Saturday, 17 May 2014

Under Pressure

The run is over.  With Tom Wood’s 77th minute try the Saints went into the lead for the first time.  For the first time in 11 matches Northampton beat Leicester.  For the first time since 2004 the Tigers will not be in the Premiership Grand Final.  For the first time since 2000 Tigers will end a season without reaching a final of one sort or another.

The pressure in the second half was huge.  The home fans were rabid, baying for the visitor’s blood, and when Leicester refused to play Christians to the Northampton Lions referee J.P. Doyle was more than happy to oblige.  With no release, no possession, no territory for large chunks of the second half the pressure of the occasion just kept rising.

A short spell of 5 minutes possession in the Saints half might have been enough to lift it.  Quieten down the home fans, prick the pressure on the ref and run down the clock more.  Maybe even score some points.
This really was the classic game of two halves.  Tigers won the first half 17-6; Saints the second 15-3.  Tries from Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs caused elation in the visitors section before the break, George North crashed over to bring the home side back into it with around 15 minutes to go.  Then Wood dealt the killer blow.

In the second half we didn’t seem sure of what to do.  A score would have killed the game, like Twickenham last year, but open the game up too much and you might gift Saints an early score to get back into the game. 
We tried crazy aggressive play in our own 22, which failed when Goneva’s quick throw was ruled forward but worked when Mat Tait scorched away for a 60 metre break.  We tried kicking the leather off the ball but couldn’t pressure the Saints lineout into turnover ball and just invited the waves of attack back on ourselves.

When Tom Youngs was sin binned for being punched in the face we didn’t seem to know what to do.  First Jamie Gibson retiring, then Steve Mafi seeming set to replace Jordan Crane before Mat Tait, of all people, gave way.  It seemed an odd call at the time.  Not keeping 8 forwards, that was a great decision, but sacrificing the versatile and on form Tait when Goneva and Bowden were already on yellow cards.

But ultimately it was one missed tackle on Wood that cost us.  It wasn’t the case that “the try was always coming”, Saints had been trying to knock the door down for an age and we had not wilted.  It is not fanciful to suggest that tackle is made and we are on our way to Twickenham. 

Saints though have been better than us this season.  The only times they have looked vulnerable is when Steve Myler has been absent.  How anyone rates George Ford or Freddie Burns above him is beyond my comprehension.  He sits deep and brings his runners onto him at such pace that they crash over the gainline, his goal kicking has been magnificent and his temperament has improved no end.

A bit like the Heineken Cup if the knock out round was at Welford Road I think we win.  And the reason we were away in Clermont and away last night?  Our home form during the campaign.  Dropped points to Quins, Saints and Bath cost us a home playoff and dropped points to Ulster cost us a home Heineken Cup quarter final.  Rebuild the Fortress Welford Road and the rest will follow.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Semi Final Preview

It's almost here.  The pre match hype is almost over.  According to Jim it's all "rubbish" anyway as he only reads what he wants to read.  And not even Cockerill has the power to infiltrate Jim's preferred publications.  He's tried.  Oh how he's tried.  But even after drawing a nipple on his head and pretending to be a boob Razzle turned him down.

By now most of us can probably reel off the stats by rote.  10 games unbeaten.  Tying the fixture's record streak.  3 wins at Franklin's Gardens.  Also a record.

But the reason these are records is because this is such a close rivalry.  No Tigers fan worth their salt needs reminding of the game that broke the previous 10 game sequence.  1990 Pilkington Cup Quarter Final.  Last year's finalists the Tigers come to the Gardens to face Second Tier Northampton.  David vs Goliath.

These days Northampton are a Goliath in their own right.  A fixture in the play offs last year was the first time they progressed to the Final in 6 attempts.  They will not want to miss out again.

From the fixture in March their two most notable additions are Californian-Tongan barnstormer Samu Manoa and Widnes wizard Stephen Myler.  The American bruiser slots into the second row alongside Courtney Lawes, Christian Day will feature from the bench.  Stephen Myler's absence was crucial in the last fixture, he has matured into possibly the best fly half in the league.

He does not posses the running game of George Ford but his delicious pass for Jamie Elliot's try away to Bath will be on the highlights packages for years to come.  His goal kicking this season has been above 80% and leads the league.  Northampton fans will just hope he has learned the rules regarding drop outs.

