Sunday, 26 May 2013


Leicester Tigers celebrated a record 10th League Title, their 4th in 7 years, after defeating local rivals Northampton 37-17 at Twickenham.  Tigers scored four tries to Northampton's three with Northampton having to overcome their captain being sent off in disgrace after repeatedly swearing at referee Wayne Barnes. 

Tigers started the match in fine form with Niall Morris finishing off a stunning team move after Toby Flood's weaving run and fantastic floated pass.  Flood's influence on the early stages was crucial and didn't Northampton know it.  Just like in the 2011 Premiership Semi-Final Flood was the target of a barrage of late hits after the ball had been passed.  Lawes caught him 4 times before his efforts were rewarded with Flood having to leave the field injured.  With a similar incident injuring Morgan Parra out of the 2008 Amlin Challenge Cup Final you have to ask is this a tactic explicitly from Jim Mallinder or can he simply not control his players?

The third of these challenges incensed Richard Cockerill as it was easily the worst and caused Flood the concussion that ultimately forced his early exit.  Dorian West had the cheek to suggest he was trying to intimidate the officials, let he without sin cast the first stone Dorian.  Maybe he should try to intimidate officials instead of injure opposition players.

Cockerill branded Saints of "embarrassing behaviour" after their tactics of late hits and Dylan Hartley's abuse of the match official that cost him his match in a heated interview with Mark Durden-Smith after the final whistle where Cockerill defended his team, his position and himself with great vigour.  He is plain speaking and passionate; I wouldn't swap him for anyone else in the world.

But back to the match as we are not yet there.

Barnes made a tight call that Manu Tuilagi had not released in the tackle, to my eyes if he had released him anymore he would have been "not held" but such is rugby.  Lee Dickson took the quick tap and freed Luther Burrell on the outside, he took on the last man and put Stephen Myler over in the corner.  The conversion was missed for a 10-5 deficit.

With Flood now off and Tigers demoralised and disorganised the Saints were camped into our 22.  Mat Tait take a bow for his next few actions.  He was the fringe defence, three point stance set, that held the Saints prop Brian Mujati up over the line.  Tigers won a scrum then a penalty and cleared the lines.  Just a few minutes later and Tait was offered up a huge gap and ate up the ground to take the play from inside the edge of his own 22 to within 5 yards of the try line.  Ford decided not to risk the long pass and recycled the ball with Saints then infringing.  Ford slotted the points for an 8 point lead.

Then what but for Dylan's moment of madness would have been one of the biggest decisions of the match.  Saints had attacked Tigers down the left hand flank which had yielded their first try.  Ken Pisi wrapped around the back of Ben Foden to isolate Niall Morris as last man, with Morris committed he passed to Jamie Elliot on the outside.  Elliot took the tackle from Tait sweeping across.  His wild chuck of a pass inside was picked up by Ben Foden running a clever inside support line.  Foden was clear to the line.  Surely? 


No!  Graham Kitchener tracking back had snagged him.  He rolled Foden on his back and wrestled to keep hold of him as Foden squirmed like a greased pig desperate to avoid the trip to abattoir.  The TMO was called.  Barnes has a reputation of passing the buck but this time he had no choice.  The Saints thought he had grounded it the Tigers convinced he had not.

The pictures were hardly conclusive.  He definitely didn't get it down initially.  He definitely put a a foot in touch at some point.  And he probably got the ball to the ground at one point near the end. 

To the relief of the Tigers fans he ruled touch in goal.  No tricky Saints 5m scrum to deal with.

Now we are here.  The big moment.  The madness.

It started with 1:51 on the clock.  Only 2 minutes after the TMO call Barnes had given Leicester a succession of penalties in the scrums marching us down the field.  Barnes can clearly be heard saying "This isn't how you behave as a captain.  Ok.  Please keep your comments to yourself, or I'll deal with it by way of penalty", Hartley then tries to interrupt "Listen to me please, just listen to me, if you talk to me like that and I think it's to me I'll have to deal with it.  Understand?  Ok Scrum."

