Friday, 28 February 2014

Manu Returns

He's back.  After almost 5 months out of action with a torn pectoral muscle he's back.  Manu returns to make his second start of the season, ironically, against the same side he injured himself in November.  Tigers also welcome Tom Youngs back into the pack and a second league start for Argentinian tyro Pablo Matera.

3 unconvincing wins on the bounce against Worcester, Gloucester and Irish have left the Tigers season on life support.  Another win is the bare necessity and an improved performance surely needed to boost morale. 

Mat Tait looked back to effervescent and dangerous best at the Madejski, the Durham born full back will be keen to go one further this week.  His opposite number is younger brother Alex Tait.  The two have never faced each other in senior action.

Joining Tait and Tuilagi in the backline are international wingers US Eagle Blaine Scully and Flying Fijian Vereniki Goneva.  Goneva takes Adam Thompstone's spot on the wing to accommodate the returning Tuilagi. 

The inside backs are unchanged from last week as Youngs, Williams and Bowden look to take last week's performance as a base and push on again.

Tigers have an all international front row featuring Marcos Ayerza, Tom Youngs and Logovi'i Mulipola.  All three are fearsome scrummagers, dynamic carriers and aggressive tacklers.  Arguably Tigers greatest area of strength, the front rows are key to providing us a platform from which the backs can play.

New captain Ed Slater leads with club stalwart Louis Deacon in the engine room.  Jamie Gibson and Jordan Crane keep their places in the backrow whilst Julian Salvi makes way for Pablo Matera.  Matera has impressed in his chances so far and this game is his chance to lay down a marker for the rest of the season. 

Newcastle name two new names in their backline; international centre Gonzalo Tiesi was with Deano at Quins, Lee Smith tries Rugby for the second time after a short lived spell at Wasps.  Smith is a three time Super League Champion with Leeds and joins after a spell with Wakefield Trinity.  Scotch half backs Mike Blair and Phil Godman complete the backline with Noah Cato and Adam Powell.

In the forwards one name that leaps out is Rob Vickers.  Formerly a hooker, under John Wells expert eye he has been playing this season as a loosehead prop.  In his old position is ex-Gloucester and Irish front row Scott Lawson.  Former Tigers prop Kieran Brookes is at tighthead.  A disappointing two year spell at Tigers was scarred by a crushed foot, suffered away to Newcastle in 2011, but Brookes seems to be back close the form that saw Cockerill describe him as the best young tighthead in Europe.

Two more Scots for the lock partnership as Fraser McKenzie joins Scott Macleod.  They make an enterprising back five of the scrum will Andy Saull at openside and the particularly impressive duo of Will Welch and Mark Wilson.  Welch is a local boy and would surely be on the England radar were he at a top 4 club.

Sunday's referee will be Coventry's Greg Garner.  Garner has refereed Leicester 10 times with 7 victories to 3 defeats.  He has officiated 2 previous meetings between the sides in 2010 & 2012, both bonus point wins at Welford Road.

15 Mat Tait
14 Blaine Scully
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Dan Bowden
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Owen Williams
9 Ben Youngs
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Tom Youngs
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Louis Deacon
5 Ed Slater (c)
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Pablo Matera
8 Jordan Crane
16 Neil Briggs
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mele
22 Toby Flood
23 Adam Thompstone

15 Alex Tait
14 Noah Cato
13 Gonzalo Tiesi
12 Adam Powell
11 Lee Smith
10 Phil Godman
9 Mike Blair
1 Rob Vickers
2 Scott Lawson
3 Kieran Brookes
4 Scott MacLeod
5 Fraser McKenzie
6 Will Welch (c)
7 Andy Saull
8 Mark Wilson
16 George McGuigan
17 Gary Strain
18 Oliver Tomaszczyk
19 Sean Tomes
20 Chris York
21 Warren Fury
22 Joel Hodgson
23 Danny Barnes

Referee: Greg Garner
Touch Judges: Andy Watson, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Graham Hughes

Kick Off: 2PM, Sunday  2nd March
TV: BT Sport1HD, 1PM

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Forward Power

Tigers moved into the Premiership Play Off spots after a hard fought victory away to inform London Irish.  The nerve shredding 20-15 win came courtesy of first half tries from Ben Youngs and Logovi’i Mulipola plus a fantasy second half score from magic Fijian Vereniki Goneva.  All Irish’s points were from penalties, four from James O’Conner and a singular effort from Ian Humphreys.

