Sunday, 28 December 2014

Tiger the Comeback Kings as Sale jump the Shark

Phew.  What a game.  Tigers inept and inspired within the same 80 minutes as this roller coaster hit the heights and plumbed the depths.  Tigers produced the second biggest comeback in club history to secure a vital 5 points and keep our dreams of a home semi final on life support for a few more weeks.

Tigers spent a grand total of 3 minutes in the lead.  But like was said last week it doesn't matter.  We could have won and this time we did.  Julian Salvi was credited with the winning try; a huge heaving effort from forwards and backs alike saw Ayerza and Bai clamp on to the Australian and drive him home.  Fantastic composure from all involved, as not only did the forwards grind it over but Benjamin & the other backs remained alive drawing men away from the breakdown, perhaps creating that small gap.

To the match itself Sale were much the better side during the opening 50 minutes, our wide defence was cut to ribbons by a fast and vivid Sharks attack, only heroic goal line defending kept the score to 30 points.  

The first try was scored down Sale's right wing.  Sam Tuitupou took the ball deep from Cipriani on our 22m line, shrugged off Freddie Burns then Tommy Bell's pretty ineffectual tackles to storm to the 5m line, dragged down by Crane and Benjamin.  Sale then battered the line.  Will Addison took out Miles Benjamin off the ball to open up a gap which Chris Cusiter spotted to dive over for the opening score.

Tigers attack by contrast was more leaden but did eventually get over the line.  A fantastic trademark stepping burst from Goneva freed Benjamin to stride deep into the Sale 22, it seemed to take an age going side to side and the chance looked lost when Ghiraldini was being driven backwards.  But Burns' quick thinking ripped the ball free and floated a short pass over a Sale man to Crane.  Crane did the simple pass well to Bai who stormed over to level the score.

A Cipriani penalty for a rare Leicester infringement gave the lead back to Sale and Tigers could have been further behind but for Jamie Gibson forcing a knock on from Mike Haley as the full back tried to ground the ball for a try.

Tigers however took back the lead after an aggressive decision to kick a penalty to touch rather than at goal.  A quick maul was, perhaps, inching forward when Youngs spotted the gap.  For my money he was in himself but chose to feed Tait on the wing who just nipped in.  After consultation with the TMO the try was awarded and Burns nailed the difficult touchline conversion.

This sparked Sale into a spell of sustained pressure and excellence as they scored 22 points in 15 minutes.  Will Addison scored almost immediately after Tait; taking advantage of Tommy Bell being caught ball watching he slid wide of the full back for the easy score.  With the first try as well it really was not Bell's day on his return to his former club.

Tigers were reeling at this point, Sale cutting loose in front of their biggest ever crowd.  Thankfully one move was ended as Eiffion Lewis-Roberts the gargantuan prop was the man free on the over lap and Tait could lasso the big man at the knees.

Sale joined Tigers in turning down a stream of kickable penalties as they went for the kill.  Eventually Gibson was sent to the sin bin, harshly as he was pinned at the bottom of the ruck, and Sale again went for the drive.  Tigers withstood the pressure for a time but Nathan Hines was soon enough driven over for a 25-15 half time lead.

Quickly into the second half Sale extended their lead and secured the try bonus point to boot.  Burns kicked from the shadow of his posts just barely finding touch allowing Sale to go quickly.  The Sale winger's boot was clearly in the field of play when he took it and the lineout should have been brought back but referee Wigglesworth was at the mercy of his linesman who did not make the call.

Haley shimmied his way to the 22m tight to the touchline, Tait and Bell miscommunicated as the small blindside was clearly theirs to defend and that wily old fox Tuitupou took advantage ambling over for what seemed like the knock out score.

15 points down and Tigers were lost, down beat and out for the count.  Only once before in the 134 year history of England's most storied club had "The Death or Glory Boys" dug themselves out of a hole bigger than 14 points.

But as Rocky Balboa rises bloodied and battered from the canvas asking for more the Tigers never gave up.  On 50 minutes Gibson was re-introduced with Ayerza, Tom Youngs and Balmain, giving Tigers fresh impetus.  Shortly after Thompstone replaced Bell, with Tait back at home at full back.  

Tigers kicked again to the corner.  Again it seemed to take an age of going left to right but eventually the half chance was created; Burns to Tait, the half jink and on to Benjamin with no room to manoeuvre but the Birmingham born winger dazzled the defence with a stop and go.  He slighted to the right, then blasted past them on the left beating four men to squeeze into the corner with only millimetres to spare.

Belief was building now.  But Sale were not quite in their shells just yet; they burst through the middle for the clinching score.  Mat Tait as ever is Tigers weather vane, where his form goes so does the team, and his form was bubbling to brilliance as he ran the channel and blocked down the final pass in a surely try scoring Sale move, only to then pounce on the loose ball to eradicate the danger.

With Freddie Burns pulled after yet another midfield chip and chase horror ball, the calming presence of Owen Williams was introduced.  The Welshman steered the Tigers around the park noticeably running the ball from deeper and kicking less frequently and more importantly less aimlessly.  With the game now being firmly played in the Sale half and the home side leaking penalties it was inevitable that Williams would eventually be given a chance to cut the deficit to five.  Belief was now coursing through the Tigers veins.

Sam Harrison was introduced at around the same time as Williams and added spark and pace to Tigers attack at just the time that Sale were tiring and perhaps starting to think about their first victory over Tigers in 11 games and over five and a half years.

The clock was beginning to run dangerously low and Tigers had to decide between aiming for 2 more penalties or going for the try.

In the end the decision was made for us as Sale did not infringe again until only four minutes were remaining; Will Addison again taking liberties with off the ball contact, this time taking out our support man and forcing Harrison into the ruck to secure the ball, thus losing crucial quick ball in a great position.  Wigglesworth spotted the offence and showed no hesitation in brandishing the yellow card for the second time in the match.

To the corner they went, with new man Peterson brought into the fray, De Chaves won the lineout and was driven.  Tigers broke off the side and towards the posts.  Gibson, Barbieri, Bai.  Peterson, Barbieri, Balmain.  They all tried and were repulsed. Then Salvi lead a charge featuring Bai and Ayerza as his lieutenants, with Gibson adding his weight too.  Standing behind the posts we could just see Bai's mocha head pop through the ruck and several orange shirts belly flop over the line.

Delight, relief, joy!  It was given!  The vociferous and partisan Sale crowd were appalled and Owen Williams did not exactly help matters milking every last one of his allotted 90 seconds, and then some, to kill as much of the clock as possible.

It was not yet over though as Tigers muffed the kick off and had to defend their lead for two agonising minutes until Leota knocked on to end a topsy turvey , a glorious, a memorable match.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A visit from St Johan, The Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The wage slips were hung by the ledgers with care,
In the hopes that St Johan soon would be there.