Another scrum penalty to Leicester but Ford misses as the clock ticks to zero.  Myler takes the 22, he wants to put it straight out and end the half.  But you can't do that.  After France did it to end a 6 Nations game against Wales a few years ago they changed the rules.  I've seen Myler try to blame Barnes's accent in the press but that is ridiculous.  You are a extremely well paid professional player.  You have to know the rules.  Especially if you are going to try and pull a fast one.  If he hadn't been too clever by half and just booted it away we surely would have just kicked it out anyway.

But he didn't.  Myler kicked it straight out in a very obvious and deliberate way seconds after the referee had shouted "You can't do that" at him.  Idiot. 

Now the scrum.  Now the abuse.  Now the shame.

I don't want to castigate Hartley.  Regular readers of the blog will know I've called Barnes worse and it was an instinctive honest reaction.  An ignoble one sure, an unpleasant one fine, but honest.  He didn't filter his thoughts as he was disappointed and angry with the referee.  But Barnes has literally a minute earlier told Hartley not to talk to him like that.  You can't really argue with Barnes call given the circumstances.  We know he loves the limelight and the "big call" you can't give him the opportunity to do it.

For those that missed it he called Wayne Barnes a "fucking cheat".

After the match Mallinder tried to invoke the "Back defence".  Namely "I wasn't abusing you, I was abusing my opposite number and international team mate."  Much like in 1996 that excuse clearly doesn't wash and might make things worse.  For me contrition and apology would be a better bet.  A disciplinary panel would surely consider a sending off sufficient, at worst a one match ban, if you gave an early and full apology.  This stinks of trying to play the system and will surely raise the hackles of the Judge Jeff Blackett.

What a half.

As the sides changed ends Mike Haywood the replacement hooker came on for winger Jamie Elliot as Northampton didn't want to be a forward down. 

Northampton's second half effort was a credit to the club and the players.  They belied their man down tag to play with a real belief and precision.  They played fast wide and off loaded, for all but one crucial time, correctly.  

What did for them was not the red card, it was the 11 point deficit incurred at the same time.  They had too much to do and Tigers always had that cushion.

The first two tries of the second half were corkers.  Saints was a real team effort, Manoa, Day and Haywood took contact then released the ball to keep the move alive.  Despite their man advantage Tigers found themselves outflanked as the ball was spun wider.  James Wilson drew in the last man and Foden was clear to the line for real this time.  But Graham Kitchener was still lurking in the shadows ready to piss all over his chips. 

For every way Saints try was team work personified Kitchener's try was individual athleticism at its peak.  Ben Youngs disrupted Dickson at the base of the scrum to turn it over and span it wide to Allen.  He straightened the line and set the ruck.  Youngs then moved the ball back into the wreckage of the scrum.  Kitchener received it.  And scored.  He ghosted through a gap between Tonga'huia and Mujati that I didn't think was there then retained the ball under a challenge from Foden as he was scoring.  I haven't done it justice.  Look it up if you haven't seen it, one of the best individual tries from a lock you will ever see.

Tigers looked to have put the game to bed when George Ford scythed through the Saints defence on 55 minutes.  But a lack of pace and bulk meant he couldn't reach the line nor bully his way over.  As Tigers muffed the chance thankfully Barnes had spotted that the man on his inside shoulder had been taken out without the ball.  Ford glanced the penalty in off the upright in a needlessly stressful kick. 

Northampton responded immediately with another excellent try.  Ford's indecisiveness caused Youngs to kick from a poorer position than he would have liked and Foden ran it back with purpose.  A slip from Jordan Crane as the play swept right gave Saints a huge overlap and Luther Burrell did well to straighten the line and power forwards.  He was caught short and Dickson did well to claim his sloppy off load and the try.

They were Northampton's last points as Tigers pressed home their advantage late on.  Tuilagi scored from the half way line after some patient Tigers play, breaking Tom Wood's tackle and a helpful block from Geoff Parling.  It is difficult to say whether Van Velze would have got to him and Parling was merely standing still so didn't actively take anyone out.  In the final reckoning it didn't matter though.

