power over.

A Sale offside let Williams put the Tigers 10-0 up before Adam Thompstone made it 17-0.  Sam Tuitupou had been sin binned for an off the ball incident with Owen Williams and the man advantage told quickly.

Marcos Ayerza made good yards up the middle before Dan Bowden had looked to have butchered it with a miss pass when simple hands should have done.  But Thompstone squeezed into the corner, and after a lengthy review, the try was given by the TMO.  Bowden’s blushes were completely spared when Williams stepped up to nail the touchline conversion.

17-0 up after 23 minutes; it is frankly unacceptable to not only fail to gain a try bonus point but also allow what is a close rival, at this stage of the season, a losing bonus point too. 

Tigers were still rampant at this point but the passes stopped sticking.  Thompstone and Waldrom contrived to butcher a brilliant chance down the left hand touchline after more exciting build up play.  Williams then put Thompstone clear to the line again.  In what is essentially a 3 way audition for the two wing spots Thompstone did not cover himself in glory with these two muffed chances.  I can’t be sure if Benjamin would have got them but the second one I really think he would have.

The old school Sale cynicism was to rear its head from here on in.  Taking advantage of what was a very naive and very inexperienced referee Sale pulled every trick in Steve Diamond’s well thumb copy of “Practical Cheating for the Modern Player”.   

Carley in only his 6th Premiership game was taken in hook line and sinker when Sale’s front row stepped back on engagement from a 5m scrum earning them the clearing free kick.  Tigers were sniffing blood after forcing Sale over their own line and this was a big momentum swing.

When they tried it again in the second half he was wise to it this time and threatened Henry Thomas, on as a replacement for the slightly better Moldovan Vadim Cobilas, with a yellow card.  I would be tempted to sin bin the entire front row for shenanigans like that.  It is not like a positive penalty where you have tried to push them back but ultimately failed, or tried to steal the ball but been knocked off your feet, it is just trying to mug off the referee with no risk to yourself.

Before half time Williams and Macleod swapped penalties to leave the score 20-6.

After the break Dan Cole showed an often uncredited side of his game with a lovely inside line and powerful carry.  It was somewhat spoiled when Williams spilled Ben Youngs ankle high pass.  Youngs was his usual mixed bag of sheer brilliance, menace and occasional move stalling horrific passing. 

It sort of worked out as Tigers work in the scrum gained a 3 point reward for dead eye goal kicker Williams to slot. 

But Sale know how to win at Welford Road, ride your luck and take your chances in attack whilst cynically cheat and slow down play in your own half.  It is always the same script and always very frustrating to watch when they get it “right”. 

In the second half they did just that scoring brilliant break away tries, often with a hint of controversy in the initial break, then managing to play one or two phases in defence before giving away a penalty then killing momentum with a nicely timed injury.

The two tries were very similar in that they came from around half way starting down the left then switching to be scored in the right.  First it was Mark Cueto then it was Charlie Ingall after a nice break by James Gaskell.  Much like the referee I will be surprised if any of the TV pundits bother to see the massive block thrown by Tommy Taylor in the build up to the second try.

In between it was typical Tigers imprecision, referee inaction and Sale stalling.  Tigers could and should have put the game to bed with a push over try from a line out but mystifyingly it fell short a yard from the line.  Amazing that isn’t it?  Almost as if a Sale player had ran right round the side and tackled the man whilst his mate dragged the maul down. 

But Mr. Carley saw nothing and Tigers compounded the referee’s mistake with a weak knock on in contact by Jamie Gibson. 

With Ingall’s try then bringing the score to 23-20 all thoughts of bonus points had gone from our minds.  It was just win baby. 

At this point Williams, after his bright start, was showing signs of a lack of patience.  It can be frustrating when we get out of sorts, noticeably when Bowden was removed with a concussion (worryingly the 2nd of his season so far), but patience and making the opposition make tackles works.  It is our standard tactic and eventually, like a dam blocking a river, the defence bursts and we can flow through for the try.

It was hardly the worst fault for a 21 year old to have but certainly it shows room for improvement.

With 12 minutes to go, and after one of Williams kicks lacking patience, Tigers again forced a 5m scrum.  As mentioned above Sale tried every trick in the book to clear their lines.  Reset at least 8 times the series of scrums took 6 minutes off the clock and much much longer in real time as Carley allowed Sale to conference with their water boy after every scrum.  Usually under the pretence of an injury but as he matures the referee has to be firmer on time wasting like this.

Eventually he got bored and gave the penalty try.  For the life of me I cannot see the difference between the final scrum of the series and the very first one.  If a man was tackled without the ball and the try line begging you wouldn’t need to wait 8 times to give the penalty try so why for scrums?

Once we got into the sequence there were plenty of ups, downs and turning arounds but the first scrum was just monstered back.  It was déjà vu all over again with Martin Fox and the London Irish game.
Williams’s conversion made it 30-20 and was his final act before Ryan Lamb replaced him.  If this is the form Williams can produce after 6 weeks out of the side what will he be like playing every week?  Do we actually need a mentally fragile and similarly aged Freddie Burns?

Mr. Carley had one final show of naivety in what will be a disappointing day for him.  After a relatively fair penalty to Sale, after all it was against us so I’m not wholly convinced of it, he didn’t watch the clock as Sale sub Joe “George Ford’s brother” Ford lined up his penalty.

There was only 4.30 left on the clock when the tee was brought on.  From that moment he has 60 seconds.  Not 61 seconds, though no ref would spot that.  Not 70 seconds, though many miss that small over run.  Certainly not the 100 seconds (almost twice his allotted minute) he actually took to attempt his penalty.