Tigers make a number of changes from the side that faced Saracens 6 days ago.  In the official release press release Tigers hint darkly that moving the game to the Friday has cost us Geoff Parling, Blaine Scully, Rob Hawkins and Boris Stankovich to concussion protocols.

In the forward pack Marcos Ayerza, Tom Youngs, Logo Mulipola and Ed Slater return to the tight five and join Louis Deacon who retains his place.  This season's most popular back row is reunited as Jamie Gibson, Jordan Crane and Julian Salvi start.  Steve Mafi is included in the squad after his impressive hour last week.

The backs though sees some very controversial choices.  Despite his perfect kicking record in the earlier meeting Owen Williams is benched.  Departing Toby Flood starts in his place at Fly Half with Dan Bowden, set to leave for Japan, recovered from his broken nose and starting at 12.  Cockerill is never afraid to change his team for the play offs and has certainly surprised me with his choice.  Whether he has caught Mallinder on the hop too is open to question.

The outside backs really do pick themselves as Manu Tuilagi and Flying Fijian Vereniki Goneva are joined by Mat Tait and Niall Morris.  This is backline is just the absent Anthony Allen away from the Championship winning side of last season.

The reserve front row will worry some Tigers fans. Tom Bristow hasn't featured since January and has not been getting into London Welsh's starting XV of late.  Should the worst happen to Ayerza I feel that Fraser Balmain is more likely to step up.  Balmain is certainly no weakness but nor is Mulipola.  Similarly Neil Briggs is a perfectly fine player but Tom Youngs he ain't.  

With Steve Mafi covering the backrow Graham Kitchener covers lock.  Kitchener is surely the only substitute guaranteed to feature.  Cover in the backs is provided by Frenchman David Mele, Owen Williams and Adam Thompstone.

15 Mat Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Dan Bowden
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Toby Flood
9 Ben Youngs
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Tom Youngs
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Louis Deacon
5 Ed Slater (c)
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 Neil Briggs
17 Tom Bristow
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Graham Kitchener
20 Steve Mafi
21 David Mele
22 Owen Williams
23 Adam Thompstone

Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i; 1 Alex Waller, 2 Mike Haywood, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 4 Samu Manoa, 5 Courtney Lawes, 6 Tom Wood, 7 Phil Dowson (c), 8 Sam Dickinson Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Christian Day, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 James Wilson, 23 Tom Stephenson

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Same Old Tigers, Always Cheating?

It’s become part of the sporting folklore, a myth as old as time, Leicester cheat.  You hear it everywhere, from crazy message board conspiracy theorists to allegedly professional pundits.  We’re successful because we cheat and give away shed loads of penalties.  But is there any truth to that?

We never see any analysis of penalties, occasionally we might see a table of yellow cards, but you never see the number of offences each team commits.  Until now. keeps the penalty count for each Premiership game; using the power of addition I’ve crunched the numbers and found out whether that old wives tale has any basis in fact.
Frustratingly for a complete data set one match, Saracens v London Irish at Allianz Park, is missing.  Therefore Saracens and London Irish’s number are averaged over 21 rather than 22 games. 

From this we can see that the two dirtiest teams were the bottom half strugglers Gloucester and Irish, averaging around 13 penalties a game.  Tigers on the other hand were the second cleanest team in the league, only Mike Ford’s Bath conceded fewer penalties during the season.

On the other side of the ledger it was Bath who was the most fouled against, with Leicester and Harlequins almost inseparable behind them in second and third place respectively.  Myth busted.  Tigers are more sinned against than sinners.

Across the league overall penalties conceded average to be very similar.  Roughly speaking a side, over the season, will give away between 10 and 13 penalties per match; the majority average 11 per game.  Penalties awarded are a little bit more dispersed with the top 5 almost 2 penalties per game better off than the middle 5. 

Over the whole season Bath gained 92 net penalties, i.e. more than they conceded, interestingly Worcester were the only side outside that top 5 with a positive balance.  Tigers were second with a positive balance of 52 net penalties.  At the wrong end were Gloucester (-52), Wasps (-53) and Irish (-65).

The interesting bit is when the yellow cards get dished out.  You’d think that the most befouled teams would gain the most from the referees, which would make sense as yellow cards were introduced to deal with persistent infringement, and that as penalties conceded are very flat so would be yellow cards.