The icing on the cake was Goneva's third try in three matches.  George Pisi now on for Saints tried the risky off load to keep the ball alive as he attacked down the right.  Steve Mafi was first to the bouncing ball and raced away towards the line.  Keeping a cool head he turned it back inside with a basketball style push as the pressure came on and Goneva was clear for the final try.  The Saints fans had seen enough by now and just like at Franklin's Gardens in March they marched home early not wanting to see the end.

Geordan Murphy lifted the trophy, John Terry style in full kit, with Martin Castrogiovanni as two Tigers legends ended their playing careers with the club.  This was Murphy's 8th Premiership crown.  It is difficult to see that record being challenged anytime soon.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Premiership Final Preview: The Team

Leicester and Northampton meet for the 228th time as they line up for tomorrow's Aviva Premiership Final.  Tigers most prolific opponents since their 1880 foundation the Saints have reached their first Premiership final after 5 semi final defeats; Tigers go into their 9th final in 9 years.

Richard Cockerill names an unchanged side.  Ed Slater only makes the bench after failing to recover in time from his triceps injury whilst Vereniki Goneva is preferred on the left wing to Adam Thompstone after two impressive performances. 

Anthony Allen will make his 100th appearance for the club four years after joining from Gloucester.  Allen will play in his 5th Premiership final, his first was Gloucester's defeat to Tigers in 2007 and he has featured in each of the last three finals in Tigers' stripes.

The unpredictability of modern rugby is laid bare as Tigers show 9 changes from the XV that faced Quins 12 months ago and 10 from the side that played Saracens 2 years ago.  Only Anthony Allen and Ben Youngs have featured in all three teams, with both players also featuring in the last winning final in 2010 again against Saracens. 

Mat Tait, Niall Morris, Vereniki Goneva and Graham Kitchener play in their first Premiership Final so Tigers experience of these occasions is not as vast as some might make out.  Institutional experience we have in spades but that counts for nothing once the whitewash is crossed.

Northampton stick with most of the side that inflicted Saracens' first defeat on the AstroTurf of their new home.

Powerful front row trio Soane Tonga'huia, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati play together for the final time as both props depart to Racing Metro next season.  Christian Day was a Premiership Champion in 2006 when his Sale side defeated Tigers in a rain soaked Twickenham, he and partner Courtney Lawes will be looking to inflict more pain on the Leicester in the lineout and defence. 

The Saints backrow features Coventry's Tom Wood, Cumbria's Phil Dowson and slightly more exotically San Francisco's Samu Manoa.  Wood and Manoa are high quality players and will needed to be guarded in both attack and defence.  

The very tall backrow will provide Tigers with plenty of competition in the lineout but we must seek to expose the lack of a genuine fetcher by latching Salvi onto every tackle before their pack can clear him out.

England tourists Lee Dickson, Stephen Myler and Luther Burrell are Saints midfield axis.  Burrell has made a big impression in the run in after gaining his chance due to injury to Dom Waldouck.  Ben Foden is a quality full back who will be looking to give Stuart Lancaster a red face for excluding him from England's recent squads.  

Jaime Elliot made his Northampton debut whilst still at school and the young winger has taken of Paul Diggin's mantel as local boy done good topping the try scoring charts for the Saints in the league.  

Key Areas:

1. The Opening Stages
Both sides will be looking for a big start and to blow the other out of the water in the first 30 minutes.  In the most recent match up between the sides it was Tigers who got that early lead but two season ago when Saints last won it was they who got two tries in the first ten minutes.  Tigers have a bad habit in finals of losing contact early and leaving themselves with too much to do in the closing stages.

2. Ruck and Maul
Tigers attack is predicted on a good supply of ball; whilst we have the skill to manufacture quick ball in phase play the top sides we play prevent us from doing this consistently and our multi-phase attacks falls apart.  Saints play a momentum game and the key to that is fairly simple.  Knock them back at every turn.  If they see a crack they flood through it and you have about as much chance as Canute to turn the tide.  

3. Kicking
Both goal and punt kicking.  Not every final is a cracker and if either side can control territory and build a lead it might just be enough.  The "Manu" semi from two years ago was 11-3 so don't be surprised if this is a dour affair where the defence cancels out the attack and it comes down to who can take the points the referee offers.