Tigers were far from perfect, especially in an error strewn and panicky final quarter, but showed glimpses of the play that could secure an 11th title.  Ben Youngs was back to near his best, keeping good tempo in the game and accurate with all bar one kick.  Dan Bowden, a late change for Anthony Allen, was superb knowing when to straighten and when to go wide.  Owen Williams grew into the game and finished with a glorious side step to beat Geraghty near the end.

But this was not a backs victory.  It was forged by the behemoths in the pack.

Irish opened the scoring with the softest of penalties.  A bad day was in the offing when no one claimed the opening kickoff with Deacon pinged at the first ruck.  

But Tigers were straight into the game at the other end.  An inch perfect kick from Ben Youngs gave Tigers territory in the Irish 22.  Jamie Gibson blocked the clearance kick and Tigers were through, only for Deacon’s pass to be kicked dead by Skivington.

Now Tigers had a 5m scrum.  Would it take the 16 re-sets to gain the try, like it did at Welford Road in November?   On the first it went down, on the second Irish went early, on the third Crane should have scored but muffed it as Tigers heaved forward.  On the fourth it went down, and on the fifth Tigers again shuddered forwards.  Crane controlled this one but was just shy of the line giving Ben Youngs the chance to take the glory and dive in at the corner.

Doyle, an Irishman living in London, gave London Irish a series of inexplicable penalties; James O’Connor screwed the first one wide right but was on target with his next two attempts taking back the lead 9-5.  Tigers showed good fluency at times but couldn’t consistently hold onto the ball.  Knock ons were aplenty and one good move was pulled back for the game’s solitary attacking in from the side.

Tigers second try came from a lineout drive.  The position had been gained when James O’Connor used Keiran Low to evade Rob Hawkins tackle following a Ben Youngs kick through.  Deacon claimed the line out ball and Mulipola clamped on at the back to be driven over.  George Skivington almost disrupted it but as he was already given as offside a penalty try would have been awarded if he had successfully held it up. 
The conversions were difficult, touchline wide right, but Williams will be disappointed to miss both.  Tigers led 10-9 at half time.

Then we have Goneva’s fantasy.  His magic.  His mistake. 

Tigers had made a mess of the Irish scrum and Youngs hassled Allinson into a turnover.  Once round the corner to Crane and then out, Williams passed poorly and Goneva fumbled over his head.  First to clean up his own mistake he shook off the attentions of O’Connor then the merest hint of a dummy had Fenby grasping at thin air.  A hand off saw off Humphreys before Treviranus was out paced to the corner.
No other centre in the world would score that try.  Probably because most would catch it in the first place.

Irish came back strongly in the final quarter; gaining a series of penalties from Doyle.  But O’Connor skewed 2 wide and was replaced with Humphreys for the final kick.  These misses let Tigers off but also kept us camped in our own territory for long periods.

Waldrom entered the fray and was dispatched to the sin bin straightaway for a dull headed penalty, there can be no complaints he made no attempt to roll away at all.  There was little danger which made it all the poorer decision from the Exeter bound backrow.

The thoughts of the 4th try and bonus slipped from Tigers minds as holding on for the win gained importance.  Mele replaced Youngs and kicked any turnover possession away, whilst Marland Yarde came on and looked a handful.  Blaine Scully enhanced his reputation again with his careful containment of the confident winger. 

Irish had one final chance of seizing victory; Tigers had turned the ball over and Waldrom was due back on, but Mele panicking kicked poorly.  The Exiles countered.  From their own half they stormed into the 22 and with 79 minutes on the clock were on our line.  Yarde was in acres of space with only an injured Rob Hawkins guarding him.  Thankfully Treviranus made a right arse of himself; deciding to pick and go instead, knocking on in the process.

A 4th straight win at the Madejski and 6 wins in the last 8 Premiership games show some signs of optimism for the future.  Mainly we need to just keep winning and worry about finding our form later.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Flood Washed Away

Leicester have reacted to a disappointing win against Gloucester by making drastic changes.  Toby Flood pays the biggest price for an off day with the boot, and an on field spat, by losing the captaincy and dropping to the bench to be replaced by Owen Williams.

The metaphorical arm band instead goes to Ed Slater.  Slater is Leicester born but raised in Milton Keynes; he was picked up by Leicester's scouting system playing in Australia on a working gap year.  After a trial period and a short spell at Nottingham Slater returned to Tigers during the second row injury crisis of 2010.  He made his debut from the bench against Northampton on the opening day of the 2010-11 season and has gone on to make 85 appearances for the First XV.