But no.  The yellow card numbers go haywire.  If we take yellow cards per penalty Tigers had to foul 14.4 times to see yellow but Exeter were allowed to get away with 34.3 penalties before losing a man.  Harlequins conceded 30 more penalties than the Tigers but saw 3 fewer yellows, whilst the Tigers cheat myth seems to be false the one about Harlequins being the RFU’s darlings seems to be borne out.  For the opposition to get a yellow card against Tigers or Saracens they need to give away 21.8 penalties but the Quins need only 12.8 penalties to gain a 10 minute advantage.

Despite Tigers running such a positive balance of net penalties (+52) we have seen 3 more players sin binned than the opposition.  Harlequins on the other hand have a net balance of only +22 but have 9 fewer players sin binned than their opponents.  Given how tight the playoff race was, and how tight the play offs promise to be, it does not seem farfetched that effectively playing a whole match extra against 14 men gives Quins an advantage.

Home and away differences are also apparent.  Only 3 teams conceded more at home than they were awarded, and Tigers concede 40% fewer penalties at home compared to away.  Over the whole league the away side has to concede 3 fewer penalties to get a yellow card than the home side.  The yellow card numbers are again striking and not good reading ahead of our semi final; at home Tigers see yellow every 22nd penalty offence but away that drops to 12, the lowest in the league.

One final really stand out result.  Andrew Small has refereed 19 games this season and seen 14 away wins.  How come he couldn’t get our semi?

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Sarries See Red

A disjointed Tigers side were almost blown off course by a ferocious Saracens defence at a blustery Welford Road.  Down to 14 men for the final 35 minutes the Londoner’s defence was fast and aggressive but could not stop Tigers recording the try bonus needed for the faint hopes of a home semi final.

The final score was close, 31-27; much like last week Tigers were guilty of switching off when they felt the win was secure.  That cannot be tolerated in the play offs.

Saracens took the lead first.  A Charlie Hodgson cut out pass found Nick Fenton-Wells on the charge giving good field position in the 22.  With the ball now 5 metres out Louis Deacon shifted from his post too early allowing Ben Spencer to dummy and go.  The well travelled Mancunian was in for the score but the wind blew Hodgson’s conversion wide.

Two cracking charge downs from the returning Steve Mafi kept Tigers camped in Sarries territory and Owen Williams was on hand to slot a penalty from the next ruck.  Saracens were dangerous in attack and went close again before Mat Tait’s try saving tackle on Scottish international Duncan Taylor. 

Saracens’ had the penalty though and Hodgson was able to battle the wind for the 3 points.  Owen Williams was not as lucky as his penalty following Taylor’s midfield block was ruled wide despite there being more than a hint of success about it.

The vociferousness of the Saracens famed “Wolf Pack” forced Tigers into 4 first half substitutions, though cautiousness played a part.  Was this a knock out game the chance of Geoff Parling withdrawing so early is slim.  Williams twisted his knee in a nasty collision and might be more of a concern.

His withdrawal did allow Dan Bowden an extended farewell to Welford Road.  The talented kiwi centre never quite found his niche at Leicester and is rumoured to be returning to New Zealand.  His first intervention produced the first real burst of fluency from the home side.

Attacking down the Crumbie touchline towards the Welford Road end he sent Niall Morris free, the despairing defence of the Saracens forced his off load to Ayerza.  The Argentinean held the ball up, back to the line, attracting defenders.  He slipped the ball between two men to find Mafi on the charge.

The Tongan was brought down short but Tigers were pouring through, Kitchener going close before Mele was brought down by a high-no-arms tackle from Hayden Smith.  The American international recently returned from the NFL’s New York Jets and to the general amazement of the crowd not only avoided a red card but even a penalty.

Quite how referee Garner thought Mele gained his head injury without a high tackle is one of life’s little mysteries.

There was just a minute remaining as the Tigers pack surged forwards on the third scrum; Garner had no quibbles with marching straight under the posts.  Flood’s conversion gave Tigers a 10-8 lead at half time.

Early in the second half Tigers extended their advantage further.  Michael Tagicakibau’s spear tackle on Ayerza drew a yellow card.  From the penalty Tigers’ driving maul marched from the 22 line to the 5m.  With advantage signalled all that was required was a simple switch between Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi; the Samoan brushed off Tim Streather’s tackle to go under the posts.

The excitement was not over though as Greg Garner issued new German cap Justin Melck a red card.  Subsequent TV footage showed Melck guilty of a nasty attempted eye gouge.