The crowd had spotted it and Welford Road’s usual silence was broken as he frankly cheated and took the piss.  He knew it was important to run down the clock and deliberately broke the rules to gain an advantage.  Carley will need to keep his wits more about him as he comes up against cunning players who play to your whistle not the rules.  I don’t blame Sale for this it is up to the referee to enforce the rules not the fans or the players.

Tigers had one last blast at getting the 4 tries but Ryan Lamb knocked on after good work from Tait and Goneva had got us into the Sale half.  And so ended a fairly frustrating but relatively successful afternoon.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Saracens Humiliate Tigers in the Rain

What a difference a week makes.  Last Sunday Tigers played under clear blue skies, in a beautiful modern stadium and seemed to actually give a stuff.

This week the wind was howling, making the rain fall sideways.  The ground is at best half finished.  Last week I paid £20 to sit on the back row of the steepest stand in Europe, the view was terrific one of the best I’ve ever had; this week I paid £22 to stand on a running track slightly below pitch level. 

Right from the off the signs were bad.  The pack didn’t come out to warm up until 10 minutes to kick off.  I know short warm ups are back in fashion but it doesn’t fill me with confidence to see half the side gently trot out with only 10 minutes to kick off. 

With only 6 days since that epic in Montpellier Tigers had made 9 changes.  The entire front row was switched and Louis Deacon missed out in the engine room.  Ryan Lamb replaced the injured Toby Flood and we saw Mat Tait for the first time this season.

Saracens played with an attacking spirit throughout and were rewarded early when winger Jack Wilson used his knowledge of the slippy artificial turf to beat Pablo Matera in the corner.   

Farrell extended the lead to 10-0 with a penalty before Lamb nailed a 50m effort into the gale to reduce the arrears.

Farrell had made it 13-3 on the half hour and Tigers had been blunt offering nothing in attack but defending for their lives.  As the clock ticked towards half time Tigers finally got back into it.  Graham Kitchener was fast off the line to charge down Owen Farrell’s low clearance then won the race to touch it down too.  Tigers were back in it.

Though not for long.

The TMO had a decisive and destructive impact on the match.  First he sin binned Graham Kitchener.  Kitchener had tackled Farrell, after he passed but nothing in that element, he had taken Farrell slightly off his feet and dumped him on his arse.  The referee saw it.  The touch judge saw it.  Both thought it fine.  But Farrell’s footballer like reaction, rolling on the floor holding his face then badgering the touch judge got its dirty rewards.

We’re not playing tiddlywinks and in the wet like that players won’t always be perfect.  Sin binning Kitchener was flat out the wrong call and wreaked the game.

Though not as bad as the next decision.

The clock was up and Saracens, from the position gained from the ill gotten penalty, were attacking.  They went left, the Tigers defence over committed leaving Chris Ashton in acres of space.  But the pass was forward.  You could see it in real time.  Barnes went to the TMO.  The video evidence was clear.  The hands were forward.  The pass was forward.  Clearly.  Surely?  Why is it taking this long?  What is there to look at?

He gave it.

It was disgusting.  Why have a TMO when he is so clearly incompetent that he can’t see what is in front of his face?

If a ref misses that pass I have sympathy, it was close and he has several players blocking his view.  But the TMO has no excuse.  He is supposed to be in a truck and immune from the home fans influence.  As it was we might as well have had a Fez head with the whistle.

As Farrell lined up the conversion Barnes could be seen arguing with two groups of Tigers fans on the “terrace”, not exactly the height of professionalism.

The calls were massive.  Instead of going in only 3 points down Tigers were 8 points and a man down. 

Sarries took immediate advantage after the break with a Billy Vunipola try putting the contest to bed.  There was still time for more Barnes incompetence however.  Tigers attacked solidly for 10 minutes in the 22.  Saracens conceded 6 penalties in that spell.  No yellow.  Saracens got into the Tigers 22 and Waldrom was binned for the first offence.  If it wasn’t so serious this level of sheer incompetence would be laughable.

Last week we had “let it play” Nigel, this week we had “star of the show” Wayne.  The contrast of there interpretations of the ruck could not be more different.

And then basically we collapsed.  No spirit.  Nobody tackling and we were knocked backwards in every collision.  Lamb had yet another of his special moments.  Gloucester’s answer to Ramiro Pez had tried to be clever, always a dangerous game, and take a penalty quickly.  There was no defender back so the ambitious touch kick was on.  But he skewed it badly.  Badly.  It didn’t just go wrong and be touch in goal, it went wildly straight and off the back.

After a lengthy injury break Neil De Kock broke of the back of the scrum, outpaced the slow witted Jamie Gibson and after a few passes put Jackson Wray in for the bonus point try.

To add insult to injury Richard Cockerill revealed the papers were right and that Toby Flood was leaving.  I’ve had better days as a Tigers fan.  

Cockerill’s team selection certainly failed to achieve its goal but whether this season is a total write off or has only suffered a minor prang is still to be seen.  The quintessential 10 pointer decisively went Saracens way and Tigers are now 12 points from 2nd and in a battle for 4th.  Cockerill knows that he lives of dies by these calls so won’t have made it lightly but that doesn’t make it right.

With Sale at home next I would have thought mixing the rotation around a bit more would have been better.

