Friday, 19 April 2013

Tigers Team to Pull Plug on Bath's European Hopes

Leicester Tigers travel down to Bath needing just 3 points from their remaining two games to secure a 5th straight home game in the Premiership semi finals.  If Quins fail to beat either Worcester or Northampton that tie is already sealed regardless of our results.  Bath are in the midst of a battle for qualification for what could be the last ever Heineken Cup, they sit one point behind Exeter in 6th and one point ahead of Wasp in 8th with Wasps playing host to the Chiefs on Sunday Bath can either strike clear of the Londoners or claim 6th ahead of the Devonians depending on results.  

Tigers make 5 changes to the side that romped home against Wasps last Sunday, Tom Youngs, Tom Croft and Geoff Parling were due to start that match but pulled out after failing "late fitness tests", not that the plan all along was to rest them oh no.  The other changes see Steve Mafi start at lock for the first time since Ulster away in January 2012 when Tigers suffered their biggest ever European defeat whilst Matt Smith takes up on the wing as Niall Morris misses out on the match day squad altogether.  Thomas Waldrom is rotated in for last week's Sky Man of the Match Jordan Crane.

On the bench club captain Geordan Murphy returns to the match day squad for the first time since his heroic performance against Saracens in February.  He is joined by Dan Bowden who has struggled for game time since his summer move from London Irish and is being linked in the press with a move to Sale.

I very much like this selection; it is an imaginative use of the squad and solutions to some of our problems: both Mafi and Croft need game time to recover from their injuries before the play offs, if both are fit how can we fit them into out side at the same time? Where can we slot Matt Smith into side given Manu and Allen have the centre berths locked solid? Is it really wise to have Harrison and Ford both on the bench when both only give us any cover in one position, and we will never tactically sub the starters either? Can we really go into the Play Offs with Geordan Murphy having not played for 2 months?

Tuilagi is set to make his 60th appearance for the first team with Tom Youngs to make 50 should he not fail another "fitness test".  Adam Thompstone will make his 20th start in The Stripes.

Bath make 4 changes to the side that lead Champions Harlequins at half time before surrendering to not even a bonus point defeat at the Stoop as Ben Williams, Rob Webber, Dom Day and Guy Mercer come into the side.  Williams plays at outside centre as the British Army's Semesa Rokoduguni moves to the wing.  Webber takes over at hooker and Day locks out the scrum.  Mercer replaces Mat Gilbert at openside.  

Former Tigers favourite Horacio Agulla will wear the Blue, Black and White of Bath as he lines up on the left wing as he looks to prove Richard Cockerill wrong for not renewing his deal last summer.  

Also of note is Bath's decision to go with a 6-2 forwards to backs split on the bench.  Bath chose to select young lock Will Spencer alongside the more established Mat Gilbert, ex-Llanelli, and Nick Koster the South African flanker.  The back line cover is provided by "Peanut" Peter Stringer and Tom "Jock" Heathcote, as Bath showing their hand with their bench or is it just a double bluff?  Or perhaps an insurance policy should Francois Louw fancy trying to break Geordan Murphy's nose again?  Only Gary Gold knows.

Tomorrow's referee is Hull's own Tim Wigglesworth who of course also refereed the return fixture at Welford Road where Bath's foul play drew two red cards, a yellow and a further citing for Lee Mears, now unfortunately retired with a heart problem.  I seem to say this every week but the RFU's seeming tactic of selecting the same referee for both games between two clubs is very foolish, especially when the first meeting was so controversial.  Should Louw try his thuggery again will the referee's mind be obscured by the citing commission's over turning his last fully justified red card on a technicality?  Will he perhaps be the other way and remembering Matt Banahn's litany of high tackle in the last match be over harsh on a Bath player with a high tackle?  We might be short of decent referee's in this country but surely we have enough to nip this sort of conspiracy theorising in the bud, rather than provide it with ample supplies of fresh manure? 

The game is live on ESPN with a kick off at Bath's traditional time of 2.15.  Despite Bath playing a predominantly blue home shirt Tigers will apparently wear, thankfully for the last time, the "Baltic" blue away shirt.  What is wrong with giving the green tiger stripes effect shirt a final fling is beyond me, especially as surely these two blue kits will clash more than blue v green?  After all internationally Italy change their shirts to face Scotland not Ireland.  

Leicester Tigers
15 Mathew Tait
14 Matt Smith
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Anthony Allen
11 Adam Thompstone
10 Toby Flood (c)
9 Ben Youngs
1 Logovi'i Mulipola
2 Tom Youngs
3 Dan Cole
4 Steve Mafi
5 Geoff Parling
6 Tom Croft
7 Julian Salvi
8 Thomas Waldrom

16 Rob Hawkins
17 Fraser Balmain
18 Martin Castrogiovanni
19 Ed Slater
20 Jordan Crane
21 Sam Harrison
22 Dan Bowden
23 Geordan Murphy

Bath Rugby
15 Ollie Devoto
14 Semesa Rokoduguni
13 Ben Williams
12 Kyle Eastmond
11 Horacio Agulla
10 Stephen Donald
9 Michael Claassens
1 Paul James
2 Rob Webber
3 David Wilson
4 Dominic Day
5 Dave Attwood
6 Francois Louw ( c )
7 Guy Mercer
8 Simon Taylor

16 Eusebio Guinazu
17 Nathan Catt
18 Anthony Perenise
19 Will Spencer
20 Mat Gilbert
21 Nick Koster
22 Peter Stringer
23 Tom Heathcote

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