The players were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of Kruger-Rands danced in their heads.
And Mark in his ‘Kerchief and Edd in his salary cap,
Had just settled their accounts for a long winter’s nap.

When out in the press there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the boardroom to see what was the matter.
Away to Microsoft Windows I flew like a flash,
And wrote a stinging press release in a dash.

The moon on the breast of the new fallen dough
Gave the lustre of lucre to the objects below.
What, to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature South African, and thirteen tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively, quick as a swan,
I knew in a moment it must be St Johan!
More rapid than Ashton his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and Mexican Waved, and called them by name!

Now Morne! Now, Caroline! Now, Stephen & Dominic! Now, Nicholas, Now Nigel! Come On, see you all!
On Francois, On Clement, On Faffa & Lucas, On Mitesh, on Eddie & On Stephen Hall!
To the top of the Prem! To the top of the wall!
Now stash away! Stash Away! Stash away all!

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with regulations, salaries to the sky!
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of South African bank accounts, and St Johan too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Johan came with some pounds.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to foot,
And his trophies were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of pound notes he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a spiv, just opening his pack.

His coins-how they twinkled! His pennies how merry!
His cheques were like roses, his notes like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the crunch of his tenners as crisp as the snow.

The stump of his pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old Boer,
And I asked for some players , I just wanted more!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the player's South African bank accounts, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Something special is happening at Saracens, and to all a good-night!"

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Derby Day Defeat

Tigers suffered a derby day defeat despite Northampton spending 56 minutes with a man less following Dylan Hartley's dismissal for an ugly elbow to Matt Smith's face.  Tigers and Saints scored three tries each but Stephen Myler was more effective with the boot slotting 8 points to Williams & Burns combined effort of 4 points.

But to lay the blame solely on the kickers would be wrong.   Tigers defence was shocking in the second half, with a man advantage Saints created overlaps at will, and the home side dominated both possesion and territory.  ESPN's "Match Stats" records Saints having 76% of territory in the second half (what that exactly means I couldn't tell you but its not likely to be good.).

The kicking strategy from hand was simply not good enough.  With a man advantage you should be able to kick to land not hand, as the old saying goes.  If the kick is not on then there must be space somewhere in the defensive line.  Instead Williams' kicks were almost always fielded by Ken Pisi, George North or James Wilson; not a trio you want running back at you.

Both times we got the ball into their 22 we scored tries relatively easily.  But we barely had the ball inside their half let alone their 22.

The first 20 minutes was Tigers best spell, dominating the scrum but giving away very soft line out penalties that only J.P. Doyle will know what for.  From a terrific Salvi turnover Tigers spread the ball wide left with Goneva making inroads to the 5m line.  Northampton did well to bring him down but cynically infringed to slow the ball down.  On the advantage play Smith drove Hartley out with a text book ruck clearance, the Saints captain took exception to this and after the whistle slammed the point of his elbow up Smith's nose.

Doyle's initial reaction was, baffling, only a yellow card; claiming it was a forearm to the jaw.  Sean Davey, the TMO, insisted that it be upgraded to a red.  When Sean Davey is having to tell the referee to stop being anti-Tigers you know its going to be a bad day.

Dorian West stormed down to the touchline to harangue the fourth official, I await with bated breath the e-mail campaign from the Saints fans offended by his behaviour.

Saints sacrificed centre Stephenson rather than a forward but it made no difference as Tigers mercilessly drove the home side over for a penalty try.  Unfortunately that was where the mercilessness ended.  Some weak refereeing in the face of a home crowd gave Myler the chance to nibble into the lead and Doyle evened the numbers up for ten minutes after the softest high tackle call I have ever seen on Tom Croft.

Tigers lead 7-6 at the break and were surely confident of the win.  But in the second half we were out psyched, out muscled, out thought and out fought.  Northampton wanted this and the triffling matter of missing Hartley was not going to stop them.

Tigers lost Blaine Scully to injury at half time and with him went a lot of defensive solidness and our energy.  He is not the perfect winger, I could not see him making the kind of break Benjamin did for the third try, but he energises those around him.  It was down Benjamin's wing that Northampton scored all three of their tries.

The first was whilst Croft was still off; North took the ball at first receiver and cut out 4 Tigers defenders with a beautiful pass, Ma'afu fed Waller who dummied his way past Benjamin and over the line.  For me Benjamin has to smash Waller and see if the prop can make the testing final pass.

Wilson missed the conversion and the game settled down for 15 minutes.  Freddie Burns was on for Matt Smith, booed from the field by the Saints fans for his crime of being assaulted, and made a delightful shimmying break through the midfield to the 5m line.  Tigers recycled quickly and Goneva burst through two ineffectual tackles to give Tigers the lead 12-11 on 60 minutes.  Williams missed the testing wide conversion.

Saints struck back with a piece of clinical finishing.  Myler spotted the blindside overlap; drew in Benjamin as the last man and manufactured a cheeky off load that I'd doubt you'd see in a text book.  Foden raced away using the supporting North as a decoy to create confusion in Tait's mind before having the strength to hold off Ben Youngs.

At this point it looked like Saints were going to race away to a big winning margin.  But Tigers dug in.  And kept kicking.  And kept kicking.  It was baffling, frustrating and stupid.  And it worked.  

Mat Tait chased his own up and under.  The lithe full back tackled Foden and in the ruck slipped the ball on our side.  Crane fumbled, but backwards, I think, I'm sure, in clearing the ball wide but it mattered not.  It went to Benjamin on half way.  He went inside.  He went outside.  He scorched past Phil Dowson and curved into the 22 beating more men.  He couldn't quite make it but Youngs was there quickly and whipped it away to Burns and through Ghiraldini onto Goneva.  Burns nailed the conversion from the same spot Williams missed the first and Tigers had the 3 point lead with ten minutes to go.

Northampton huffed and the they puffed.  Could we do it?  We were holding, just barely but we were holding them.   We couldn't get the ball and they were steaming forwards, their big beasts of Manoa, Lawes, Dickinson and Burrell were coming to the fore.

They got a penalty and kicked for the corner.  If we could hold the maul we could win the match.  But the Saints were confident.  You could see it in them.  Flowing from us folding in the semi, they fancied it.  I fancied us but there was just a niggle.  Just a random thread hanging loose.

We smashed back the maul.  Yes.  They came left.  We held.  They came left.  We didn't.  Burrell took three men to tackle him.  We were sucked in.  Again.  And they scored through Elliott.

We didn't deserve to win, but that's not the point.  We could have won with 3 minutes of better defending, or better kicking.

Tigers are now 11 points off second place with 12 games to go.  The comeback has to start now.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Tigers tamed in Toulon

Tigers unbeaten streak of 6 competitive games came crashing to a halt with a dispiriting defeat in Toulon.  The defending double European Champions avenged their loss at Welford Road 6 days previous with a blistering opening 20 minutes where they romped to a 16-0 lead.  Tigers held the Red and Blacks from then onwards with the final 60 odd minutes yielding only seven more points, the game finished 23-8.