With Flood now confirmed as off question need to be asked of how Simon Cohen, our chief executive, has allowed in the words of Chief Scout Ged Glyn “the top two fly halfs in the country” to leave in consecutive seasons.  What did that famous Tigers fan Oscar Wilde once say?  To lose one top fly half may be regarded as misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

Friday, 20 December 2013

4 Tigers in National League Action

Four young Leicester Tigers forwards will be in National League 1 action this weekend as they seek to gain experience and push for a place in the First Team squad.

Table toppers Doncaster feature a pair of Italian Tigers at prop.  Riccardo Brugnara and Tiziano Pasquali continue their development in the promotion chasing side with fellow countryman Roberto Santamaria making an all Italy front row.

Making their National League 1 debuts for Coventry are Ed Milne and Matt Hubbard.  Milne is a local lad, a product of Oadby Wyggs, whilst Hubbard is from Stoke.  Milne starts at blindside for Cov, whose own promotion push has slipped in the past few weeks, despite normally being a number 8.  Hubbart covers lock and the back row on the 5 man bench.  

Former Tiger Will Hurrell is on the left wing whilst Luke Myring is on the bench.

15) Paul Jarvis
14) Dougie Flockhart
13) Mat Clark
12) Steven Bannister
11) Tyson Lewis
10) Jamie Lennard
9) Bruno Bravo
1) Riccardo Brugnara
2) Roberto Santamaria
3) Tiziano Pasquali
4) Glen Kenworthy
5) Michael Walker-Fitton
6) Matt Challinor ©
7) Michael Hills
8) Adam Kettle
16) Darren Morris
17) Jack Bergmanas
18) Louis Spencer
19) Jacob Woodhouse
20) Paul Roberts

15. Cliffie Hodgson

14. Mark Kohler
13. Rob Knox
12. James Otutaha
11. Will Hurrell
10. Matt Jones
9. Louis Silver
1. Danny Hobbs
2. Chris Locke
3. Tim Ryan
4. Brett Daynes
5. Tom Poole
6. Ed Milne
7. Rob Nash
8. Matt Tibbatts (C)
16. Chad Thorne

17. Matt Price
18. Matt Hubbard
19. Luke Myring
20. Alex Smit

Tait returns as Tigers make 9 Changes

Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill has made 9 changes to his Leicester side after their heroics in the past two weeks against Montpellier.

Tigers head for their first visit to Saracen's refurbished Copthall with a mix of returning and rotated players included.  The standout name has to be star full back Mat Tait's return from injury.  Tait's last game for Tigers was the Premiership Grand Final back in May.  

Also returning are club stalwart Matt Smith in the unfamiliar position of inside centre, only his 6th start in the position; fly Half Ryan Lamb replaces the injured Toby Flood; the entire front row changes as Stankovich, Briggs and Balmain replace the usual trio of Ayerza, Tom Youngs and Cole.  Ed Slater replaces Louis Deacon in the second row with Jordan Crane swopping with Thomas Waldrom at number 8.

In line for his starting debut is Argentinian flanker Pablo Matera.  Unregistered for Europe after a late season arrival Matera made a big impression in this season's Rugby Championship so all Tigers fans have high hopes.

One noticeable addition to the bench is Jerome Schuster.  The French front rower has had a torrid time since his summer switch from Perpignan and has been leap frogged by Balmain.

In contrast Saracens are able to name practically a full strength side after their jaunts against Zebre.  Alex Goode links with fellow England man Chris Ashton in the back three alongside academy product Jack Wilson.  USA international Chris Wyles joins Marcelo Bosch in the centres with Farrell and Wigglesworth the half backs.

In the pack they play former Jersey-man Richard Barrington at loosehead, Jamie George at hooker and cocaine shame prop Matt Stevens at tighthead.  Borthwick and Hargreaves are an experienced pair in the engine room whilst a super sized back row is made up by Billy Vunipola, Kelly Brown and Ernst Joubert.

Saracen's bench is sure to make a big impact as it contains Mako Vunipola, James Johnstone, George Kruis, Charlie Hodgson and Schalk Brits.

With Tigers 10 points behind Saracens and 8 behind Saints, who travel to Wasps this weekend, it is a big risk from Cockerill to rotate so heavily.  This is the quintessential "10 pointer", win and we are within striking distance of the top 2, lose and we are miles away from the home semi final and in a tight fight for a play off place at all.

3 changes are probably forced as last week Flood, Bowden and Deacon left the field injured, Tait and Matera were desired changes, but the front row seems a step too far.  You can rationalise every change individually but we need to keep the big picture in mind; will those players be able to gel quickly?  We have Sale at home next week, do all these players need to be rested at the same time?  Why can't half play this week and half play the next?

You can usually rely on Northampton to muck it up after Christmas but that seems a recipe for disaster, they will get it right for all 22 rounds sooner rather than later.

Tomorrow's referee is Wayne Barnes from Gloucestershire.  Like Mat Tait this is his first Leicester fixture since last season's final.  He has controlled one Saracens-Tigers match before, the 2011 Premiership Final where his controversial yellow card for Ben Youngs cost Tigers dearly.