Flood is not the only one to carry the can.  Matt Smith drops to the bench to be replaced by Blaine Scully.  Goneva switches from wing to centre to accommodate the Californian flyer.  In the pack international duty deprives us of Tom Youngs whilst Graham Kitchener misses out after limping off last week injured.  Hawkins and Deacon start in their place.

The decision to drop Flood is undoubtedly the most controversial.  Since his decision to become the first man to shun the Tigers captaincy the club has won only 4 out of 9 matches; before the announcement we were on a 6 game undefeated run.  

But it is still a big call, the season is not yet over and his partnership with Ben Youngs has remarkable statistics.  In 45 Premiership games the paid have only ever lost 4 times.  They have only tasted defeat once since the 2011 Premiership Final; a single point loss away to Bath, where we had a try incorrectly ruled out that would have won the game.  These guys know each other and know how to win.  Throwing away that partnership is a big risk.

London Irish name 5 former Tigers in their 23; George Skivington captains against his old side and Ian Humphreys wears 10.  Former Academy players Alex Lewington, Matt Parr and Jimmy Stevens are also involved.  

Tigers will beware Australian full back James O'Conner.  The sprightly full back is a class act and a sad reminder of what the pre-dumbed down salary capped Premiership looked like.  Tigers will have to guard him closely as he is a true world class talent.  Eammon Sheridan has been linked with a move to Munster and the gargantuan centre nullified Tigers at Welford Road earlier in the year.  

The strength of their wings is best emphasied by Topsy Ojo making do with a place on the bench.  Ojo has been one of the best wingers in the league for nigh on a decade and deserved more than his 2 England caps.  Marland Yarde returns from a hip injury, ironically suffered against the Tigers, on the bench. 

Sunday's referee is London based Irishman J.P. Doyle.   

15 Mathew Tait
14 Blaine Scully
13 Vereniki Goneva
12 Anthony Allen
11 Adam Thompstone
10 Owen Williams
9 Ben Youngs
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Rob Hawkins
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Ed Slater (c)
5 Louis Deacon
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 Neil Briggs
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Steve Mafi
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mele
22 Matt Smith
23 Toby Flood

London Irish: 
15 James O'Connor
14 Alex Lewington
13 Eamonn Sheridan
12 Shane Geraghty
11 Andrew Fenby
10 Ian Humphreys
9 Darren Allinson
1 Matt Parr
2 David Paice
3 Jamie Hagan
4. George Skivington (c)
5 Nic Rouse
6 Kieran Low
7 Blair Cowan
8 Ofisa Treviranus Replacements: 
16 Jimmy Stevens
17 John Yapp
18 Leo Halavatau
19 Jebb Sinclair
20 Gerard Ellis
21 Topsy Ojo
22 Marland Yarde
23 Sean Kennedy

Sunday, 16 February 2014


Tigers recorded a thoroughly unconvincing 11-8 win against Gloucester at Welford Road courtesy of a late late second half come back.  Coming off the back of a 3 game winless streak at home Tigers were on the verge of slipping to their worst ever home run in competitive fixtures before Mat Tait slid over in the 68th minute to make it 8 all and Toby Flood slotted a 77th minute penalty to secure the win.

Before the match Tigers injury curse struck again; this time it was the fans stricken as I had to miss my first home game through illness or injury since Bristol in the 2002 Play Off Quarter Finals with what can only be described as a mashed up ankle.

The conditions were perfect for running rugby as blue skies shone over Leicestershire, in stark contrast to the howling winds we've had all week.  Neither side was capable of playing the rugby the conditions deserved as Leicester bumbled their way through the vast majority of the match.  Ed Slater will be disappointed with two notable knock ons but he was by no means alone as most of the pack had at least one fumble during the opening period.

Gloucester created two chances but were scuppered by knock ons as the line went begging.  Tigers had reams of possession and decent territory but were singularly unable to retain either and play the pressure game that is the Tigers hallmark.

The scrum however was always a source of comfort.  Just like last year Gloucester were unable to to cope with the Tigers power and technique as Marcos Ayerza had a field day against Sila Puafisi then Rupert Harden.  The scrum provided the first penalty of the match.  It took three re-sets but the Gloucester tight five simply couldn't take the pressure; second row Elliot Stooke was spat out the side before Dean Richards awarded the penalty.

6 minutes later Gloucester leveled; Mike Tindall isolated Julian Salvi after the Australian was forced onto the back foot clearing up Kitchener's poor attempt at a catch.  Tindall was on his feet and Salvi was ruled to be holding on.