This was Tigers worst defeat since October's calamity at Kingsholm; and bore similar hallmarks.  A trip to a famously partisan atmosphere, a poor start snowballing into a unassailable lead before a gritty second half keeping the score respectable.

Tigers were simply out muscled for the first try.  A succession of negative tackles that halted the man but only after he gained ground eventually led to Ali Williams crashing over to the right hand side of a goal line ruck.  Some commentators have claimed there were "no missed tackles" in this move.  Bollocks.  If your tackle from 2 metres out hasn't stopped him grounding the ball then to me it's pretty obviously missed.

Whilst Toulon never got that momentum rolling again they were constantly knocking Tigers back in both attack and defence.  Tigers forwards were unable to gain ground and referee George Clancy's more classical (read lax) interpretation of tackler's release and Tigers inability to ruck them clear contributed to a stream of slow ball and penalties for holding on as Basteraud in particular wreaked havoc.  

The lack of a forward platform was exacerbated by a poor day with the boot from Owen Williams.  The usually reliable Welshman was off target with two of three kicks, costing the Tigers 5 points in the first half.  Were he successful with those kicks the half time score would have been 16-10 and if still a slim chance of the win then definitely the chance of the losing bonus point.  Williams punting was also askew with several kicks straight into touch and one penalty kicked dead.  The Welsh wizard did spark Tigers sole try, with a powerful burst up the middle setting up Jamie Gibson to put Blaine Scully away to the corner.

With Ulster losing away to Llanelli second place in the group is achievable but no bonus points in four games has left us behind in the race for one of three best runners up spots.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Team for Toulon named

Tigers head to Toulon this weekend looking to cause a major upset against the defending double European Champions in their own backyard.  Richard Cockerill has made three changes to the side that won at Welford Road on Sunday whilst Bernard Laporte, his Toulon counterpart, has reacted to Castrogiovanni's outburst by dropping the combustible Italian.

All three changes for Leicester come to the pack that laid last weekend's winning foundation.  In the front row Tom Youngs swops places with Italian international Leonardo Ghiraldini; at lock Graham Kitchener misses out injured giving Geoff Parling his first start since September; in the back row Robert Barbieri starts only his 4th game for the club as Jordan Crane is benched.

This means that Ben Youngs and Owen Williams continue at half back, with Matt Smith staying in the midfield and Goneva on the wing.  The back line is rounded out with Allen at centre, Blaine Scully on the wing and Mat Tait looking to match the performance of his last visit to Toulon from full back.

The bench sees a 6-2 forwards-backs split to accommodate the return to fitness of Tom Croft.  The Lion joins Tom Youngs, Sebastian de Chaves & Jordan Crane as additions to the bench whilst Miles Benjamin misses out.  Freddie Burns & Sam Harrison provide cover for the backs.

Toulon have reacted to their defeat by also making three changes.  Out go Castrogiovanni, Australian wing Drew Mitchell & Georgian flanker Mamuka Gorgodze.  In comes Leigh Halfpenny, South African World Cup winner Juan Smith and young Georgian tyro Levan Chilachava.  Former Bath man Michael Claassens comes onto the bench for Eric Esconde.

15 Mat Tait
14 Blaine Scully
13 Matt Smith
12 Anthony Allen
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Owen Williams
9 Ben Youngs (c)
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Leonardo Ghiraldini
3 Dan Cole
4 Brad Thorn
5 Geoff Parling
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Robert Barbieri

16 Tom Youngs
17 Michele Rizzo
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Sebastian de Chaves
20 Jordan Crane
21 Tom Croft
22 Sam Harrison
23 Freddie Burns

RC Toulon:
15 Leigh Halfpenny
14 Delon Armitage
13 Mathieu Bastareaud
12 Maxime Mermoz
11 Bryan Habana
10 Nicolas Sanchez
9 Sebastien Tillous-Borde
1 Alexandre Menini
2 Guilhem Guirado
3 Levan Chilachava
4 Bakkies Botha
5 Ali Williams
6 Juan Smith
7 Steffon Armitage
8 Chris Masoe (c)

16 Jean-Charles Orioli
17 Florian Fresia
18 Carl Hayman
19 Mamuka Gorgodze
20 James O'Connor
21 Jocelino Suta
22 Michael Claassens
23 Romain Taofifenua

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Guess Who's Back?

Tigers got their European Champions Cup campaign back on track this Sunday after dispatching double Euro & defending French Champions Toulon 25-21.  Welsh wizard Owen Williams was the star of the show slotting a sumptuous 20 points from the boot, as well as providing Toulon with their first try courtesy of a gift wrapped interception for Springbok Bryan Habana.

Tigers raced in a 13-0 lead after only 20 minutes as the Tigers ferocious defence forced key errors from a harried Toulon team.  Fast defence forced Bakkies Botha into a poor pass hacked on by Anthony Allen, Toulon recovered possession but from the ruck Owen Williams charged down Drew Mitchell’s attempted clearance to force a 5m scrum; the reunion between Marcos Ayerza and Martin Castrogiovanni was won conclusively by the Argentinean Ayerza forcing a penalty which Williams simply slotted.  Tigers lead was doubled quickly; Castro’s late entry to a ruck forcing the referee to reverse the penalty previously awarded to Toulon.

Similarly the first try was born from Toulon errors.  A series of areal ping pong seemed to have been won with Delon Armitage’s excellent clearance but Mat Tait’s hard chase of his own kick forced Sebastian Tilous-Borde into a sloppy pass to a shell shocked Mitchell.  The Australian simply went M.I.A. allowing Tom Youngs to sweep onto the ball and set Brad Thorn up for his first try in Tigers colours.

The 13-0 lead was short lived however, directly from the kick off Tigers were held up in a maul forcing a scrum and this time it was Toulon with the penalty which Nicolas Sanchez comfortably slotted.  Tigers were now the ones making errors, Jordan Crane’s pass and Mat Tait’s fumble gave Toulon terrific ball under the posts.  Were it not for Tait’s magnificent tackle a try was sure to be scored.  As it was an inevitable penalty was conceded as Toulon battered at the Tigers line with Sanchez again on the mark.

The scores were levelled when Williams flung his fateful pass, over the head of Salvi, too short for Kitchener it was just right for Habana to pounce.

Williams had also missed a tricky kick from right in front of the Crumbie just previously and missed a further testing penalty on the stroke of half time but made amends early in the second half.  Mat Tait’s scudding low kick found touch deep inside the 22, after forcing a knock on in the lineout the Tigers pack roared, marching Toulon backwards at a rate of knots to earn a simple three points for Williams to slot.