Leicester Tigers
15 Mathew Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Vereniki Goneva
12 Matt Smith
11 Miles Benjamin
10 Ryan Lamb
9 Ben Youngs
1 Boris Stankovich
2 Neil Briggs
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Ed Slater
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Pablo Matera
8 Jordan Crane (c)

16 Tom Youngs
17 Marcos Ayerza
18 Jérôme Schuster
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mélé
22 Terrence Hepetema
23 Adam Thompstone

15 Alex Goode
14 Chris Ashton
13 Marcelo Bosch
12 Chris Wyles
11 Jack Wilson
10 Owen Farrell
9 Richard Wigglesworth
1 Richard Barrington
2 Jamie George
3 Matt Stevens
4 Steve Borthwick (c)
5 Alastair Hargreaves
6 Billy Vunipola
7 Kelly Brown
8 Ernst Joubert Replacements: 
16 Schalk Brits
17 Mako Vunipola
18 James Johnstone
19 George Kruis
20 Jackson Wray
21 Neil de Kock
22 Charlie Hodgson
23 Ben Ransom

Referee: Wayne Barnes
TV: BT Sport 1HD, Saturday 15:00 (KO 15:15)

Saracens Kit:

Leicester Kit:

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Magic in Montpellier

What a finish.  In the build up to the game the team was challenged to create new memories.  It was challenged to scratch the 7 year itch of losing in France.  It was challenged to go for the win and not be satisfied with a meek losing bonus point.

What a finish.  The team achieved them all in front of a vociferous travelling support, cheering them to (and from) the rafters.  The Montpellier support was very quiet, even by English standards let alone the French measure set by the likes of Clermont and Perpignan. 

In case you live on Mars the final score was 15-14.  The final score was a 79th minute try from Fijian centre Vereniki Goneva with Ryan Lamb getting the pressure conversion.  It was some try and a great example of always playing to the bitter end.

We were going nowhere fast.  Side to side, forwards then backwards.  Matt Smith made a few yards, Niall Morris got caught on the wing and had to throw it back inside.  But we were testing the defence.  Asking questions and probing for answers.

The solution came from Miles Benjamin, bursting through a tackle and feeding Scott Hamilton on the inside to take us into their 22.  Ryan Lamb, on for the injured Flood, went for the trademark floated pass.  Thankfully he held on to it.  He didn’t chip it away; he held on to it and set up the ruck.

Morris was in as first receiver.  He held his man and gave the pass to Slater.  Slater stepped one and drew the other before finding Ayerza.  Ayerza had one man to beat; many props would get white line fever and go for it themselves.  Ayerza had a cool head.  He fixed the man by running at his inside shoulder.  Then late, late, late on he passed.  Too early and Goneva was in touch, too late and he would have be taken himself.

It was perfect.  Goneva was in.  Lamb had the conversion to win it.  It was difficult from out wide.  But Goneva was not finished.  Oh no.  He was aware.  Aware of the essentialness of the conversion.  Aware of the covering defence.  Aware of the Stade Yves du Manoir’s large in goal areas.  He was aware.  He was tap tackled by their last man, but kept the ball up to take it closer to the posts.  Those 10 yards made the kick tricky with the pressure rather than out right hard.  That is a big difference.

The first half was scoreless.  Not try less; completely scoreless, nil all, 0-0.  I can’t recall another 0-0 at half time in my time supporting the Tigers.  Not that it was without incident or chances.  Tigers butchered at least 3 tries, Montpellier roughly the same.  Miles Benjamin was given a yellow card for a block on Benoit Paillaugue.  Montpellier kicked to the corner and blew it.

There is an old Italian idea from Football that the perfect game should end 0-0.  This was the Rugby equivalent.  The defences were suffocating, the break down aptly named and ferocious.  Owens barely penalised the defensives but there was not much to give.

The second half was also a mini classic in its own way.  Tigers had the first chance.  For my money Miles Benjamin scored in the corner.  Flood was holding his hamstring so Bowden played the phase from 10.  He found Ben Youngs back on the inside who passed to Gibson on the charge.  He should have finished it but was agonisingly short.  Very poor back play left Benjamin with a hell of a finish in the corner.  Apparently his toe bounced off the line.  In full pace I couldn’t see it either live or on the replay.  In super slow motion and from one angle you can see that it gets close.

The TV screen lacks perspective and much like the famous Cueto try in 2007 the lack of perspective makes all the difference.  The TV camera doesn’t show all so why pretend it does?  If the touch judge thought it went out then flag it.  If he didn’t then don’t.  He is 1m away with a 20/20 3 dimension view.  He is paid to make decisions.

Tigers were building all the pressure now.  Attacking our own fans they were being roared on by the travelling Leicester fans.  The dam finally burst.  Goneva had made good ground before Ben Youngs found brother Tom on a cracking inside line.  A side step did for the Cameroonian Robins Tchale-Watchou and he was over for the first score.

Montpellier responded immediately.  A kick off straight out was recovered by an almighty shove and a strike against the head.  Tulou burst from the scrum and saw off Ben Youngs.  Waldrom got a hand to Tulou’s pass but all that did was deflect it into Paillaugue’s waiting hands.  He drew the last man and put debutant fly half Selponi in for the try.

Ten minutes later and it was Lucas Dupont crossing for Montpellier’s 2nd try.  Georgian bulldozer Mamuka Gorgodze picked the ball up from inside the ruck and charged for the line.  The referee missed the offside so it was play on; with only one man to beat Montpellier were 14-5 up with 17 minutes to go.

The fans were flat.  We were gutted.  The players were flat.  They were stressed and were arguing on the pitch. 

As ever the scrum was the saviour.  A huge shove in the 71st minute gave Lamb the chance to cut the arrears; a chance to get within a try; a chance to win.  It was a tough one.  45m out, longer on the angle.  It just made it.  By a matter of inches we were back in the game.

Then what a finish.  What a way to scratch that French itch, burning since Bourgoin in 2006.  What a new memory to create.  We’ll be banging on about this one for a while yet.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Time for Action

We've heard a lot of talk this season from the likes of Geoff Parling and Toby Flood about living up to our past in Europe and creating some new memories.

Well now it's time to shit or get off the pot.