At half time Tigers just needed to be more precise; the territory was there and Gloucester's defence was fraying around the edges.  The vast majority of wounds were self inflicted so could be easily rectified by better execution.

But that never really came.  

Matt Smith made a fabulous break after a Tigers lineout but couldn't find the pass to keep the move alive.  Flood was then caught in possession by Tongan tighthead Puafisi and knocked on in the tackle.

Tigers were incredibly unlucky to have a try ruled out in the 48th minute; it was Salvi and Tindall at the centre again as the Gloucester man's fumble let Salvi in under the posts.  Referee Dean Richards had other ideas though as mysteriously the flanker was ruled off side.  BT Sport did not deign to replay the incident even once so it is rather difficult to say whether this crucial 7 point swing was justified.

Just 3 minutes latter and the swing was amplified when Gloucester scored their loan try.  A poor lineout win was followed by a poor box kick giving Gloucester possession.  Unlike the Tigers they held on to it, eventually isolating Tom Youngs on the wing against Henry Trinder.  Youngs will be disappointed with his attempted tackle but the try was made by a magic flick behind the back by Martyn Thomas that put Charlie Sharples over.

The pressure was really cranking up now as Tigers looked into the abyss of 4 games winless at home.  Robson cleared the kick off into the 22 and Tigers were choke tackled into a turnover.  The scrum was the saviour once again.  If we could pass like we scrummage we would be favourites for the European Cup, but if we scrummaged like we passed we'd be looking at a relegation dog fight.

Gloucester were looking more dangerous now as Kalamafone then Sharples broke through the Tigers line, in contrast Tigers single foray into the 22 was snuffed out after Waldrom ran up a blind alley away from his support and was turned over.

Mike Tindall was pinged for a dangerous high tackle on Ben Youngs, and was lucky to not see a card, as the Tigers scrum half broke dangerously from a loose ball in midfield.  From the penalty Tigers sent it deep into the Gloucester 22 and secured the lineout ball.  Mulipola and Goneva came crashing through the middle going left towards the old Members side, Waldrom was the next wave of attacking coming back right drawing in the Gloucester defence as he ran across the posts. Flood and Tait switched round to the Crumbie side to create an overlap and the Cherry 'n' White defence was at sixes and sevens as Tom Youngs and Flood held their lines to put Tait scampering through for the try.

Relief was short lived.  Flood skewed his conversion wide right.

Tigers were rampant now.  Blaine Scully rose majestically to claim the restart and David Mele, on for Youngs after the try, flung it wide.  Allen stepped inside his man to free Goneva and Tigers were racing into the Gloucester half.  With Goneva, Tait and Thompstone frankly Tigers should have finished the score there and then but both Goneva and Tait passed too early allowing Ben Morgan to make the covering tackle.

Flood was through the defence this time but couldn't find Waldrom lurking on his inside shoulder.  It went wide right but Goneva and Mulipola showed this rare burst of fluency and purpose was not going to last, butchering a great chance.  

Goneva again was responsible for the knock on from Tigers next lineout move but I feel Richard Cockerill might not mind this one so much.  Gloucester had the put in, with their scrum suffering heavy pressure and going backwards at a rate of knots Dan Robson panicked; there had not been a feeding given all day, what chance one now?  "I'll just make extra sure and we can clear our lines" he must have thought.  

But touchjudge Luke Pearce, responsible for an atrocious game between Quins and Wasps last week so relegated to the touchline, was vigilant and spotted the Gloucester 9's attempted skull duggery.

On TV afterwards Lawrence Dallaglio was scathing of this decision, seemingly on the grounds it was given to Tigers.

With the put in now in the Tigers favour the result felt inevitable but it still required some doing.  The first scrum was given as a reset but at the second attempt Yann Thomas couldn't take the pressure and swung his hips out and around.  Penalty Tigers.  3 Points Tigers.

Tigers had to hold out one last panicked attack from Gloucester but that was snuffed out when Blaine Scully claimed Ryan Mills's crossfield kick in heavy traffic, calling a mark and clearing his lines.