Leicester Football Club XV to Face Northampton
Premiership Final
25th May 2013

15. Mat Tait
      Age: 27
      Tigers Apps: 26
      Tigers Debut: Saracens (H), 24th Sept 2011
      Honours: England (38)

14. Niall Morris
      Age: 24
      Tigers Apps: 38
      Tigers Debut: Exeter (H), 3rd Sept 2011

13. Manu Tuilagi
      Age: 22
      Tigers Apps: 60
      Tigers Debut: South Africa (H), 6th Nov 2009
      Honours: England (21)

12. Anthony Allen
      Age: 26
      Tigers Apps: 99
      Tigers Debut: Sale (A), 4th Sept 2009
      Honours: England (2)

11. Vereniki Goneva
      Age: 29
      Tigers Apps: 15
      Tigers Debut: London Welsh (A), 2nd Sept 2012
      Honours: Fiji (29)

10. Toby Flood
      Age: 27
      Tigers Apps: 94
      Tigers Debut: Gloucester (A), 7th Sept 2008
      Honours: England (57)

9.  Ben Youngs
      Age: 23
      Tigers Apps: 116
      Tigers Debut: Argentina (H), 11th Feb 2007
      Honours: England (33)

1.  Logovi’i Mulipola
      Age: 26
      Tigers Apps: 42
      Tigers Debut: Wasps (H), 7th Jan 2012
      Honours: Samoa (10)

2.  Tom Youngs
      Age: 26
      Tigers Apps: 50
      Tigers Debut: Northampton (A), 2nd Dec 2006
      Honours: England (9)

3.  Dan Cole
      Age: 26
      Tigers Apps: 105
      Tigers Debut: Bath (A), 27th October 2007
      Honours: England (40)

4.  Graham Kitchener
      Age: 23
      Tigers Apps: 36
      Tigers Debut: London Wasps (A), 11th Sept 2011

5.  Geoff Parling
      Age: 29
      Tigers Apps: 67
      Tigers Debut: Newcastle (H), 19th Sept 2009
      Honours: England (17)

6.  Tom Croft
      Age: 27
      Tigers Apps: 126
      Tigers Debut: Gloucester (H), 12th Nov 2005
      Honours: England (38), Lions (3)

7.  Julian Salvi
      Age: 27
      Tigers Apps: 57
      Tigers Debut: Exeter (H), 3rd Sept 2011

8.  Jordan Crane
      Age: 26
      Tigers Apps: 150
      Tigers Debut: Gloucester (H), 16th Sept 2006
      Honours: England (3)


16. Rob Hawkins
      Age: 30
      Tigers Apps: 51
      Tigers Debut: Leeds (H), 25th Sept 2010

17. Fraser Balmain
      Age: 21
      Tigers Apps: 14
      Tigers Debut: Ospreys (A), 12th Nov 2010

18. Martin Castrogiovanni
      Age: 31
      Tigers Apps: 145
      Tigers Debut: Sale (H), 3rd Sept 2006
      Honours: Italy (95)

19. Ed Slater
      Age: 24
      Tigers Apps: 67
      Tigers Debut: Northampton (A), 5th Sept 2010

20: Steve Mafi
      Age: 23
      Tigers Apps: 72
      Tigers Debut: Leeds (H), 25th Sept 2010
      Honours: Tonga (9)

21. Sam Harrison
      Age: 23
      Tigers Apps: 46
      Tigers Debut: Treviso (H), 17th Jan 2009

22. George Ford
      Age: 20
      Tigers Apps: 40
      Tigers Debut: Leeds (A), 8th Nov 2009

23. Matt Smith
      Age: 27
      Tigers Apps: 136
      Tigers Debut: Barbarians (H), 17th Mar 2006


15 Ben FODEN
14 Ken PISI
13 James WILSON
12 Luther BURRELL
11 Jamie ELLIOTT
10 Stephen MYLER
2 Dylan HARTLEY (capt)
3 Brian MUJATI
4 Courtney LAWES
5 Christian DAY
7 Tom WOOD
8 Samu MANOA

17 Alex WALLER
21 Martin ROBERTS
22 Ryan LAMB
23 George PISI

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Premeriship Final Preview: Know Your Enemy

Much like ourselves Northampton were formed in 1880; whilst we were an amalgamation of several teams with the aim of providing a single club to challenge on the national scale Northampton were formed as Northampton St. James by local Reverend Samuel Wathen Wigg as a way to keep boisterous boys out of trouble.  With Dylan Hartley and Calum Clarke in the current ranks we can see his mission is still being undertaken.