Talk is cheap.  Anyone can talk about how they great they are.  I'm amazing.  There you go.  Anyone can do it.

Actually doing things, really achieving what is hard to accomplish, that is what sets a good team apart.   Last week we actually did some things against Montpellier.  We didn't talk about doing things, we did them.  We got a bonus point, 4 tries, 5 points.  The first time in 5 years we welcomed a French team to Welford Road and came away with all the points.  

Now we have to back it up.  Now we have to win in France.  Crossing La Manche is not a happy hunting ground for the Tigers.  It used to be.  In the halcyon days that people like me wank on about and winds Parling or Flood up.  Ah, those were the days.  Pau.  It must have been good, the people that went never bloody shut up about it.  We won 7 out of our first 12 games in France.  We had the best record of any traveling side in France then.  

Now we haven't won in France for 7 years, not since monsoon like conditions in Bourgoin, December 2006.  We were relatively disappointed to not get a try bonus point that day.  Arrogant and insufferable we must have been.  Like Leinster fans now I suppose.

We've only got 2 losing bonus points in those 7 seasons too.  It's not like we've been close.

But winning in France shouldn't be such a big issue.  Ulster have done it.  Harlequins have done it.  Even bloody Connacht have done it.  

Only Marcos Ayreza and Louis Deacon have won in France.  Both start on Sunday.  Tigers make only 2 changes from last week.  Niall Morris returns on the wing and Thomas Waldrom rotates with Jordan Crane at 8.  They should travel full of confidence.  They should travel full of desire. 

We've bought into this idea that Welford Road is our fortress, it inspires us but as Pat Hoard used to say its only a patch of grass.  

It's time to stop talking about living up to our history, to stop talking about creating new memories and burring old ones.  It's time to win.

We were better than this lot last weekend.  Let's make sure we are still better than them on Monday.

15 Scott Hamilton
14 Niall Morris
13 Vereniki Goneva
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 Ed Slater
20 Jordan Crane
21 David Mélé
22 Matt Smith
23 Ryan Lamb

15 Pierre Berard
14 Lucas Dupont
13 Anthony Tuitavke
12 Wynand Olivier
11 Yohann Artru
10 Enzo Selponi
9 Benoit Paillaugue
1 Yvan Watremez
2 Mickael Ivaldi
3 Nicolas Mas
4 Robins Tchale Watchou
5 Thibaut Privat
6 Alexandre Bias
7 Mamuka Gorgodze (c)
8 Alex Tulou

16 Thomas Bianchin
17 Na'ama Leleimalefaga
18 Paea Fa'anunu
19 Johnnie Beattie
20 Mickael Demarco
21 Eric Escande
22 Thomas Combezou
23 Anthony Floch

Monday, 9 December 2013

Anglo-Welsh Premiership: Can it cover the costs?

So we’ve heard a lot recently about the possibility of the Welsh regions, or perhaps their underlying clubs, joining an expanded Aviva Premiership.  Most people have chosen to evaluate the sporting case, which is reasonably sound, but what about the business case? 

We aren’t charities and the whole relationship with ERC fell apart because of their inability to finance the games rather than their merit.

First off what are we generating at the moment?  The BT deal has been said to be “worth up to £152m” leading to much speculation about various clauses.  Never underestimate the ability of Mark McCafferty to be stupid but from all corners it seems to be two deals, a Premiership deal and a potential European deal.

The previous Sky/ESPN deal was widely reported to be worth £54m over 3 seasons.  So £18m a season or £1.5m to each club per season.  The BT Deal’s premiership portion is said to be a 50% increase which would be £27m per season (£108m over the 4 years so fitting in the “up to” scenario), or £2.2m per club per season. 

Aviva paid £20m to sponsor the league for 4 seasons back in 2010 and last summer it was an announced they had extended their deal.  No numbers always make me sceptical and assume at best a plateauing of revenue.  McCafferty insists there is an increase in that deal but assuming not we still have £5m in the pot from Aviva.

As out lined in this article the ERC contributes roughly £630k to an English club.  This is why PRL can afford to be so bullish with ERC over its future.  ERC by starving us have made us self reliant.  The BT deal increase covers the ERC short fall and then some.  Of course we all want that cherry on top but it won’t make or break us.

Shortcutting the sums from the Tigers accounts we can see that PRL roughly distribute £3.5m to each club a season and that in any circumstance that should be in line to rise next season.
So, I hear you ask, what has this got to do with the Welsh clubs?  Well the Welsh clubs inclusion has to match or increase the amount PRL distribute to each club or it isn’t worth it.
So do the numbers add up?

Presuming a 16 team league, on whatever configuration you like, the numbers are steep.  PRL currently distributes around £40m each season it would have to find another c.£14m to fund these new teams without affecting the others central revenue.

The new BT deal pays £27m to show 3 games a week from 22 rounds of action plus the play offs, 69 games in total.  Or £392k per game.  Now here come some of the big assumptions.  If BT were happy to pay that rate for more content then the 8 extra rounds of fixtures would generate £9.408m.  That’s pretty close.  If we copied the French model of play offs with quarter finals between places 3 to 6 we’d have 2 more games and £10m to play with.

Wales has a population of 3m people, more than the North East but less than Yorkshire, but has higher levels of Rugby viewership than those regions making them more valuable to broadcasters.  BT would have their own focus groups but if we take just 1% of the population being motivated to sign up, or retain BT broadband, by this move that would see 30,000 paying customers for BT.  I think that is a reasonable estimate as it is lower than their combined average attendances and half the attendance the national team gets most games.  Based on a price of £30 per month, including line rental, that would yield £10.8m p.a.  to BT in broadband sales with customers signing up for BT Sport through other means at £12 a month on top.