A win is a win they say but Tigers have been repeating that motto all too often this season.  Another unconvincing win keeps us in the hunt but only just.  With 3 home games, including Saracens who we haven't beaten at home in three attempts, and 5 away games left they will have to improve significantly to retain our title.  This game perhaps had the seeds of that; had we got the early try we would have been confident and away from Gloucester.  We certainly showed glimpses of what could be, especially once we get Manu Tuilagi back in the next fortnight, but glimpses aren't enough; we need full frontal exposure.  Starting next Sunday at the Madejski.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Tigers name team for Cherry 'n' White test

Tigers welcome old adversaries Gloucester to Welford Road this Sunday as both sides look to put a disappointing start to the season behind them Gloucester sit in 9th place and need to win almost all of their remaining games if they are to feature in any European competition next season.  Tigers sit in 5th place and need to seriously up their game if they want to retain the Premiership title they won so brilliantly back in May.

14 points behind Saracens with 9 to play a home semi final seems a long way off, even winning all our remaining games may not be enough.

Last week Tigers snuck the smallest of wins away to Worcester and Richard Cockerill makes 4 changes to that side.  England benchman Tom Youngs returns at hooker; Graham Kitchener has recovered from an ankle knock against Ulster to feature at lock; Jordan Crane swaps with Thomas Waldrom and Adam Thompstone takes Blaine Scully's place on the wing.

Youngs and Kitchener's returns are no brainers whilst Jordan Crane and Thomas Waldrom have rotated heavily this year.  But Thompstone's return I find surprising, or rather that Scully makes way.  Scully had another top game against Worcester providing the assist for Goneva's 2nd try but he misses out whilst Matt Smith, who failed to make a single pass all match, is retained.  

Smith is an admirable man, a good defender and hard worker but his offensive capabilities pails in comparison to Goneva, who is a dynamic ball carrier with the ability to unlock any defence.  Goneva is an experienced centre having spent most of his career pre-Tigers there and is a sound defender.  At the end of the day should an heir to Woodward and Dodge really be able to get away with a whole match without passing?

The other surprise is that no place has been found for Steve Mafi in the matchday 23.  The fan favourite has an undeniable quality and steps up well to the big occasion, surely he should be allowed to play himself into form in the same way that paid such dividends for Mat Tait last season?

Tigers posses a powerful tight five which is practically at full strength; Gloucester's in contrast has not fared well this year and will need to step up to avoid a repeat of last season's game when Tigers demolished a Gloucester scrum, Shaun Knight was sin binned in the first half after refusing to scrummage legally.

Gloucester have stiffened their pack since then by singing Tongan tighthead Sila Puafisi and the emergence of young lock Elliot Stooke, very much of the Jim Hamilton mould in the second row.

The back row is strong with ex-Nottingham man Sione Kalamafone particularly impressive.  Another man with midlands pedigree is Rob Cook, he developed his unique kicking style during a stint at Nuneaton, who joins Charlie Sharples, Henry Trinder, Mike Tindall and Martyn Thomas in an exciting back line.

Sunday's referee will be Dean Richards.  Not that one.  This one is originally from Henley and it will be his 8th time refereeing the Tigers; his 7 games so far has yielded 6 wins since a debut defeat away to Bristol in 2005.  

15 Mat Tait
14 Vereniki Goneva
13 Matt Smith
12 Anthony Allen
11 Adam Thompstone
10 Toby Flood (c)
9 Ben Youngs
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Tom Youngs
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Ed Slater
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 Rob Hawkins
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Louis Deacon
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mele
22 Owen Williams
23 Blaine Scully

15 Rob Cook
14 Charlie Sharples
13 Henry Trinder
12 Mike Tindall (c)
11 Martyn Thomas
10 Ryan Mills
9 Dan Robson
1 Nick Wood
2 Darren Dawidiuk
3 Sila Puafisi
4 Elliott Stooke
5 Will James
6 Sione Kalamafoni
7 Matt Kvesic
8 Ben Morgan
16 Huia Edmonds
17 Yann Thomas
18 Rupert Harden
19 James Hudson
20 Matt Cox
21 Jimmy Cowan
22 Freddie Burns
23 Shane Monahan

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Muddy Hell: Tigers scrap past Worcester

Tigers got their first win in almost a month on Friday as they snuck a 23-22 win away to basement boys Worcester.  The Tigers did not so much roar as whimper as they were unable to break free from a dogged Worcester side. 

Two tries from Flying Fijian Vereniki Goneva and 5 kicks from Toby Flood were enough to see the Champions home despite 5 penalties from Chris Pennell and a conversion of Josh Drauniniu’s try.

The Tigers started the match very well.  Goneva stole a march on the Worcester attack when he flew in from miles back to pick off Paul Warwick’s loopy pass and storm under the posts.  It was only 5 minutes later when a lovely short pass from Flood freed Goneva through the middle again.  This time he linked with Allen and Waldrom.  Tigers were now only 6m out but a thoughtless wide pass from Flood, when a single miss cut out pass to Slater would have put him in, gave David Lemi time to step in and disrupt the move.