The next scrum was not to be so successful.  Tigers failed to hook the ball cleanly, the ball ricocheting off the front row’s shins into the Toulon side, Tilous-Borde caught Jamie Gibson unawares leaving Goneva with an impossible two on one to defend.  Ironically it was serial offender Mitchell who had the run in for the five.

Facing a tricky touchline conversion on Welford Road’s boggy side Sanchez went under the ball, floating the kick, just, short and wide.  This left Tigers within a score and was to prove crucial in the final reckoning.

Tigers were resilient.  And ambitious.  On loose turnover ball Tigers gained a fortuitous penalty for a high tackle on Ben Youngs.  The captain seeing the gap went quickly only a few yards from his line, the momentum gained another penalty and this one could be kicked deep into Toulon territory.  Some sure possession rugby was perhaps not so inspired but drew the necessary penalty and Williams made no mistake to ease Tigers back into the lead they had previously held for 40 minutes.

Tigers were really on song now, pinning Tilous-Borde into the corner and gaining the 5m attacking lineout.  Tigers’ forwards drove the ball over the line but never fully having it controlled failed to ground it, instead letting themselves be shunted to touch in goal and a relieving 22m drop out.

Toulon then wasted a golden chance inside the Tigers own 22 when they conceded the penalty for sealing off; Williams’ mighty boot bypassed the midfield and gave Tigers a lineout at the other end of the pitch.  Tigers were more patient than their opponents, again forcing the clumsy error from the Toulon defence.  This time it was Georgian goliath Mamuka Gorgodze getting pinned on the wrong side of a ruck.

Toulon though are not European & Top 14 champions for nothing.  Breaking through a quick tap from Ali Williams they played quickly and fluently moving into the Tigers 22 with ease, the move was only halted by a soft offside error from sub Robert Barbieri.  The Canadian-Italian flanker was offside after making an earlier tackle giving Sanchez the easiest opportunity to cut the arrears to a single point.

Tigers were calm though, Williams’ low slung kick again pinning Toulon deep into their own half before his up and under was claimed by Scully.  The kicking game may not be to everyone’s taste but was executed well enough so that when Bryan Habana risked an early charge at Ben Youngs the penalty was inches within the Welshman’s range.

The drama carried well over the 80 minutes; not only did Tigers make a meal of finishing off the game, requiring a Toulon knock on with 10 seconds left and again after losing that scrum, but also Martin Castrogiovanni’s expletive ridden tirade at Richard Cockerill’s behaviour over his transfer between the two clubs and Delon Armitage’s excursions which seem both many and varied at this point in time.

The off field stuff can wait for another day, the important points from Sunday were the four that Tigers bagged and perhaps the casual one that Toulon took with them too.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

3 Star Tigers Take Ulster Scalp

A breath taking 20 minutes which saw Tigers score three tries was just enough to seal a crucial 25-18 European win against Ulster at Welford Road.

Tigers coped with losing talisman Manu Tuilagi on 14 minutes brilliantly by scoring tries from Owen Williams, Graham Kitchener and Freddie Burns in the next 20 minutes whilst Ulster crumbled from a solid 3-0 lead to trail 19-3 at the break.

And it could have been more had Tigers not started the day with the indifferent Burns attempting the kicks to the posts.

Ulster opened the scoring with a Paddy Jackson penalty on 8 minutes after Tigers had infringed at the ruck, and Tigers were lucky that the red haired Irishman was off target with an earlier kick or it could have been 6-0 down in almost as many minutes.

Tigers responded immediately as Blaine Scully leaped like a salmon to claim Burns' restart and power into the heart of the Ulster defence.  Eventually scragged down Ulster's last man looked to have deliberately knocked on in the following move but referee Poite was unmoved, not the only time Ulster were lucky to escape censure from the Frenchman.

Ben Youngs wasted two good opportunities in the 22 through a chip to no one and a floated pass that was intercepted but Tigers were not to be denied.  Julian Salvi broke down the right hand side before play was switched to Tuilagi rampaging down the left, drawing a penalty from Ulster on the 5m line; Manu re-injured his groin in the move though and was swiftly withdrawn as Tigers kicked for the corner.

From the lineout Tigers drove and were denied, the pack heaved again and were denied, before Owen Williams, warming to his role as a crash ball centre, took the ball at pace and with intent.  The Welshman slammed into three Ulster bodies and fought to successfully ground the ball.

There was no mistake with the conversion but Burns was off target with a later penalty skewing it badly wide right.  Again Ulster rode their luck with Mr Poite as Tommy Bowe's ugly challenge on Miles Benjamin in the air was punished with only a penalty.

Ulster challenged again but were unable to convert any possession to points; Tigers slowly won the kicking battle to gain good territory in the Ulster 22.  The conservative kicking strategy was vindicated when Youngs picked off an innocuous pass from the base of an Ulster maul setting Graham Kitchener up for the second try before the half hour mark.

Tigers extended the lead just 5 minutes later when Burns, now relieved of the goal kicking duties, dummied his way over bamboozaling four Ulster defenders in the process.  

Ulster were down to 14 men at this point following a yellow card to Craig Gilroy for yet another tackle on the man in the air.  Ulster were very fortunate that referee Poite did not produce a red card.  With these two incidents and the one last year against Saracens you have to ask is this a deliberate tactic from Ulster designed to intimidate opposition players?

Tigers looked to have taken full advantage from the extra man and the wave of momentum when Leonardo Ghiraldini twisted, worked, wrestled and squirmed his way over in the Crumbie corner on the stroke of half time but he was correctly denied by the TV ref; Ben Youngs foot just barely grazing the line before the final pass was completed.

Tigers won the lineout but were unable to finish the job off, forgetting how effective running hard, straight and flat to the gainline had been for Owen Williams' try instead we went wide and deep attempting to take advantage of the missing winger.  It did not work.

With the break for half time the momentum Tigers had built was lost and never to be regained.  The second half was almost all Ulsters.  The kicking game that was so effective in the first half was not so much over done as done much much worse.  Playing territory and forcing another mistake was a good strategy but badly employed.

For me much of the blame must go to Burns.  His kicking for territory was poor and when he did successfully earn us possession in their half he flippantly wasted it with his selfish and immature chips to nowhere and no one.  It was a real slap in the face when this alleged England contender was replaced by scrum half David Mele to see out the match.

But Tigers did start the half well extending their lead to 22-3 when Owen Williams converted a straight forward scrum penalty.  Ulster were a totally different team in the second half running the ball with vigour and verve, causing us all sorts of problems to our defence.  First they cut the gap with a penalty following Tigers collapsing an attacking maul.

Then they scored the try of the day, the first of two outstanding efforts; Ulster won 30 yards from a kicking duel between the back threes ending with a lineout on half way.  Sweeping a rare clean catching off the top they went through the hands, taking advantage of Miles Benjamin's poor decision to step in they raced into the 22 and smart running lines and sharp passing helped them evade the Tigers scramble defence for the try.