Match ticket sales are an important source of revenue for clubs.  Rather surprisingly, if you follow certain people’s claims about the Heineken Cup, the Premiership has a higher average attendance than the Heineken Cup.  And if you think that is skewed by things like the derby with Saints or the Christmas fixture being Premiership games then consider that in the last two home games we sold almost 2,000 more tickets to see London Irish than for Montpellier.

A question would where does the LV Cup fit in all this?  The LV yields c.£500k in competition money, making it more valuable than the Heineken Cup per game, and crucially 2 home games.  Even with all the discounts, offers and Season Tickets Tigers would still expect to clear something like £500k from ticket & hospitality sales, per match, at the B grade prices.  More when you factor in merchandise and catering sales.

Losing the LV money and the extra game do make the figures trickier.  Will that c.£1m be recouped in higher attendances across the 4 new league games vs. the 3 Heineken Cup games and the 2 LV Cup games? 

You would expect the League games to achieve roughly 8% higher attendances than an equivalent Heineken Cup match and 23% higher than a LV Cup game based on recent seasons’ attendances.  Those figures would suggest not being able to cover the loss of game let alone the LV Cup competition money.

But then travel to Wales is significantly cheaper than transporting a squad of 23 players, plus spares, plus coaches and doctors, physios, their equipment etc etc all the way to Montpellier or Treviso.  Or even Belfast.  So there are savings to be made.

Reduced exposure in Europe would not be a positive for sponsorship sales and increased exposure in Wales would not make up for that.  But by covering the total number of games I think it is fair to call that revenue neutral without any harder data to back it up either way.  The home market is where the bulk of spending is targeted and that wouldn’t change; after all is Caterpillar or Goldsmith’s really paying us for one game a year in France?

So is there a business case for an expanded Premiership including Welsh sides?  There is if BT is willing to pay for it.  If the pot cannot grow to cover it then sadly we need to find other options.  Home games pay the bills and any solution needs at least 16 of them.  A 14 team Premiership with an enhanced Europe would be the best of both worlds, if only we can get all parties to agree with us.  

Benjamin Double Lifts Leicester

Tigers kept their Euro hopes alive with a 41- 32 bonus point victory against Top 14 powerhouse Montpellier.  Both sides scored 4 tries as Tigers set off like a Rocket but were inexorably pulled in by the French side.

Tigers’ former training ground is now named Nelson Mandela Park; it sits just behind the Goldsmith’s stand between the Welford Road and the Prison.  It was re-named after the Tigers were banned from playing on “the Rec” for 12 months by the City Council after allowing their players to tour apartheid South Africa with England in 1985.  The Tigers ended up taking the matter all the way to the House of Lords, winning just 2 months before the ban was due to expire.  In the amateur era the club had no hold on the players they argued, and the Lords agreed.

Rather fitting then that it was this end that saw a simply breath taking opening 15 minutes.  First it was the Flying Fijian Vereniki Goneva.  Returning from a hamstring injury ,and now looking almost an equal of Manu Tuilagi at centre, he charged on to Dan Bowden’s pass after only 4 minutes out pacing the Montpellier to score.  Bowden had done well to clean up Ben Youngs pass which whilst poor also drew the French defence forward creating the chance.

Credit must also go to Miles Benjamin whose line behind Goneva had caught the eye of Rene Ranger in the Montpellier defence.

The next two scores were both from that man Benjamin. 

The first was a stunning individual effort; forward carries had created a large blindside towards the GNC Stand side, Benjamin received the ball with nothing really on before beating 4 men to touch down under the posts.  He went inside two men, outside another before brushing off Nagusa for the try.

The second was a more classical winger’s finish.  A lose up and under was claimed in the midfield by Graham Kitchener, Bowden dragged it back to Hamilton who straightened the line.  Hamilton found Goneva who ran straight drew two men and created the overlap for Benjamin.  It still required a lot of finishing as Pelissie worked hard to contest the grounding.  It went for a cursory glance by the TMO but he gave it after a single replay showed the quality of the finish.

24-3 after 15 minutes and Tigers could be forgiven for trying to push their luck and seal the try bonus point before half time.   We had an attacking penalty and went for the corner, an unpenalised early drive by Montpellier snuffed out any chance of the push over.  They were turned over then Lacey, with ERC in his ear perhaps, ruled we were “sealing off”; where was he when we played Quins?

But we whilst we were dreaming of bonus points Montpellier were actually getting scores on the board.  Scott Hamilton got isolated in the attacking 22 and turned over.  No Tigers players bothered to react.  On the right wing Benjamin, Thompstone and Gibson just stood watching as Montpellier turned it over then strode away to score under the posts.  It took 20 seconds so anyone of them could have chased back to force the conversion wider.  Neil Back would have spitting feathers at the laziness.

Credit to Dan Bowden who did chase all the way, even if he missed his tap tackle at least he put some effort in.

Goneva had a golden chance to seal the win and kill off the comeback before it got rolling.  Secure the bonus point too.   Tigers had attacked left from a scrum, forming a ruck on the GNC side of the ground.  Flood’s wide pass cut out the rushing Montpellier defence to leave Goneva with a 4 on 1, two outside him and one inside.  But the overlapping players were Tom Youngs and Gibson, and the Montpellier defence was coming across to cover Bowden on the inside.

He could have passed left, he could have passed right, he could have backed himself and gone for it.  He did none of them!  Running Youngs out of space yet not backing himself he finally made a form of pass to get Youngs into the corner.