This was butchery of the highest order from our experienced 10 and he will be disappointed with it in the review.

Worcester got on the score board after a penalty for failing to roll away then doubled their tally after Ed Slater was caught marginally in front of the kicker.  Both were sloppy penalties to concede.  The second was a confidence booster for the impressive Pennell.  Worcester’s captain is a strong leader from the back.

The third Worcester penalty was more controversial as it was not a penalty offence.  Closing the gap is clearly stated in the IRB laws to be a free kick offence but Small in his wisdom disregarded the rules of the game.  You have to feel enormous sympathy for the players when referees make howlers like this.  How are they supposed to play the game when the man with the whistle demonstrably doesn’t know the rules?

This penalty but Worcester ahead for the first time.

It didn’t last long.  From another controversial Small decision, this time against Mariano Galarza for in at the side, Tigers had gained good line out ball in the Worcester half between the 22 and 10 meter line.

Slater claimed the lineout cleanly and popped to Youngs as he was hitting the ground.  Passing from the ground rather than air is key; the dummy drive holds the Worcester back row in for a second longer.  Youngs finds Mulipola on the rampage through the middle  attracting both Betty the openside and Creevy the hooker.  A fast ruck gives Toby Flood the ball with plenty of time and space. 

With dummy lines from Mat Tait and Matt Smith attracting attention it is US Eagle Blaine Scully who receives posseion.  He soars past Alex Grove and dummies past Drauniniu, fixing Pennell his pass to Goneva is inch perfect and the Fijian is in for his second score.  This was our backs moving like clockwork and as every piece was perfectly in time.

This was the last time it worked like that.

A Pennell penalty closed the gap to 14-12 after Ayerza was caught offside making two quick tackles. 

Two penalties inside the Worcester half were kicked to touch as Tigers looked for the third try. A strong maul and carry from Ayerza was backed up by a lovely pass out of contact by Ed Slater, Flood flicked it quickly through the back of his hand but Allen chose to truck it up back into the forwards rather than get it one wider into what looked like a 3 on 1 with Scully also wrapping round. 

Worcester’s forwards were back inside too though and Allen was driven backwards losing Tigers' momentum.  Thankfully Worcester were caught offside at the next phase and Tigers gained some reward for their endeavour. 

A quick tap from Ben Youngs got the Tigers onto the front foot, being highly critical he has to hold onto the pass longer, either beat the wing himself or make him commit to the tackle.  Goneva muffed his kick and Worcester had good turnover ball that they turned into attacking ball in the 22.  As the clock turned red Pennell made his one and only miss, hitting the post before the half time whistle blew.

The second half was a more turgid affair as Tigers couldn’t break free from the Worcester stranglehold.  An early penalty from half way was skewed wide by Flood.  Worcester then got their try.  The initial break was by the eventual scorer as Drauniniu spotted Jamie Gibson being lazy in the defensive line and cut through.

Tigers will be disappointed with the try as Anthony Allen did at one stage get a rare Andrew Small approved turnover, but it was spilled in the ruck and Worcester had possession again.  As the ball went wide Drauniniu simply stepped countryman Goneva who had left himself too much to do to cover the last man.  Pennell got the touchline conversion as Worcester edged back ahead.

A penalty quickly restored the lead but Tigers had now been dragged into a close tit for tat game and decided they had to secure the win rather than look for tries for the bonus point.  This is a tough call for the coaches and senior players to make but I think trying to break Worcester’s spirit with another try would have been the way to go.  The penalty just kept them in touch.

This was compounded with our kicking strategy.  It is worth thinking on the fact that both halves were won by the side playing into the stiffish breeze.  With the wind at our backs our kicks were all drifting too far from the chase in the second half, whilst Worcester’s were holding up allowing the defenders to put real pressure on the receiver. 

When you have the wind there is a temptation to kick too often and we fell into that that trap, which is disappointing when we have such experience at the two half back positions.  We did not dominate territory like we should with such an advantage in conditions.

Worcester set up a tense finale with a 68th minute penalty from Pennell.  A harsh penalty against Waldrom for not rolling away was smack bang in front of the posts and Pennell put Worcester in the box seat for a first win of the season.

Again it did not last long as Argentinean test flanker Leonardo Senatore gave away the penalty for hands on the floor.  I have great sympathy for the great man, simply put that penalty would not be given in any other league in the world. 