The score rattled Tigers.  They looked panicked.  Trying random 50m drop goals and retreating further into our shell.  A scrum penalty successfully converted by Williams helped calm the nerves, and of course eventually was the match winning score.

Ulster's second score had two parts, first was the delicious inside ball to British Lion Tommy Bowe who scythed his way forward, only stopped by a crunching Blaine Scully tackle.  Second was the finish by Franco van der Merwe, a huge swinging dummy was bought by all before the lumbering 6'6" beast dove over the ruck like an NFL running back diving over a pile of bodies.  In this game of course you've got to get back to ground the ball and the South African just about did despite the attentions of Ben Youngs.

Crucially Paddy Jackson was unsuccessful from the simple conversion.  Did the young man get a case of the yips and skew his kick you wonder?  No, the growing force of Jamie Gibson was sharp on the uptake and using all of his 6'5" frame, all of his wingspan and all of his vertical leap he managed to charge down the conversion!  I can't remember ever seeing that in a top level game before.

That left the gap at 7 points and Tigers in a bit of a quandary when a chance for 3 points came.  Are we battling with Ulster or Toulon in this group?  Do we take 3 points and deny Ulster the losing bonus, or are we challenging Toulon, do we go for the try and damn the risk of Ulster's point or possible draw?

We went for the ambitious.  We went for the try.  We went for Toulon.

We messed it up.  Twice.  Then again sort of a third time.  Well, you can't fault the ambition.   First line out was taken cleanly and the maul set up, but Ulster resisted and emboldened by Tigers spurning the kick infringed again.  This time we tried a trick line out.  Why?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Ulster cleared but only to the 22.  We tried another trick line out.  Why?  According to ESPN's stats these were 2 of only 3 line outs we lost all game, the other was a not straight call.

Ulster tried for the draw but Tigers defence was stout and held out.  Before the match I'd have taken a win, any win, 2 weeks ago I'd probably have taken a close defeat; but today and last night I'm gutted we didn't kill them off with the 4th try.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Tigers battle to vital win

A gritty, a battling, a brilliant performance from Tigers ended the 3 game losing run and restored some pride with a 6 point win over equally troubled Harlequins.  17 points from the boot of Welshman Owen Williams and a try of rare quality from Californian Blaine Scully was enough to see off the Londoners who responded with a 3 penalties from Kiwi Nick Evans and a sniping try from Karl Dickson.

This was an old fashioned match with both teams attempting to win the arm wrestle up front, both teams decidedly only playing when it was clearly on and neither team making a rash of substitutes; Tigers made 2 subs and Quins only 3.

Tigers made a fast start; Fraser Balmain and Leonardo Ghiraldini sweeping a loose ball in midfield away to Ben Youngs.  The ball was quickly shifted through Mat Tait and Manu Tuilagi for Jamie Gibson to roam into some open space.  The blindside did well to hold the ball for long enough to commit last man Luke Wallace just enough to let Blaine Scully squeeze by for the American's fifth try for the club.

Some Quins fans have been suggesting the final pass was forward.  All I can say is that after last year the irony is delicious.

Tigers will feel hard done by Wigglesworth's first penalty against them, even on multiple viewings I can't find an offence.  No help from BT sport who seem to view actually discussing why penalties were given as completely beneath them.  Rizzo's drive is directly over the ball and Gibson's release and roll speedy.  Either way Evans made a good 3 points.

The next spell saw three penalties in as many minutes.  First a scrum penalty against Quins was converted from 43m out by Williams; Quins dragged one back after Ghiraldini collapsed the maul he set up with a stand up tackle on Tikoirotuma; Tigers rounded off the period with another 3 points from long range after Will Collier's lazy attempt to slow play down at a ruck.

Tigers had a great chance to go further ahead before half time; Quins failed to deal with a fairly standard garryown and Goneva was first to the bouncing ball, only a try saving tackle from Matt Hopper forcing the Fijian into touch stopped a certain 5 pointer.  

Owen Williams' usually reliable radar was then faulty at two more long range attempts but in my view both should have been re-taken. 

The reason was rule of the game 21.5 (c) :

If the kicker indicates to the referee the intent to kick at goal, the opposing team must stand still with their hands by their sides from the time the kicker starts to approach to kick until the ball is kicked.
The Londoners seemed to think they were at Piccadilly circus such was the movement at Williams' kick, following a bit of sealing off from replacement hooker Dave Ward.  Lock forward George Robson was the chief offender both times.

Tigers did get another 3 points in the first half after a tough penalty against Chris Robshaw for what seemed to be a good disruption attempt.  This time the kick was from the 22 rather than half way and the tireless Quins managed to keep themselves still for a moment.

After half time it was much the same, trading penalties, Tigers eeking out a territorial advantage with a better executed kicking game.  Evans opened the scoring 5 minutes in; Balmain simply lost his footing at a Quins scrum and such are the rules of the game a good kicker like Evans takes 3 points.

Williams canceled the slip immediately, Scully's hustle from the kick off was rewarded with a dominant man-and-ball tackle on Tikoirotuma forcing the Fijian to hold on for the penalty.  Williams gained the 3 points and had a chance to extend the lead 5 minutes later.

Salvi poached an over throw, Tigers were rampant in the Quins 22 surging forwards and left.  Going right against the grain Williams on an outside arc could have gone himself but instead forced the pass in front of Scully who was unable to take it.

Williams was treated for a blow to face, which he took clearing out a ruck.  After the game Williams could be seen vomiting profusely on the side of the pitch, a common symptom of the current zeitgeist injury concussion.

Whether it was the head knock, the now torrential down pour or simply the difficulty Williams was unsuccessful with another 40m+ long range kick a few minutes later.

A fairly simple 3 points was offered almost 20 minutes after the last disturbance to the score board, Charlie Mathews getting on the wrong side of a tackle. Williams took the 3 and Tigers must have felt the game was won.

Harlequins to their credit responded immediately; claiming the re-start, upping the tempo and gaining possession inside Tigers 22 for the first time in the match.  The sealing off was blatant even by modern standards but unpunished as Quins recycled possession probing for a gap.  Eventually they manufactured one as Karl Dickson took advantage of Manu Tuilagi being unaware of his surroundings on the fringe defence.

I thought Quins would keep going with the style that reaped them immediate rewards but instead they were content to play kick tennis and hoof the ball off the field with the clock dead.  Shows that Tigers aren't the only side in the league that might be lacking a bit of confidence.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Gloucester score Shed-loads

Tigers were blown away by a rampant Gloucester on Saturday as the Cherry ‘n’ Whites powered to a 30-9 first half lead, scoring three tries in the process.  Tigers at least maintained pride in the second half conceding only a penalty and gaining a last play consolation score via David Mele.

With Seremaia Bai ruled out again with a calf injury Freddie Burns was forced back into the line up and he had a torrid first half, culminating in his clearance kick being charged down for a try on 20 minutes.  Burns responded with some good tactical kicking in the second half but the damage was done and the fly half could do with someone else, anyone else, returning to fitness to allow him to lick his wounds in private and regain some form on the training paddock.

Part of the problem is that having both Williams and Burns as play makers is creating confusion in the team; the players don’t seem to know who is in charge and who to run lines off.  With Ben Youngs preferring to be the creative force as well this leads to a horribly unbalanced and disjointed attack. Too many cooks spoiling the broth.

The defence has not been acceptable.  For the second try neither Goneva nor Scully forced Sharples into a pass (or tackled him) as he just eased in for a try from 30m out.  For the third the BT Sport team neatly clipped up an example of Tigers defence just not putting the effort in to reorganise promptly.  Matt Smith could have tried to pressure Hook’s pass more but he was helpless to stop a correctly executed 3 on 2 as Gloucester put May into the corner.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the defence has been the leaking of offside penalties.  Again this is pure laziness.  We do not operate a rush defence, we are not timing a charge wrong, we are just not getting back on side after rucks.  It is simply unforgivable.

People have blamed the injuries but they are no excuse for a team looking clueless in attack, not limited and well drilled just as if without plan or instruction, or for a lack of effort.  Everyone should be able to execute a game plan and put some effort in.  We’re lacking some great players, granted, but this team was good enough to win that match and beat London Irish the week before; that has to be faced up to by the coaches, the fans and the players themselves.

Tigers now lie 10th in the table, a loss against Harlequins would make this the 2nd longest losing run in our league history.  Only the 5 defeats suffered during the 2003 Rugby World Cup would “beat” it.  That is not a record this team would like to have and there is only one way to do it.  Roll on Harlequins.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Irish side named as Injury curse stirkes again

Tigers' injury curse has struck again with Logo Mulipola, Geoff Parling, Tom Youngs and Niall Morris all falling victim.  Tom Youngs is out until Christmas with a shoulder injury, Niall Morris will miss 6 weeks with a knee injury whilst Geoff Parling is out for an indeterminate amount of time following repeated concussions.  Mulipola was seen limping off after 50 minutes last week but his injury and its extent have been kept under wraps by the club.

But there is some positive news at last.

After serving an 8 week stand down period from August 1st to allow for an injury dispensation signing Miles Benjamin is available again.  The electric winger scored 5 times in 10 outings last season to give him the second best strike rate in the current squad behind only Vereniki Goneva.

Also returning is Californian winger Blaine Scully after an unknown injury ruled him out for the trips to Exeter and Bath.

The two wingers availability sees Goneva shift into the centres to cover for the withdrawn Manu Tuilagi.  Rumours surfaced last Friday that Tuilagi would not be fit to face Bath but now it seems the "niggle" has dragged on for a second week at least.  Goneva's last outings in the centre was the trip to the Madejski in February last year.

The injury crisis has left the pack decimated.  Missing are Marcos Ayerza, Michele Rizzo, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Logo Mulipola, Louis Deacon, Geoff Parling, Brad Thorn, Ed Slater, Tom Croft and Pablo Matera.  That's not just a decent pack but a world class bench spare as well.

That leaves Tigers relying on young props Tom Bristow and Fraser Balmain.  Bristow starts his first Premiership game for the club, though he did start 6 games for London Welsh in their previous Premiership season; Balmain is slightly more experienced with 8 Premiership starts including last season's home win against London Irish.

Parling's concussion problems give young South African Sebastian De Chaves another chance in the second row alongside Graham Kitchener.  De Chaves was impressive against Newcastle and deserved a start ahead of Parling regardless.  

The back row is still strong with Crane and Salvi first choice players.  Jamie Gibson provides decent cover as Croft returns from his major knee injury.

The injury crisis severely hampers Richard Cockerill's choice of bench players forcing him into a 6-2 forwards to backs split.  As well as the compulsory whole replacement front row Tigers have also named a lock, Harry Wells, and two number 8s, former rugby league man Laurence Pearce and Canadian-Italian Bob Barbieri.  The only backs on the bench are local duo Matt Smith and Sam Harrison.  

This means that both games at Welford Road this season have seen unusual bench selections with the Newcastle game seeing a 4-4 split between forwards and backs.

London Irish have a terrible record at Welford Road avoiding defeat just twice in 22 years, including the thrilling 24 all draw 3 years ago when Dan Bowden inspired Irish to two late tries to seal the draw.

The Exiles have won one lost two so far this season; an atrocious day with the boot from Juan Pablo Socino, who missed 6 of 7 kicks, helped them to overcome Newcastle at Kingston Park; Harlequins quick first half proved too much at the London Double header and Saracens snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a last play driving maul try from Billy Vunipola.

Irish make one change from that side as anatomically named Ofisa Treviranus drops out to be replaced by Scots international Kieran Low.  That see former Newcastle and Llanelli wing Andy Fenby retain the full backs jersey, with 2011 Premiership Final try scorer James Short on one wing and former Tigers and Nottingham wing Alex Lewington on the other.  

The centres see a classic bludgeon and rapier combo as the mercurial Shane Geraghty combines with former Macclesfield and Rotherham man Fergus Mulchrone.  Mulchrone is a ball of muscle with good instincts hones in the lower leagues.

Another ex-Tiger is scrum half Scott Steele, a summer signing who found his path blocked at Leicester by Ben Youngs and Sam Harrison.  He partners Chris Noakes a New Zealander with experience of Super Rugby.

The Exiles pack is a star studded 7 international affair, accidental Lion Tom Court joins Australian-English test cap David Paice and Halani Aulika in an all international front row.  The only uncapped man in the pack is yet another former Tiger George Skivington an uncompromising experienced warrior.  His second row partner is Jebb Sinclair, the Canadian's red card cost his nation a win over Scotland this summer, even worse for the big man was that the decision was atrocious given for little more than a hand off.

The back row sees the aforementioned Low join fellow Scots cap Blair Cowan and former Gloucester captain Luke Narraway in a speedy breakaway trio.

Tigers squad is down to its bear bones and faces a side growing in confidence.  The record defeat to Bath has hurt the side and supporters but they need to bounce back to limit the damage.  With a packed Welford Road and vociferous home support to please Tigers will hope to do just that.

15 Mat Tait
14 Blaine Scully
13 Vereniki Goneva
12 Owen Williams
11 Miles Benjamin
10 Freddie Burns
9 Ben Youngs (c)
1 Tom Bristow
2 Leonardo Ghiraldini
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Sebastian De Chaves
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 Neil Briggs
17 Riccardo Brugnara
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Laurence Pearce
20 Robert Barbieri
21 Harry Wells
22 Sam Harrison
23 Matt Smith

London Irish: 
15 Andrew Fenby
14 Alex Lewington
13 Fergus Mulchrone
12 Shane Geraghty
11 James Short
10 Chris Noakes
9 Scott Steele
1 Tom Court
2 David Paice
3 Halani Aulika
4 George Skivington (c)
5 Jebb Sinclair
6 Kieran Low
7 Blair Cowan
8 Luke Narraway

16 Gerard Ellis
17 Matt Parr
18 Leo Halavatau
19 Dan Leo
20 Tom Guest
21 Tomás O'Leary
22 Eamonn Sheridan
23 Topsy Ojo

Referee: Greg Garner
Touch Judges: Simon McConnell & Paul Burton

TMO: David Sainsbury.

Saturday, 20 September 2014


Well.  What to say about that?

Let's start with some book keeping.  To keep me sane.  That was Tigers record loss in competitive rugby.  Record loss in league rugby.  Record loss to Bath.  It was the first nilling we have suffered since the famous 33-0 drubbing in Ulster in January 2004.  It is the third time we have failed to trouble the scorers in league rugby after a 1989 nilling at Kingsholm and a 14-0 defeat to Northampton in 2003.

So it is not hyperbolic to call that the worst Tigers performance I've ever seen.  Factually it is.  And probably the worst performance from long before I started watching too.

First of all, and bitterly, grudgingly, lets give Bath some credit.  Scoring 45 points is hard against anyone.  They utterly overwhelmed us, taking almost every chance they had.  Thankfully they did spoon at least 2 chances in the first half or we would be looking at 50.

They were fast, aggressive and penalty free in defence.  Their attack was sharp and their carrying powerful.

But enough about them.

We were awful.  In the first half we just didn't look up for it at all.  Off the pace and uninterested at times.  We were bullied at the breakdown and Ford masterfully controlled territory so that we just didn't have a sniff of attacking ball.  The one chance we had in the 22 we were inattentive at the ruck and got turned over.

In the second half it actually picked up.  Its just our problems changed.  We had mountains of ball, tons of it, and some of it in pretty good possessions.  We actually ran at some pace and pushed the Bath defence back.  But we couldn't do it for long enough.  A rare penalty was gained and kicked to the corner.  Spilled in the maul.

To add insult to injury Bath then raced the length for a score that exposed our atrocious tackling.  But we came back at them, only to do it again.  Knock ons, kicks away, turned over we ran the full gamut of ways to balls up try scoring chances once Wayne Barnes ruled out Bob Barbieri's effort for an imaginary double movement.

Towards the end we had a penalty with Nick Auterac sin binned.  For me it should have been kicked at goal.  38-7 is no less embarrassing than 38-3 but both better than the dreaded nil.

Rubbing salt in the wound was David Mele's red card for stamping.  Some have criticised the decision but I just can't, the ball is miles away, Barbieri had already won the turnover and was setting up a new ruck.

Still after Ulster we responded with a 49-7 win, after Northampton we beat Leeds 39-11 and after Gloucester in 1989 we bounced back with a 37-6 win over Liverpool St. Helens.

Hope springs eternal.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Croft set to make season's debut

Tigers travel to Bath aiming to end one of our longest running hoodoos.  Tigers have won only one Premiership match at the Rec since 2006, a 37-6 romp in 2011 that saw Tony Allen race in from his own half and Tom Croft bag a brace.  Of course Tigers did famously overcome Bath in a tight Anglo-Welsh semi final in 2012; Tigers were steered by a fantastic George Ford that day who slotted 4 penalties and controlled territory remarkably.

Tomorrow Ford will be driving the Bath team instead, whilst Tigers general will be Bath born and raised Freddie Burns.  Professional rugby has led to some unimaginable things, a Bath boy leading the Tigers chief amongst them!

Tigers have announced 3 changes to the starting line up for last week's west country win; in the back row Jordan Crane comes in for his 150th First XV start with Tom Croft joining him at 6 for his first start of the season, in the front row Leonardo Ghiraldini starts at hooker.

The unchanged backline sees Mat Tait, Niall Morris and Vereniki Goneva continue in the back three; with Tuilagi and Allen combining in the centres for a 45th time.  At half back Ben Youngs continues to captain the side and he plays alongside Burns.

Julian Salvi joins Crane and Croft in the back row whilst Parling and Kitchener form the lock partnership.  Mulipola continues at loosehead with young Fraser Balmain at tighthead.

Bath make on change from the side that ravaged London Welsh as Matt Banahan replaces the injured Anthony Watson.  Banahan saw red for poleaxing Anthony Allen in Tigers last victory in the fixture.  The Bath midfield features the trickery of Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph in the centres, the pair are creative and quick, they slashed Tigers defence apart in the Welford Road game last season.

At half back is the aforementioned Ford joined by Chris Cook.  People talk about Tigers reluctance to blood youth but the 23 year old Cook only made his first Premiership start last week.

Bath's pack is fearsome.  Davy Wilson is a powerhouse at tighthead and he is joined by internationals Rob Webber and Paul James.  James will have to watch his scrummaging angle as he has gained a reputation for boring in during his time in the Premiership.

The back row is denied Francois Louw by injury sustained on international duty, a feeling Tigers known all about, but still possess strength in Liverpudlian Car Fearns and cunning in local lad Guy mercer.  Leroy Houston is all elbows and knees when carrying, a bit like Thomas Waldrom his strength is his carrying rather than breakdown work.

The referee will be Wayne Barnes.  Barnes has taken charge of 3 previous encounters between Tigers and Bath, last season's LV Cup defeat means Tigers have lost 2 won 1 of the encounters. 

15 Mat Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Anthony Allen
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Freddie Burns
9 Ben Youngs (c)
1 Logovi'i Mulipola
2 Leonardo Ghiraldini
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Graham Kitchener
5 Geoff Parling
6 Tom Croft
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane
16 Tom Youngs
17 Riccardo Brugnara
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Robert Barbieri
21 David Mele
22 Owen Williams
23 Matt Smith

15 Luke Arscott
14 Semesa Rokoduguni
13 Jonathan Joseph
12 Kyle Eastmond
11 Matt Banahan
10 George Ford
9 Chris Cook
1 Paul James
2 Rob Webber
3 David Wilson
4 Stuart Hooper (c)
5 Dave Attwood
6 Carl Fearns
7 Guy Mercer
8 Leroy Houston Replacements: 
16 Tom Dunn
17 Nick Auterac
18 Henry Thomas
19 Dominic Day
20 Alafoti Fa'osiliva
21 Peter Stringer
22 Ollie Devoto
23 Olly Woodburn

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Tigers take Sandy Park Spoils

Leicester secured their 3rd straight win at Exeter's Sandy Park to share an early lead of the Premiership table.  Tigers won 24-20 after tries from Anthony Allen and Ben Youngs plus 11 points from Freddie Burns and a final penalty from Owen Williams.  Exeter lead 17-13 at half time through scores from Dave Ewers and Haydn Thomas.