Now the forward pass rule.  When it’s Quins it’s all about “the hands” and the fact it’s gone a mile forward is irrelevant, but yet again when Tigers do it we ignore the hands and rule that it has blatantly gone forward.  One rule for some teams, wanked over in the media, and another for the rest of us.  He clearly flicked his wrist backwards.

He should have scored it about 3 different ways but the point is on some weekends by some favoured teams that try would have been given.  If it is truly “about the hands” then that was a try.

To make matters worse Montpellier got another try before half time.  After Goneva’s moment Tigers turned the French back over only for Lacey to again spot an attacking penalty.  From the attacking lineout they played phases right before coming back left.  Rene Ranger spotted Gibson in defensive no man’s land and turned him inside out. 

Nagusa floated behind the Montpellier line to pop up and create the overlap at the very end, cantering in for the try.  Once they have got behind us it was a try barring a penalty from us or a knock on from them.

Montpellier almost took the lead in the second half as Audrin pounced on a loose Flood pass.  Only a superb cover tackle from Tom Youngs stopped him dead before Dan Cole’s rush defence forced the error from Gorgodze.

Around the hour Tigers finally got the scoreboard moving again, 35 minutes after our last score, with a Toby Flood penalty.  Big Jim Hamilton had failed to roll away.

Tigers’ fourth try had a touch of luck about it.  A piled up ruck would have been given as a maul and scrum to the opposition by many refs but not Lacey.  From said scrum Waldrom broke from the back and off loaded to Ben Youngs, but he was scragged by Beattie so turned it inside again to Gibson who flopped over for the try. 

Flood pushed Tigers further ahead, Montpellier collapsed a maul and good job too; much like the first half the visitors came back with a vengeance once they were well down on the score board. 

The kick off was straight out so Tigers scrum was set on the half way.  The otherwise impressive Bowden had been freed down the left 5m line but left the ball hanging out, looking for the off load.  He was stripped by Ranger and Nagusa broke away in counter attack.  Drawing the full back he sent Pierre Berard under the posts.

Another Flood penalty settled the nerves again before he was pulled for Ryan Lamb.  Lamb was controversially preferred to Owen Williams despite Lamb’s last act being to crazily throw it away against Bath then get sent off for the Extras. 

A mid field break from Alex Tulou found Escande with men over.  The pass was sloppy and Lamb had done well to intercept it.  There was 1 minute 45 seconds left on the clock.  Kick out.  Kick it out surely.  Kick the ball OUT!  No, Lamb forever the maverick in his own head dummies and gets smashed.  With no Tigers around inevitably be gets turned over.  With huge gaps in the Tigers defence it is a question of who will score the try and it is Berard on the overlap for his second.

From leaving with nothing suddenly Montpellier has 2 points from this fixture.  Lamb makes some amends with a last second drop goal to claw one point back.  But if that point costs us I will be next to Cockerill in the lynch mob for Lamb.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Montpellier Preview

Tigers return to European action this weekend as they welcome Montpellier for their first visit to the spiritual home of English rugby, Welford Road.

Flying Fijian Vereniki Goneva returns from injury and is recalled to the centre.  Adam Thompstone moves to wing and Blaine Scully is amongst the replacements.

Tigers sit just 2 points adrift from pool leaders Ulster after the first 2 rounds of action.  Tigers have been successful in securing bonus points but the Irish province bagged a vital away win when they beat Montpellier in the last round.  

Presuming Ulster avoid slipping on the banana skin fixtures against Treviso it puts massive pressure onto this Sunday's game as Tigers have no room for error.

Montpellier are new comers to France's top table.  Only founded in 1986, Montpellier won promotion to the Top 16 in 2003 after beating Tarbes in the play off final.  

In 2011 they snuck into the Top 14 play offs by 1 point after beating direct rivals Toulon on the final day of the season.  They then won the "barrage" or quarter final match away to Castres with a 71st minute penalty before beating Racing Metro in the semi finals, held in Marseille, with a 79th minute penalty.  The dream of the Bouclier de Brennus was shattered though as they lost 15-10 to Toulouse in the Final after 3 late penalties.

In the last 2 seasons Montpellier have finished 5th losing away to Castres in the quarter finals both times.  

At hooker Tom Youngs will make his 40th start for the First XV whilst Adam Thompstone makes his 30th start for the club.  

The other change to Tigers starting XV sees Jordan Crane wear 8 and Waldrom drop to the bench.  The two have rotated this season so I wouldn't rule out Waldrom at 8 for the return leg next week.

Broken hand bad boy Ryan Lamb comes onto the bench in place of Owen Williams whilst David Mele could be in line to face his fellow countryman as he takes Sam Harrison's spot on the pine.  Ed Slater returns as a replacement after a broken hand.

Montpellier name a star studded side.  Mamuka Gorgodze, Timoci Nagusa, Rene Ranger, Francois Trinh-duc, Johnny Beattie and Big Jim Hamilton would grace any side.  Hamilton, Coventry's favourite Scotsman, was last at Welford Road for Louis Deacon's testimonial in April.  He enjoyed 61 appearances for the Tigers before departing to Edinburgh. 

One to watch is scrum half Jonathan Pélissié.  Pelissie joined Montpellier in the summer from Grenoble where he had enjoyed 4 years and made an instant impact for his new side scoring 80 points in 11 games (7 Starts).  He made his France debut this autumn against Tonga.