Northampton still play in the St. James area of the town today which is where they derive their two nicknames from: the famous Saints and the more cult status Jimmies.  So be careful Tigers fans don't chant for Scraptoft's finest as you might be giving voice to the opposition!

Their hey-day, apart from the modern era more of which later, was surely in the 1950s when British Lions Dickie Jeeps and Jeff Butterfield were fixtures of one of the best backlines in Britain.  This era also saw the playing career of Don White, a goal kicking flanker, not that unusual in those days, who played 448 times for Northampton as well captaining Leicestershire & Midlands XVs against touring sides and playing for England 14 times.  In 1969 White was named as England's inaugural coach a position he filled for 2 years.

But Northampton's star waned as the 1970s and '80s wore on.  Coventry, Bedford and Leicester had stolen a march in the '70s all winning the Knock Out Cup and Nottingham were at an all time high when Merit Tables and eventually the National League structure was introduced in the '80s.  The nadir for Northampton came in 1988 when they finished the inaugural Courage League National Division 2 in last place with only 1 win to their name whilst historic rivals Tigers were walking away with their first English Championship.

Luckily there was no relegation from the second tier that year as true meritocracy was only creeping into English rugby and Saints used this stay of execution to devastatingly good effect.  It is no exaggeration to say that that summer saved rugby in Northampton and laid the foundations for every success they have enjoyed since.

A group of supporters and former players, the so called "Gang of Seven" were given unprecedented access to the local media to present their case in both the Chronicle and Echo for reform as were the committee men.  No doubt Keith Barwell's publishing industry links helped achieve this equal footing in the press.  Their reforms were presented to the club's AGM in the summer of 1988 and won by a landslide; 228 for to 76 against.  Don White was one of the committee men deposed. 

Northampton were now on an upward curve, being pipped to promotion the next season by Bedford and Saracens, before celebrating the first of their three 2nd Division titles in 1990.  That season they also made the Pilkington Cup Semi Final; defeating Tigers in the quarter final, one of only three times a second tier side beat one from the top division.  

A first visit to Twickenham came a year later in the 1991 Cup Final as Saints went one better than the year before but was to end in defeat as Quins won in extra time.  In 1992 they were within one game of winning their first English Championship after a mid week win against the Tigers but a heartbreaking defeat to already relegated Nottingham let Bath steal their 3rd title on the wire as Orrell also lost on the last day.  And apparently the play offs bring drama!

It has not all been an upward curve though.  As players such as Dawson and Grayson were coming through and taking on the mantel from the likes of Shelford and Olver Northampton were relegated in a thrilling 5 way battle as Gloucester, Bristol, Harlequins and West Hartlepool were all within one loss of the drop.  A poor start the season left Northampton at the mercy of others and England's decision to withdraw Bayfield, Rodber and Hunter from the last game of the season, in preparation for the 1995 Rugby World Cup, surely didn't help their cause.

Whilst on a rampaging season in the 2nd Division, claiming their second 2nd division crown along the way, the game went pro and Keith Barwell opened his cheque book buying the club from the members for £1m.  Barwell had been a long standing corporate sponsor and fan, though he admits it would have been a better story had he stood on the terraces as a lad.  

Barwell revolutionised rugby alongside our own men such as Peters Wheeler & Tom as he fought the "Ruperts and Nigels" at Twickenham for the right for the club game to run itself and as an important thing in its own right.  People these days often blithely state that rugby was inherently popular in places like Northampton and Leicester and that Sale or Leeds face a much tougher challenge.  Bollocks to that.  Barwell built Northampton and if it wasn't for him then Northampton could easily be playing in front of 800 under a tin roof in National League 1 like Coventry are now.  There was no magic formula that made Saints great and made Cov get left behind; it was hard work, belief and resiliance from Barwell and others.  These other clubs need to stop moaning and get on with building a sustainable club like he did in the '90s and Tony Rowe at Exeter is trying to do now.