Mark McCall had suggested this call was wrong and wants Tigers help in overturning it; perhaps forgetting his clubs antics in the Andy Kyriacou-Seru Rabeni incident a few years ago.

With a 2 man advantage Tigers were quickly back on top.  Manu Tuilagi again at the centre of things breaking the tackles of Charlie Hodgson and Jamie George before passing inside to Niall Morris.  Morris could have chanced his arm or passed inside to Kitchener but chose to throw an outlandish pass to allow his fellow winger Blaine Scully in at the corner.

Saracens struck back with a penalty try, a driving maul had crabbed forward and collapsed with Tigers looking to have held the ball up.  Garner though awarded a penalty as he ruled it was an offside player who prevented the grounding.

In an end to end game Tigers secured the bonus point just 3 minutes later.  Pablo Matera was particularly eye-catching in the build up with a thrusting burst; Dan Bowden also showed his nifty footwork to straighten the line before Graham Kitchener underlined his burgeoning reputation by breaking two tackles and stretching out his long arms to just reach the line.

With the bonus point secure, Saints now well ahead of Wasps the game was dead and buried.  A 16 point lead was a healthy margin but was squandered by two poor efforts from Thomas Waldrom.  Straight from the kick off from the Kitchener try Waldrom lost the ball in contact, debutant Maro Itoje gobbled up the loose ball before feeding Jack Wilson for the score.

The second was from good attacking ball.  A free kick from a midfield scrum was quickly taken at the base and good yards were made before Waldrom’s pass to no one was intercepted by Ben Spencer.  A neat sidestep put him clear of the pack, with Thompstone back tracking and non-committal forcing him wide, Sam Harrison was covering but could not get there in time and Spencer just squeezed in the corner.

The match ended with Saracens still pushing for the win.  This was just their 3rd defeat all season and a testament to their squad depth, much of it coming from their use of young players.  Tigers secured a record haul for third place and with just one Premiership defeat since Christmas will head for the play offs with huge confidence.

Friday, 9 May 2014

10 Changes as Tigers freshen up for Play Off Challenge

A capacity 24,000 crowd is set to welcome Leicester Tigers home for the final time this season.  Probably.  A home semi final is so unlikely that Northampton have already started selling ticket for a semi final at Franklin's Gardens, what could possibly go wrong with that?  The Saints need 1 point from their fixture with Wasps to reach 74 points, the maximum Tigers can achieve.  Should the team be tied they will also be tied on 15 wins so it will go to the second tie breaker of points difference which Saints currently lead by 85 points.

So really a Wasps win by 8 points and holding Saints to 3 tries or fewer is the only result that gives us a chance of returning home this season.  However Wasps have rested several key players for their Euro play off over the next two weeks.  Stranger things have happened but I won't be holding my breath.

Tigers have not won against Saracens in 2 years and won only 2 of the last 10 encounters between the sides.  The last win was the 2012 Premiership semi final when George Ford inspired Tigers to a famous victory.

Tigers make 10 changes to last week's bonus point winning side.  Front line players are protected from injury and fringe ones given the chance to stake their claim for play off action.  Toby Flood, Boris Stankovich and Thomas Waldrom all make their final regular season start for the club before departing in the summer.

In the back line Anthony Allen misses out with a knee injury sustained last week and Goneva takes a well earned break.  With David Strettle also rested for Saracens the Fijian seems sure to be the first Tiger to end the season as top try scorer since Alesana Tuilagi in 2011.

Tigers name three full backs as Mat Tait, Niall Morris and Blaine Scully all start.  US Eagle Scully earns his player's tie as he makes his 20th appearance for the First XV.  Manu Tuilagi continues his return from injury in the centre and is joined in the centres by Toby Flood.

At scrum half Ben Youngs is rested meaning David Mele makes his first start since January.  He is joined by Owen Williams renewing their partnership last seen in November during the Worcester away game in the LV Cup.

Up front Tigers rest the entire front row.  Boris Stankovich completes an ever present season in the match day squad, alongside him is young prop Fraser Balmain who has only been outside the match day squad once.  At hooker Neil Briggs is again preferred to Rob Hawkins who benches.  Hawkins is due to join Newcastle this summer so will also make his final Welford Road appearance in all probability.

The back five of the scrum is an all international affair.  Louis Deacon joins Geoff Parling at lock.  In the back row Tongan flanker Steve Mafi makes a long awaited return.  Mafi will draw inspiration from the way Goneva forced his way into the Play Off team last season despite only coming back into the starting line up in the final game.  This will only be Mafi's 3rd start of a heavily disrupted season.

He is joined by Thomas Waldrom at number 8 and Argentinean international Pablo Matera.  Matera is a terrific talent but his propensity to give away penalties can be a big weakness.

On the bench and also gunning for a late involvement in the season is Tom Croft.  Croft injured his ACL setting up the 4th try in the season's opener at home to Worcester.  Long written off for the season by the coaches Croft has shown great grit and determination to come back ahead of schedule. 

One for the future is Tiziano Pasquali.  The Italian teenage tighthead has spent time on loan for third tier side Doncaster this season and has featured three times from the bench in the LV Cup.  

Last week Saracens broke our long held record for most points in a Premiership season, the win against Worcester put them to 85 points.  Saracens have also broken our record for most wins in a 22 game season and should they win this game break our record for fewest losses.

So fair to say they've had a good year.

But with the play offs and an Heineken Cup final looming Saracens have chosen to rest a whole host of players.  Yet their squad is so strong that they can still call on 6 internationals and 9 different nationalities.  Ben Ransom is a dangerous broken field runner from full back having impressed on the England 7s scene, he is joined by Michael Tagicakibau, brother of London Irish's Sailosi, and kiwi Jack Wilson.

Former Nottingham centre Tim Streather is joined by Scotland's Duncan Taylor in the centres whilst Ben Spencer and Charlie Hodgson are the half backs.  Hodgson is a particularly strong player to guide a young backline around the field.

In the pack Rhys Gill and Petrus Du Plessis prop either side of Jamie George.  American Hayden Smith, fresh from a stint in the NFL with the New York Jets, plays lock with Eoin Sheriff.  In the back row new Germany cap Justin Melck joins debutant Maro Itoje and Bedford bound Nick Fenton-Wells in the back row.

Saturday's referee is Greg Garner from Coventry.  This will be Garner's first game at Welford Road since last year's Premiership semi final against Harlequins.  His previous experience of Tigers v Saracens is the Londoner's 50 point win here during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

15 Mat Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Toby Flood
11 Blaine Scully
10 Owen Williams
9 David Mele
1 Boris Stankovich
2 Neil Briggs
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Louis Deacon (c)
5 Geoff Parling
6 Steve Mafi
7 Pablo Matera
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Rob Hawkins
17 Marcos Ayerza
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Graham Kitchener
20 Tom Croft
21 Sam Harrison
22 Dan Bowden
23 Adam Thompstone

15 Ben Ransom
14 Michael Tagicakibau
13 Tim Streather
12 Duncan Taylor
11 Jack Wilson
10 Charlie Hodgson
9 Ben Spencer
1 Rhys Gill
2 Jamie George (c)
3 Petrus Du Plessis
4 Eoin Sheriff
5 Hayden Smith
6 Maro Itoje
7 Justin Melck
8 Nick Fenton-Wells. Replacements: 
16 Scott Spurling
17 Richard Barrington
18 James Johnston
19 Tom Jubb
20 Hayden Thompson-Stringer
21 Neil de Kock
22 Nils Mordt
23 Nick Tompkins

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Tigers Flood with Confidence

Tigers secured their 9th straight playoff semi final with a thumping 6 try 42-22 victory away to Sale.  First half tries from Vereniki Goneva and Toby Flood gave Tigers a 14-3 half time lead to which Tigers quickly added, racing to a 35-3 lead before falling off and allowing 3 consolation scores to Sale.

Previous trips to Sale have required sterling second half comebacks but this one was a more comfortable affair as Tigers squeezed Sale in defence whilst finishing our own chances relatively clinically.

Sale had the early territory and possession but could not make it count, a knock from Tom Brady spoiling a 7 phase spell inside the Tigers 22.  Sale varied their game well, keeping the Tigers defence on their toes with a mix of pick and goes with distributing to the wider channels. 

Tigers opened the scoring on their first real attack.  It was a classic multi-phase Tigers score.  Anthony Allen kept the defence honest, straightening from a strong Tigers scrum.   Tait went wide and we recycled through Slater.  Sale’s defence was up fast and twice was on Youngs before he passed.  Allen though swept up the loose ball and straightened, silkily off loading to Ayerza whose back hand flip set Morris through the middle.

Quickly it went right and a hint of an overlap was extinguished, but not before Mulipola rumbled to within 5.  This caught full back Tom Arscott in the ruck.  With inexperienced wingers Tom Brady and Charlie Ingall unaware it was Owen Williams who exploited the gap with a delicious Andy Goode-esque chip off the outside of his right boot.  Tuilagi and Goneva were first to it with the Fijian claiming his 14 score of the campaign.

Sale quickly claimed their first points following a terrific break from kiwi Michael Paterson, Jamie Gibson was harshly ruled to have not released the man and media darling Danny Cipriani nailed the 3 points from in front.

Tigers lead should have been more but for 3 uncharacteristic penalty misses by Owen Williams.  The first when the score was nil all went wide right and the next two skewed left.  6 from 9 in total though can hardly be considered a poor return.

A try was also inexplicably ruled out in the 22nd minute.  Ed Slater made a lovely inside break from Williams’ pass; Niall Morris executed a dead eye grubber which Anthony Allen pounced on to finish strongly.  Referee JP Doyle however chose to go back and check the midfield pass he had ruled fair in the build up.  Quite how the hands were ruled to be going forwards I’ll never know.  Compare that try to Jonathan Joseph’s given in the home game against Bath by the same referee.

Compare also to the try in Toulouse v Clermont where the man running on the angle throws the ball on the inside, clearly travels 3 yards forward but is allowed as the hands were going backwards. 

Tigers were quickly in the ascendency again; Goneva steaming in but unable to hold Ben Youngs’ delayed pass.  Sale adventurously countered from behind their own posts.  Leota’s inside pass to Fihaki sent the number 8 on a gallop from one 22 to the other.  Anthony Allen made a superb try saving cover tackle on Tom Brady, injuring himself out of the game in the process.  In the after match analysis Sale will be disappointed with the option chosen by Fihaki, Allen’s hips were turned and an inside pass available.

It was his replacement Toby Flood who grabbed the next try.  Owen Williams made a good break, handing off Moldovan prop Codilas and out pacing flanker Gaskell, before Ben Youngs and Jordan Crane found Flood against Cobilas and his propping partner Lewis-Roberts.  The props had 4 defenders to mark in far too much space and Flood easily ran between them.

The second half saw Tigers continue in the same rich vein of form.  Niall Morris, returning after 3 months of injury, capped his 50th start with a try.  The Irishman was on hand with a terrific supporting line to take Williams’ pass from contact following a nice break from the Youngs brothers combining down the blindside.

A fourth try and the bonus point to secure a semi final was quick in coming just 8 minutes later.  A midfield obstruction by Henry Thomas gave Leicester good ball inside the Sale 22.  Tigers were finding the Sale defence much tougher this time being driven backwards and forced wide, the key to unlocking it came from a glorious off load from Jordan Crane.  A little diamond of skill the number 8 slipped the pass behind his back, attracting the defence and allowing Gibson to slip up the inside.

With the Sale defence now stretched it took one more phase before Toby Flood, running his trademark fast and tight line from Ben Youngs, went over for his 2nd try.  Danny Cipriani sportingly patted Flood on the back rather than try and tackle him.  What a nice chap.

Flood was almost in for his hat trick moments later.  Tigers had gained possession in the Sale 22 from a weaving Ben Youngs break and a Sale offside.  Goneva’s dummy line attracted the Sale defence as Morris swept behind him; the Irishman straightened and found Flood but good defence, and perhaps an early tackle, from Tom Brady prevented the grounding.

It hardly mattered though as Tigers scrum marched the Sale pack at a rate of knots to earn the penalty try.

With the game secured in the 60th minute there was a marked drop in Tigers' intensity and the bench was emptied.  Sale grabbed three tries but never really looked like getting the most unlikeliest of comebacks. 

First it was Michael Paterson exploiting Toby Flood’s poor decision to blitz and racing in at the corner, then Henry Thomas scored following a line out front peel.  David Mele and Vereniki Goneva looked completely uninterested in tackling the 20 stone of Bath bound beef on the hoof and really can you blame them when winning by such a margin?

There can be no complaints on Johnny Leota’s score though as the Samoan raced in from half way with a lovely swerve to beat Niall Morris.  Tigers though will be disappointed with Waldrom’s first up tackle and Mele’s miss in open field.

The diminutive Frenchman made amends though with the final score.  Niall Morris had a good chance for a second score of his own but fumbled the grounding, with Sale now running everything Tigers were able to turnover an ambitious cross field kick before gaining a penalty.  With the scrum taken but not marching forwards like the previous one Waldrom picked up and backed into the halfback, off loading to Mele for the easy dive in.

A stonking scoreline and 9th successive Play Off semi final, all in all a good day at the office in anyone’s book.  Tigers though will not be happy with the spurned chances.  Tom Croft is rumoured to be fit again and what a boost in the search for an 11th Championship that would be.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Win Needed or Play Off Hopes Will Sale Away

Leicester head to Sale knowing that only a win will do as they still strive for an unlikely home semi final.  It requires a choke of Devon Loch proportions from Northampton but Tigers will still keep fighting until the final bell.  With a semi final berth not secure and Quins on our tail a win is vital before heading to the final round and a meeting with a rampant Saracens.

Richard Cockerill makes4 changes to the side that slipped to defeat at the Stoop.  In the forwards Lions internationals Tom Youngs and Geoff Parling return whilst Owen Williams and Niall Morris start in the back line.

On the bench Louis Deacon returns to the match day 23 at the expense of Graham Kitchener, Deacon is presumably included to try and provide some dominance in the scrum and to reward him for his good for leading into the Heineken Cup Quarter Final.

Thomas Waldrom is also recalled to the bench following his disastrous appearance in that same game.

Marcos Ayerza will make his 160th appearance for the club alongside fit again Tom Youngs.  The hooker missed out against Quins with a calf injure.  In the engine room Geoff Parling replaces Graham Kitchener for his first start since the October encounter with Treviso.

Niall Morris makes his 50th start in Tigers colours since joining from Leinster in 2011.  Morris made an instant impact in his debut, scoring 2 tries against Exeter.  US Eagle Blaine Scully makes way to the bench.  Scully is pure effort and determination but Morris might just posses a greater spark in attack.

Tigers travel to Sale defending some impressive recent results between the two sides.  The last time Sale beat the Tigers was 4 seasons ago, when Jordan Crane’s last minute try was ruled out by referee David Rose for offside.  But those wins since have been hard fought requiring second half fight backs.

In 2012 Sale lead 8-6 after a dour first half but Ben Youngs clinical finish and George Ford’s boot eeked Leicester to a 20-8 victory.  The year before Tigers were in disarray, the World Cup had denied us so many players, and we were 13-3 adrift at half time.  Tigers roared back, inspired by substitute Martin Castrogiovanni we scored 4 tries in 12 minutes, keeping Sale scoreless to secure the bonus point win and kick start the season.

The first meeting this season was scarred with controversy after Sale’s deliberate cheating at scrum time wasted almost a quarter of the game as rookie referee Mathew Carly refused to take action.  After the match Cockerill blasted opposite number Steve Diamond but Sale employed the same tactics away to Bath two months ago.

Sale are missing inspirational Kiwi captain Dan Braid who this week underwent knee surgery.  His place in the back row is taken by Tongan Number 8 Vilaimi Fahiki as James Gaskell, departing this summer to Wasps, slides over the number 6. 

In the back line Danny Cipriani has been in brilliant form of late and will look to use this TV fixture as a showcase for his talents before Stuart Lancaster names his England touring squad. 

Saturday’s referee is John Paul Doyle, originally from Dublin he went to St. Mary’s college in Twickenham and stayed.  Since refereeing Tigers at home to Leeds in September 2009 Doyle has officiated 16 Leicester matches; on his watch we have a record of 12 wins, 2 draws and 2 losses.  This season he has refereed us 3 times, the draws at home to Northampton and Bath as well as the win away to London Irish.

15 Mat Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Anthony Allen
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Owen Williams
9 Ben Youngs
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Tom Youngs
3 Logovi’i Mulipola
4 Ed Slater (Capt.)
5 Geoff Parling
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane.
16 Neil Briggs
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Louis Deacon
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mele
22 Toby Flood
23 Blaine Scully.

Sale: Tom Arscott ; Tom Brady, Jonny Leota, Sammy Tuitupou, Charlie Ingall ; Danny Cipriani, Dwayne Peel ; Eifion Lewis Roberts, Marc Jones, Vadim Cobilas ; Andrei Ostrikov, Michael Paterson; James Gaskell, David Seymour (Capt.), Vilaimi Fahiki.
Replacements   Tommy Taylor, Ross Harrison, Henry Thomas, Kirill Kulemin, Mark Easter, Will Cliff, Joe Ford, Mark Jennings.