15 Scott Hamilton
14 Adam Thompstone
13 Vereniki Goneva
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 Jordan Crane

16 Neil Briggs
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Ed Slater
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mele
22 Blaine Scully
23 Ryan Lamb

15 Anthony Floch
14 Timoci Nagusa
13 Rene Ranger
12 Thomas Combezou
11 Yoan Audrin
10 François Trinh-duc (c)
9 Jonathan Pélissié
1 Na'ama Leleimalefaga
2 Charles Geli
3 Maximiliano Bustos
4 Jim Hamilton
5 Mickaël De Marco
6 Kélian Galletier
7 Mamuka Gorgodze
8 Johnnie Beattie

16 Thomas Bianchin
17 Misha Nariashvili
18 Paea Faanunu
19 Thibaut Privat
20 Alex Tulou
21 Benoit Paillaugue
22 Wynand Olivier
23 Pierre Berard

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Battered and Bloodied: The Tigers walking wounded

Injuries have been the story of the season so far so what could be a better idea for an article?

Tigers have been beset by a never ending string of injuries from the bog standard calf strains to the more obscure injuries more often associated with car crashes.  

They are affecting every single position as the list is still sitting in double figures and at times has pushed past 20.  The strength & conditioning boys at the club like to think they are leaders in their fields, no wonder when they get so much practice.  

Let's start with the good news.  Vereniki Goneva could be seen warming up with the side in Gloucester and has been reported as fully fit by Cockerill in the club's mouthpiece Leicester Mercury; in the same interview Cockerill confirmed that Ed Slater is also fit after taking a month off with a broken bone in his hand.

Ryan Lamb has recovered from his broken hand and the club is confident he has served his ban.  According to the RFU judgement he must serve his ban once fit, so hopefully the club will not have another "Ian Humphreys" moment and forget to sort the paperwork out.  Lamb had broken his hand punching Gloucester prop Koree Briton in the face during an A League match.

Steve Mafi is still in Australia on compassionate leave.  His wife was due to give birth in England but visa issues delayed her beyond the time it was safe to take such a long journey; typically after being forced to stay in Australia it was a complicated birth and obviously just when Steve was getting back to fitness.  Hopefully all will be well and Steve, Mrs and baby will be in Leicester as soon as possible.

Making his absence felt all the more is the fact that his flanking rival Tom Croft is also missing.  Croft injured his knee in a tackle with Worcester scum half Paul Hodgson as his brake set up Goneva for a last minute bonus point try on the opening day of the season.  Croft has ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the season.

Another Lion to get injured on his seasonal debut was Manu Tuilagi.  The Samoan powerhouse tore his pectoral muscle in a second half tackle at home to Newcastle.  Originally a course of physiotherapy and re-hab was thought to be sufficient but after complaining of some soreness it was discovered the injury had failed to heal and surgery would be required.  Manu will be out until January so is an outside bet for the final rounds of the Heineken Cup.

His centre partner Anthony Allen is also missing with a less than typical injury.  Such was the ferocious intensity of October's derby match with Northampton he suffered a blunt muscle trauma injury usually only seen in serious road traffic accidents.

Allen has suffered "compartment syndrome" where there has been a bleed into a muscle causing the pressure to rise and the muscle to die.  Without early detection gangrene is a serious possibility.  The injury must heal from the inside so Allen's leg has had to be cut then left open as it heals.  

The first known sporting injury of its kind the return dates are best estimates but it is thought he will be back sometime in February.

As ever Tigers' injuries always happen in the same position and this year, fittingly, it seems to be the 13 shirt that is cursed.  Matt Smith tore his hamstring against London Irish, after missing the pre-season with a broken thumb, but is hoped to feature around the Saracens fixture or the Christmas game against Sale.  

Terrence Hepetema joined as injury dispensation for Smith but found himself just as susceptible to the curse as all the rest.  He suffered a broken eye socket in the Harlequins game and should also be fit around Christmas.

Development squad player Henry Purdy left the field injured two weeks ago for Nottingham and missed last weekend's match.  Scott Steele has also been reported as carrying a leg injury of some kind and due back within a month.

Every year there seems to be a new signing who barely players.  Last year it was Miles Benjamin, this season it is Gonzalo Camacho.  After dislocating his shoulder against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship he had surgery in Leicester and was expected back around now; however complications emerged in November and Camacho had to re-go under the knife.  He is now expected back during the Six Nations in early March.

And then we have Mat Tait.  We should have known.  Don't get me wrong, I like him but bloody hell he makes it hard for you.  In the summer he had a "routine" ankle operation and was meant to return away to Exeter.  That was the 29th of September.  He didn't.  He still hasn't.  Unofficially the club is anticipating a return sometime in the early new year as he has only just returned to training.

Few.  I think that is all the backs.  So onwards with this slog through the misery and medicals of our leading players.

Geoff Parling is another Tiger to be injured at the hands of the All Blacks.  Parling suffered shoulder damage against the New Zealanders and will be missing through the rest of the Heineken Cup group stages.  A trip to Newcastle at the beginning of March will surely be his target return date.

Logovi'i Mulipola also returned from international duty injured after he lasted less than 10 minutes in Samoa's opening Autumn international against the Irish in Dublin.  Mulipola strained his calf and is thought to be close to a return to action.  Montpellier away may be too soon but Saracens at Copthall is a definite target.

Rob Hawkins is yet to feature this season and is rumoured to have not even been training.  His injury is thought to be shoulder related and any possible return date is unknown.  Hawkins injury couldn't have come at a worse time as he enters the final six months of his contract.  Plagued with injuries since Calum Clarke's disgusting intervention in his career Hawkins has only started 8 games since then.

Injury Summary: