Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Big One: Tigers' Season Preview


Nickname: Tigers

Founded: 1880

Last Year: Champions (2nd in Prem, 74 points), Quarter Finals in Heineken Cup, Group Stage in Anglo-Welsh

Europe: Heineken Cup

Director of Rugby: Richard Cockerill


In: Gonzalo Camacho (Exeter), Ryan Lamb (Northampton), Jamie Gibson (London Irish), Neil Briggs (London Welsh), David Mele (Perpignan), Jerome Shuster (Perpignan), Sebastian de Chaves (Mont du Marsan),  Owen Williams (Llanelli Scarlets), Tom Bristow (London Welsh), Blaine Scully (USA 7s)

Out: Geordan Murphy (Retiring –coaching staff), Martin Castrogiovanni (Toulon),  George Ford (Bath), Micky Young (Bath), Kieran Brookes (Newcastle), Jonny Harris (London Irish), Jimmy Stevens (London Irish), Alex Lewington (London Irish), Andy Forsyth (Sale), Andy Symons (Tasman), Charlie Clare (Bedford), Camilo Parilli-Ocampo (Ealing), Richard Thorpe (London Welsh), Brett Deacon (Unknown-Now Staying?), Matt Cornwell (Mogliano), Rob Andrew (London Welsh), George Oliver (Unknown), Harrison Lee-Everton (Nottingham), Luke Jones (Cornish Pirates)

Ins: 10

Outs: 19

Tigers finished last season celebrating at Twickenham.  They securing their record extending 10th English Title against closest rivals Northampton.  Leicester won 7 out of their last 8 domestic games on a scintillating run of form that saw them run in 4 tries in both the Semi Final and the Final of the Play Offs.

Unfortunately a bitter minority of Saints fans felt the need to try and tarnish such an amazing achievement with their internet campaign against Richard Cockerill; even worse the RFU, egged on by Jim Mallinder’s school boy chum Brian Moore, bought it and handed out the draconian sentence that will see Cockerill banned from match day contact with the team for the first 5 Premiership games.

Tigers coaching staff sees another change as Matt O’Conner switches to recent triple European Champions Leinster as head honcho.  O’Conner split opinions in Tigers' fandom.  Some say he was an inspirational genius who made us the most potent backline in the Premiership; others that his one dimensional approach and lack of faith in potential like Billy Twelvetrees has held us back at the highest levels of the Heineken Cup.

He has been replaced internally by promotion for Paul Burke and Geordan Murphy joining the coaching staff.

Transfer activity has been more frequent than usual with 10 players arriving and almost 20 leaving.  Youngsters like Alex Lewington, Jimmy Stevens and Jonny Harris move on to London Irish after failing to make the grade and feeling their chances were better served elsewhere.  Other youngsters moving on are Charlie Clare to Bedford, Camilo Parilli-Ocampo to Ealing, Harrison Lee-Everton to Nottingham, Luke Jones to the Cornish Pirates and Andy Symons to New Zealand’s Tasman.

Senior levers are the iconic pair of Martin Castrogiovanni, who leaves to Toulon, and the aforementioned Geordan Murphy.  Reserve half backs George Ford and Micky Young move to Bath whilst a smattering of other players from the A team also move on to pastures new.

Incoming is Argentine Test winger Gonzalo Camacho who joins in October after international commitments; Welsh Fly Half Owen Williams who impressed in Llanelli’s run to the Pro12 Semi Finals; US Eagle Blaine Scully on a short deal until Christmas; Perpignan pair Jerome Shuster and David Mele; London Welsh front row forwards Tom Bristow and Neil Briggs; experienced Fly Half Ryan Lamb as well as young forwards Sebastian de Chaves and Jamie Gibson.

Those transfers leave Tigers with incredible strength in depth right across the squad.