Flood nailed the penalty just 2 minutes after Pennell had given Worcester the lead.  Worcester had one final chance to win after an Alex Grove break but David Mele was back to force the holding on penalty from Sam Betty and kill off any danger.

Some people have been disappointed with this result, bemoaning the lack of try bonus point.  After the opening stages Tigers will be frustrated to have got drawn into a battle but historically we have only twice won at Sixways with the bonus point.  I struggle to see justification in the claim of point lost.

Tigers lacked intensity and the stodginess of the backline is best emphasised with the stat that Matt Smith did not make a single pass in the match.  The only other player to do that was Logovi’i Mulipola, the tighthead prop.  A quick word at the end for debutant hooker Harry Thacker, covering Rob Hawkins for 4 minutes whilst a cut was dealt with, he made 6 tackles in his brief cameo almost as many as the back three managed in the whole match.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Prem Action Returns: Tigers Team for Worcester Named

Leicester return to Premiership action this Friday as we travel to face relegation threatened Worcester at Sixways.

Worcester are winless in the Premiership this season as Dean Ryan's appointment has failed to live up to pre-season expectations.  Tigers go into this game on the back of a poor run of form that has seen us win only 2 out of the last 7 games, our worst run of form since the 2011 World Cup when were missing 11 players and only managed a single win in 8 games.

Richard Cockerill used the LV break to rotate and rest his squad so makes 11 changes to his starting XV.  Blaine Scully is rewarded for his try in last week's mauling by Bath with a spot on the wing whilst Matt Smith continues at centre and Rob Hawkins and Thomas Waldrom retain their places in the pack

Headline returnee is Logovi'i Mulipola after almost 3 months out after a 13cm tear in his calf.  Mulipola suffered the injury on international duty with Samoa much to Cockerill's chagrin.  He is joined by Hawkins and Argentinian international Marcos Ayerza in the front row.

England have deemed Ed Slater and Ben Youngs surplus to their requirements despite the disastrous start and finish to the France game last week.  Youngs forms a mid-field triumvirate with regular partner Toby Flood and inside centre Anthony Allen.  Slater partners Louis Deacon in the second row.

Other star players recalled are Mat Tait and Vereniki Goneva in the backs with Julian Salvi at openside.  Jamie Gibson retains his place at blindside ahead of Steve Mafi.  Mafi will be looking to make a characteristic big impact from the bench to regain his starting place.

The bench has a youthful feel as Harry Thacker, in line to make his Premiership debut, is joined by Fraser Balmain, Pablo Matera and Owen Williams.  Experience is provided by Stankovich and Scott Hamilton.

Worcester's side is strengthened by the return to fitness of Pumas hooker Agustin Creevy.  The pack features a physical back row as South African lock Mike Williams wears 6 alongside Bristolian Sam Betty at openside.  Betty was yellow carded for a high tackle in the reverse fixture this September.  They are joined by 67 cap Wales international Jonathan Thomas.

The bench provides further experienced depth as Leonardo Senatore provides 20 Argentina caps in the back row.  

The backline provides a Pacific Island flavour as Samoan David Lemi is joined by Fijians Josh Drauniniu and Ravai Fatiaki, with Josh Matavesi covering from the bench.  

Friday's referee will be New Zealand's Andrew Small.  Small has been refereeing in England for many years; it is 8 years since his first encounter with the Tigers, a 10 point loss to the Barbarians in March 2006.  That was the last First XV match played against the Barbarians as well as Pat Howard's final start for the club.  Since then Small has taken charge of the club on 28 occasions with Tigers winning 71.43% of those games (or 20/28 in boring whole number stats).  His last appointment was the disappointing defeat away to Wasps in October.

With the recent weather in the west country I shudder to think what state the pitch will be in, with a storm predicted to come near the end of the match if Tigers can't get out into a lead Worcester's forward power and psyched up home crowd may be enough to win an arm wrestle.  Tigers slim chances of a home semi final are resting on wins in all the upcoming games away to the bottom three. 

15 Mat Tait
14 Blaine Scully
13 Matt Smith
12 Anthony Allen
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Toby Flood (c)
9 Ben Youngs
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Rob Hawkins
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Louis Deacon
5 Ed Slater
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Harry Thacker
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Steve Mafi
20 Pablo Matera
21 David Mélé
22 Owen Williams
23 Scott Hamilton

15 Chris Pennell
14 Josh Drauniniu
13 Alex Grove
12 Ravai Fatiaki
11 David Lemi
10 Paul Warwick
9 Jonny Arr
1 Ofa Fainga'anuku
2 Agustin Creevy
3 John Andress
4 James Percival
5 Mariano Galarza
6 Mike Williams
7 Sam Betty
8 Jonathan Thomas (c)
16 Ed Shervington
17 George Porter
18 Rob O'Donnell
19 Dean Schofield
20 Leonardo Senatore
21 Paul Hodgson
22 Ignacio Mieres
23 Josh Matavesi

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Three in a Row: Tigers winless home run goes on

Tigers were knocked out of the LV Cup on Friday night after conceding the try bonus point to a rampant Bath side at Welford Road.  Coming swiftly on the back of the defeat to Ulster and the Premiership draw with Bath Tigers are yet to register a home win in 2014.  Three games winless at home ties Tigers worst home record in competitive fixtures.

Not wanting to sensationalise the loss but those are the bare facts of the current run of form.

Needing a bonus point win to stand any hope of progression Tigers started pretty well.  Young Argentine flanker Pablo Matera, on his home debut, did well to stretch out and score the try under heavy pressure.  Matera made a proper nuisance at the breakdown and carried well all night.  Surely he has earned himself a place in the Premiership match day squad.

Bath’s first try had more than a bit of luck about it.  Thomas Waldrom lost his footing in the wet conditions giving Nick Abendanon room to run.  The ball spilled loose from a solid Tigers tackle and was quickly passed to flanker Alafoti Faosiliva, he chipped the covering defence of Sam Harrison then won the foot race for the grounding.  Courtesy of our new big screen we could all see that the Bath man had his foot in touch before he kicked it, as the boos rang round the ground Wayne Barnes ignored the evidence and awarded the try. 

The rain had now started, both teams’ tactics changed and the kicking game was to the fore.  Tigers’ second score was directly from a good old fashioned Up ‘n’ Under.  Owen Williams displayed his Rugby League background with a booming Garryowen, terrific height and just enough length; it looked like Tigers had over chased it; Hepetema and Abendanon waited underneath for the ball to land.  But they hadn’t counted on US Eagle Blaine Scully.  Showing great hustle he challenged Abendanon for possession, grabbed the loose bouncing ball and raced away under the posts for the try.

It was the kind of try that anyone could score but only a few ever actually do.  That bravery, work rate and willingness to do something a bit odd is a product of his less than usual career path.  After Adam Thompstone’s less than stellar game for England ‘A’ perhaps the American is another who has enhanced his First XV prospects in this disappointing loss.

This was about as good as it got for Tigers.

Williams and Henson traded penalties for a 17-11 lead but Bath struck back before half time. 

The West Country side attacked with good precision, Scully got sucked in too tight on his inside man which let Banahan round the outside.  A cracking side step from Leroy Houston on Owen Williams put Bath inside the 5 metre line.  A try saving tackle from Tom Price was all for nought as Scott Hamilton could not deny Banahan who went in at the corner.  Suspicions of his back leg being in touch were not investigated as Barnes awarded the try without going to the TMO.

Tigers were kept scoreless in the second half.

George Chuter, after no warning, only one penalty and outside the 22 was sin binned for coming in from the side after 51 minutes. 

Those ten minutes were crucial.  Bath brought on their big guns, like Francois “Elbow” Louw and Carl Fearns and gained 10 points.  The third try was scored by Ollie Devoto after smash runs off the back of a scrum by the Bath back row.  A scrum Bath only had because Boris Stankovich was throwing in. 

A bonus point try came for Bath from another driving maul.  Tigers just couldn’t defend this tactic on the night.  The usual tactics of driving them back, using physical players to disrupt the opposition wasn’t working when Barnes refused to call a maul stationary. 

Going early and risking the in the air penalty was the obvious next tactic but we never tried it; catching the ball carrier and dragging him straight to ground was another unexplored option.  We seem very poor at adapting when referees won’t enforce the laws properly; we rarely take advantage of a blind spot and continue when they give penalties against our legal tactics.

There have been the usual excuses of a more experienced opponent, injuries and players missing but we need to worry about the players we did pick playing badly.  If we had played well and Bath bettered us then those factors could be in play.

A light at the end of the tunnel is that next week away to Worcester we should have a full team out.  Ayerza, Mulipola, Deacon, Kitchener, possibly Slater, Mafi, Salvi, Matera, Crane, Youngs, Flood, Allen and Tait should all be available.  Only Cole and Tom Youngs should be missing.  We’ll either improve and win or the excuses will have to go out of the window for some forthright honesty.