Tigers were down a man early after the ludicrously harsh yellow card for Vereniki Goneva's allegedly high tackle.  Goneva's arm clearly makes contact under the collarbone, possibly slipping up to justify a harsh penalty, but by no means over the shoulder to warrant a yellow.

Exeter were by far the better side in the first completely deserving their 4 point half time lead.  Exeter out enthused Tigers, raising the tempo and fly into everything.  Tigers seemed heavy legged and negative in contrast.

Both Exeter tries came after poor control at the base of the scrum from Barbieri; Dave Ewers twisted out of Geoff Parling's tackle for the first score whilst Goneva was still in the bin with Thomas spinning out of Balmain's challenge for the second.

In between Tigers had struck back to level the score with Anthony Allen try.  Following a pin point kick to the corner Tigers pack drew a maul penalty from the Chiefs; with advantage Freddie Burns took the ball level with the left hand up right, leaned back and dithered deliberately to draw the defence closer, and slotted a delicious grubber kick between the posts for Anthony Allen to snaffle for his first try since March.

Dave Ewers breaking his bind from a scrum quickly gave Burns the chance to avenge Thomas' score.  A late flurry of penalties saw Steenson nail another kick after Salvi was ruled to have not released in the tackle, then at the first ruck from the kick off an Exeter were off side from the kick ahead and Burns gave us the half time score of 17-13 to the hosts.

Tigers were much improved in the second half, controlling the territory and raising the physicality levels.  Almost immediately from the kick off Tom Youngs counter ruck forced Haydn Thomas off his feet in the ruck.  Burns was cool under pressure to reduce the arrears to 1.

Burns was again to the fore with two excellent raking kicks pinning Exeter back into the corners.  From the second Kitchener raised his giant paw to claim the throw in and Tigers set the maul.  With another penalty advantage Ben Youngs organised a drive with Leonardo Ghiraldini driving the half back over.  Burns sole blot on his copy book was the missed simple conversion.

But Tigers had the lead for the first time after almost an hour and bitterly hung on to it.  

Gareth Steenson clawed back 3 points when Julian Salvi was ruled off side, after turning down a shot at goal minutes earlier, but it was in vain as Tigers dominated the final 10 minutes to snuff out any chance of defeat.

Jamie Gibson was only denied a fantastic turnover by a Exeter player holding on; Burns found a great touch only 5m from the line and Tigers pack rumbled forwards again.

Only Dave Ewers despairing lunge from the side prevented a try and there was a serious case for a penalty try, if a scrum was marching forward like that I doubt the referee would not storm under the posts.

Tigers took the lineout again but could not replicate the drive; the forwards were more than content in rumbling around the fringe and when Exeter conceded a central ruck penalty Owen Williams was more than happy to slot the 3.

Exeter had some decent territory in the final throes but that was snuffed out with debutant Riccardo Brugnara earning a penalty by forcing Moray Low to stand up in the scrum.

From that line out Tigers ground the clock down and secured the early season win that might prove vital in the final reckonings.

Friday, 12 September 2014

5 changes as Tigers head to Sandy Park

Leicester Tigers welcome back British Lions duo Geoff Parling and Tom Youngs to the starting line up after the pair have recovered from minor knocks.  Also returning to the Tigers line up is Mat Tait, the 38 times England international, at full back and Anthony Allen to the centres.  Robert Barbieri makes his Premiership starting debut a week after his unusual control at the base of the ruck immediately endeared him to Tigers fans.

Niall Morris switches to the wing to make room for Tait, from last week's 23 Scully and Seremaia Bai miss out entirely with Matt Smith retaining his place on the bench.  Up front Ghiraldini drops to the bench where he joins Tiziano Pasquali and a first time in the match day squad for Riccardo Brugnara makes an all Italian replacement front row.  Brugnara and Pasquali impressed this Monday in the A league and deserve their place.

Tom Croft's much antcipated return is put off another week despite being named in the starting line up last time out.  In the back row Gibson continues at 6 with Crane dropping to the bench.

Exeter are coming off a 6 day turnaround but unsurprisingly keep the same XV that ravaged newly promoted London Welsh in Oxford.  That means an early encounter for Thomas Waldrom with his old mates.  Waldrom played 112 times for the Tigers and has won Premiership Player of the Season in the past.  He made an immediate impact for the Devonians touching down twice last weekend.

In the centres Exeter give youth its head by playing two 21 year olds; Henry Slade made his name at fly half  in England U-20's inaugural Junior World Cup win but now features at 13, Sam Hill was 12 in that final and stays at inside centre now.  The young pair will be a target for Manu Tuilagi, just 23 himself.

Exeter's captain so far this season has been local hooker Jack Yeandle.  Yeandle is originally a product of Crediton but cut his teeth with Doncaster before returning to Devon with his home town team.  He is joined in the front row by fellow battle hardened ex-Championship players Carl Rimmer, originally from Coventry but signed from Cornish Pirates, and Tomas Francis, 22, who joined this summer from London Scottish.

One change to the match day 23 sees Damian Welch come into the bench in place of Don Armand.

Tigers have played Exeter 9 times since their promotion in 2010 winning 6 and losing 3.  The league campaign has seen the same side win both fixtures in the season each time; Exeter won both games in 2011/12 with Tigers completing the double in the other 3 season.  

Saturday's referee is Irish Londoner J.P. Doyle.  Doyle has experience of this fixture after taking charge of the Tigers win in January 2011; Doyle has a reputation of letting the game flow but when he awards penalties he is not shy at waving cards about as Tigers found to their cost in last year's semi final. 

On average during last season's regular Premiership season the home side had to commit 40% more penalties than the away side before seeing a yellow card from Doyle; so Exeter's bumper 13,000 crowd at an expanded Sandy Park may well prove the decisive factor in what will be a tight game.

15 Mat Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Anthony Allen
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Freddie Burns
9 Ben Youngs (c)
1 Logovi'i Mulipola
2 Tom Youngs
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Graham Kitchener
5 Geoff Parling
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Robert Barbieri

16 Leonardo Ghiraldini
17 Riccardo Brugnara
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Jordan Crane
21 David Mele
22 Owen Williams
23 Matt Smith

15 Chrysander Botha
14 Ian Whitten
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 Matt Jess
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Haydn Thomas
1 Carl Rimmer
2 Jack Yeandle (c)
3 Tomas Francis
4 Mitch Lees
5 Ryan Caldwell
6 Dave Ewers
7 Ben White
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Elvis Taione
17 Ben Moon
18 Moray Low
19 Damian Welch
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Will Chudley
22 Ceri Sweeney
23 Jack Arnott

Referee: JP Doyle
Touch Judges: Paul Burton, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Rowan Kitt