Up front we have senior test props Marcos Ayerza and Dan Cole, backed up by quality in Logovi’i Mulipola and Jerome Schuster and youth with Tom Bristow and Fraser Balmain.  Hooker sees 4 options: Capped pair Tom Youngs and George Chuter, new signing Neil Briggs and handy understudy Rob Hawkins.

In the engine room we have last year’s powerful quartet: Louis Deacon, Geoff Parling, Ed Slater and Graham Kitchener.  Try and pick a bad pair from that.  Supporting the core 4 is new boy Sebastian de Chaves and a trio of young locks in Tom Price, Harry Wells and Joe Cain.

In the back row our talent at 6 & 8 is crazy.  The Tongan Octopus Steve Mafi would be most teams’ star player but we have Lionheart Tom Croft as competition in the same position.  Our Lord and Saviour Jordan Crane must fight it out guerrilla style ruck by ruck with Thomas “the Tank” Waldrom for the right to wear 8.  7 might not have the same depth with Julian Salvi head and shoulders above Jamie Gibson, or should that be below?  Our third choice at 8 quicksilver Irishman Michael Noone is waiting in the wings to explode and take the Premiership by storm.

At half back we have England players Ben Youngs and Toby Flood.  They have capable experienced cover in David Mele and Ryan Lamb as well as youthful and exciting cover in Sam Harrison and Owen Williams.  We have scrum halves coming out of our ears with Scott Steele and George Tresidder also humongously talented.

In the centres we have the steady hand on the tiller of Anthony Allen and the rollercoaster thrill of Manu Tuilagi.  Backing them up is pint sized playmaker Dan Bowden and clubman Matt Smith.  Centre is another position where the youth is seemingly never ending.  Henry Purdy, Javier Pohe, Pasqualle Dunn and George Catchpole will all be looking to move into first team recognition and all are capable of it.

Outwide we are stuffed to the gunnels with choice talent.  Niall Morris and Vereniki Goneva ended last season as first choice wingers but they will face a bitter fight with Adam Thompstone, newboy Gonzalo Camacho and potentially fit again Miles Benjamin.  Benjamin could be an incredible addition if he can overcome his neck injury.  At full back we have American trialist Blaine Scully and ever dependable ex-All Black Scott Hamilton in reserve to the resurgent Mat Tait.

Tigers will as ever be destabilised by the ever increasing demands of international rugby.  This year we face 17 games which will be adversely affected by one international or another.  The IRB in yielding to the demands of the greedy international sides have failed in their duty to protect the club game.  This figure is shocking and surely the balance must start to come back to the fixture list before the international game destroys all in its path?

International Fixture Disruption
Tigers face Wasps (A), Quins (H), Worcester (A), Gloucester (H), Irish (A) and Newcastle (A) without their England stars.  How they cope, and how many Lancaster decides to take, will be the difference between top, second or a daunting trip to a rival for an away semi final. 

Looking at the fixtures the chances are that the international game could also decide the relegation battle; if anyone of those sides pulls off a surprise win against a depleted Tigers team it will go a long way to securing safety come May.

This year’s squad is built for an attack on three fronts as Tigers chase the ever illusive Treble.  The stability in the First XV should hopefully see improved results in Europe; the depth of the forwards should see us home to another Premiership semi, even if it is away; and the ever improving batch of lads from the academy means that another LV Cup Triumph is far from unimaginable.  Will Tigers win it all?  Probably not.  But they might, and that is the beauty of sport.

First XV: Tait; Morris, Tuilagi, Allen, Goneva; Flood, B.Youngs; Ayerza, T.Youngs, Cole; Slater, Parling; Croft, Crane, Salvi.

2nd XV: Scully; Camacho, Smith, Bowden, Thompstone; Williams, Mele; Mulipola, Briggs, Schuster; Deacon, Kitchener; Mafi, Waldrom, Gibson.

3rd XV: Hamilton; Benjamin, Dunn, Pohe, Purdy; Lamb, Harrison; Bristow, Hawkins, Balmain; De Chaves, Price; Wells, Noone, Guillaume.

Prediction: 2nd

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