Rant over, and onwards with our tour through Northampton's history.  Ian McGeechan is well remembered in Northampton though it was John Steele who actually guided them to the Heineken Cup, their first major trophy, in 2000.  Wayne Smith came and went bringing a swashbuckling style but also a large contingent of New Zealanders to the club.  As in 1988 Saints results were getting worse and their was rumours of an internal split within the club, this time between the New Zealand players, the English players and the new South African coaching team led by Alan Solomans.  Solomans was sacked with Saints bottom of the league and Paul Grayson and Budge Poutney were left to go down with his ship.

And now we come to the end of our history with the present.  The academy was re-prioritised and young England A coaches Jim Mallinder and ex-Tigers hooker Dorian West were appointed with a mandate to play the youngsters and re-build the club.  The side that they built to win their record third 2nd Division title is still the core of their current incarnation with Dylan Hartley, Tongahu'ia and Lawes to the fore.  

Saints are really the model modern professional club with corporate money underpinning community spirit.  A long cry from their church inspired beginnings but still a home for naughty boys with excess energy and aggression.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Niki Named for Nations Cup

Tigers Flying Fijian winger Vereniki Goneva has today been named in Fiji's extended squad for this year's Pacific Nations Cup.  This year sees Canada and the United States of America join the Fiji, Tonga and Japan as Samoa take a sabbatical to tackle a mini-tournament with South Africa, Scotland and Italy.

Also selected are London Irish prop Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Glasgow scum half Nikola Matawalu, Montpellier winger Timoci Nagusa and Gloucester's Akapusi Qera.  

Fiji's crazy schedule sees them play Japan in Lautoka on Saturday June 1st before taking on Canada in Ottawa only 4 days later on Wednesday June 5th.

Fiji squad
Adriu Delai, Iliesa Ratuva, Jolame Bera, Setefano Somoca, Leone Tabuarua, Tuapati Taleimaitoga, Watisoni Votu, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Iliesa Salusalu, Aporosa Kenatale, Wame Lewarave, George Campese Ma'afu, Kini Murimurivalu, Apisai Naikatini, Rupeni Nasiga, Aisea Natoga, Akapusi Qera, Nemia Kenatale, Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, Malakai Ravulo, Manasa Saulo, Save Tabakanalagi, Netani Talei, Viliame Veikoso, Sionasa Vunisa, Samuel Matavesi, Vereniki Goneva, Setareki Koroilagilagi, Jiuta Lutumailagi, Nikola Matawalu, Timoci Nagusa, Waisea Daveta, Nemani Nadolo, Seremaia Naureure and Saula Radidi.

IRB Pacific Nations Cup 2013 fixtures:
Saturday, May 25
Japan v Tonga
Canada v USA

Saturday, June 1
Fiji v Japan

Wednesday, June 5
Fiji v Canada (in Canada)

Saturday, June 8
Canada v Tonga

Saturday, June 15
USA v Tonga

Wednesday, June 19
Japan v Canada (in Japan)
Fiji v USA (in Japan)

Sunday, June 23
Japan v USA (in Japan)
Tonga v Fiji (in Japan)

Premiership Final Preview: The Referee

Saturday's Final will be refereed by Wayne Barnes.  Barnes is a 34 year old barrister specialising in Bribery & Corruption, that's the day job not a dig at his questionable decisions in past matches, for Fulcrum Chambers.  

Born in Lydney, Gloucestershire Barnes was educated at the town's Whitecross comprehensive until moving to Monmouth School in Wales for his A levels.  Lydney is roughly halfway between Gloucester and Chepstowe, north of the Bristol channel.  He started refereeing aged 15 for the Gloucester society and transferred to the London Society whilst at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. 

At the age of 21 Barnes was the youngest referee appointed to the national panel in 2001.  Much like with players once the RFU have decided you are the bright young thing you are fast tracked and consistently preferred to others seemingly just as capable.  Barnes is a decent enough referee but I have no idea how he has managed to be consistently appointed to internationals and finals (this his 5th Premiership final in 6 years) ahead of other capable officials such as Tim Wigglesworth or David Rose or Saturday's touch judges JP Doyle and Greg Garner.  

Football only allows a referee to control one FA Cup final to both spread the honour around and stop teams consistently rubbing up against the same official, more of that later.  A similar rule in Rugby would force the RFU and PRL to develop a bigger pool of skilled referees as they would not want a poor referee to scar their big occasion.  The downside of this is of course you risk Sean Davey being appointed.  Perhaps that is too big a risk.

Barnes has refereed Tigers 32 times since taking charge of the Premiership encounter with Leeds on September 11th 2004.  Tigers have won 20 and lost 12 of those games with Barnes showing Tigers 19 yellow cards and 2 reds.  That Win% of 62.5% is below the long term average in all games of 68.5%.  

In finals since 2000 Tigers have won 9 and lost 8, Barnes taking charge of one win and 3 defeats.  With such small numbers the stats are quite stark: without him we win 62% of our finals, with him we win 25%.  

Hopefully this year's final won't be scarred by the controversy of the previous two where Barnes's thirst for the limelight has seen him showing yellow cards to Ben Youngs and Thomas Waldrom for debatable decisions.  Youngs was on the try line so there was some justification but he showed no sympathy to the player as where exactly was he supposed to roll to?  Waldrom's was a disgrace.  It was a marginal call on whether a ball was in or out of a ruck just on the half way line.  This was no cynical ploy to kill the ball, just a gamble that the ball was out.  A penalty?  Fine that is the ref's call even if I dispute it, but a yellow card?  There?  For that?  No, that is being as controversial as possible for no good reason.

Barnes also yellow carded Jordan Crane in the winning Premiership final of 2009; this was for persistent infringement around the try line just before half time.  Crane returned to score the winning try so that decision is given less scrutiny than the others but Tigers beware; Barnes wants to put his stamp on the match and will throw the yellow cards around like confetti to do so.

Barnes has refereed an East Midlands derby 4 times with Tigers winning the last 3 to Saints initial victory.   Two of the matches erupted in violence, the first was the Play Off Semi Final of 2 seasons ago when Chris Ashton's off the ball kick to the back of Manu Tuilagi's head sparked a flurry of punches that earned both players a yellow card, with Manu receiving a ban for the final as an extra punishment; the second was 7 months later as Barnes took charge of another fractious encounter at Welford Road.  This time Ashton sparked the brawl by tacking Alesana Tuilagi into touch by his hair, earning a 4 week ban for himself, Barnes then sending off the blameless Alesana for the crime of being a Tuilagi and in the vicinity of a Tigers shirt alongside Tom Wood for piling into the fight and apparently escalating it.  Lawes and Murphy were lucky to get off for similar offenses. 

Barnes has refereed Northampton 15 times and they have only won 4 of those encounters, and we complain about our record with him! 

The problem with Barnes as a referee is that after his "performance" in the game away to Quins this year Tigers will have no trust in him at the ruck and may be wary of crossing him, second guessing ourselves into paralysis.  This combined with the lottery he operates at scrum time means he is difficult to prepare for as he can suddenly decide to enforce anything he feels like and he has little to no feel for the game.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Premiership Final Preview: The Full Record

Next Saturday's Premiership final against Northampton will be Tigers 30th final in all competitions since their inaugural John Player Cup final, a 6-3 defeat to Gloucester in 1978.  30 finals in 35 years is an incredible record that everyone associated with the club should take great pride in.  You often here the London based media snottily disregard what a great achievement it is to get to so many finals, often battling through without our best players available, instead focusing on our alleged poor record at those finals.  Tigers have won 15 of their finals.  If we actually had managed to win all those titles these "experts" would surely just find something else to whinge about and would probably be campaigning to have us banned to give the other teams a chance.  

This will be our 24th visit to the RFU's headquarters for a final, winning slightly under half visits with 11 wins and 12 losses so far.  We've played Premiership Finals, Knock Out Cup Finals, Anglo-Welsh Finals, an Heineken Cup Final, a "Championship Final" and a Wildcard Final at Twickenham rather guttingly it seems the only competition we will fail to win at the Cabbage Patch will be the greatest of them all, unless the Heineken Cup gets an 11th hour reprieve.

36 players have scored 52 tries for the Tigers in those various finals with club legends Neil Back and Leon Lloyd jointly holding the individual record for 4 tries.  It is fitting that the two scorers from the Paris final hold that record.  Not that I'd be complaining at a Ben Youngs hat trick come the 25th!

Tigers remarkable recent consistency in reaching finals is reflected by Andy Goode being head and shoulders above his nearest rival as Top Points scorer.  Goode slotted 80 points (1 try, 1 drop goal, 9 conversions, 18 penalties) in 10 games compared to Dusty Hare's 49 in 5 (1 try (worth 4 points then), 2 drop goals, 11 penalties, 3 conversions).  Toby Flood has scored 36 points (10 penalties, 3 conversions) in 2 games and needs another 7 to overtake Tim Stimpson in third place, Flood has missed 4 finals in his short time at the club already otherwise he would be pushing Goode for the top place on current form.

George Ford's lack of first team action is amply demonstrated by only be 4th on the all time scoring list ahead of such no names as Les Cusworth, John Liley and Joel Stransky, at the ripe old age of 19 he clearly can't let himself rot playing finals at Tigers all his life so needs to move on.
Top Ten Points and Try Scorers in Finals

Tigers Finals Record
Opponent Result Tigers Scorers Competition Date Venue
Harlequins  L 23-30 T: Allen, Mafi; C: 2 Ford; P: 3 Ford Premiership 26/05/2012  Twickenham
Northampton  W 26-14 T: Mafi, Hamilton;          C: 2 Ford; P: 4 Ford Anglo-Welsh 18/03/2012  Worcester
Saracens  L 18-22 P: 6 Flood Premiership 28/05/2011  Twickenham
Saracens  W 33-27 T: M.Smith, B.Youngs, Hipkiss; C: 3 Flood; 
P: 4 Flood 
Premiership 29/05/2010  Twickenham
Leinster  L 16-19 T: Woods; C: Dupuy; 
P: 3 Dupuy
European 23/05/2009  Murrayfield
London Irish  W 10-9 T: Crane; C: Dupuy;
P: Dupuy
Premiership 16/05/2009  Twickenham
Wasps  L 16-26 T: Varndell, Ellis; 
P: 2 Goode
Premiership 31/05/2008  Twickenham
Ospreys  L 6-23 P: Goode; DG: Goode Anglo-Welsh 12/04/2008  Twickenham
Wasps  L 25-9 P: 3 Goode European 20/05/2007  Twickenham
Gloucester  W 44-16 T: 2 A.Tuilagi, F. Murphy, Moody, Jennings, Corry, Goode; C: 3 Goode;
 P: Goode
Premiership 12/05/2007  Twickenham
Ospreys  W 41-35 T: 2 Varndell, A.Tuilagi, Kay, Croft; C: 4 Burke, Goode; P: 2 Goode Anglo-Welsh 15/04/2007  Twickenham
Sale  L 20-45 T: Moody, Hamilton; C: 2 Goode; P: 2 Goode Premiership 27/05/2006  Twickenham
Wasps  L 14-39 T: Bemand; P: 3 Goode Premiership 14/05/2005  Twickenham
Sale  W 48-27 T: 2 Lloyd, 2 Back, Gibson, Healey; 
C: 3 Goode; P: 4 Goode
Wild Card 29/05/2004  Twickenham
Saracens  W 27-20 T: West, Back; C: Stimpson; P: 4 Stimpson; DG: McMullen Wild Card 31/05/2003  Northampton
Munster  W 15-9 T: Healey, G.Murphy; C: Stimpson; P: Stimpson European 25/05/2002  Cardiff
Stade Francais  W 34-30 T: 2 Lloyd, Back; C: Stimpson; P: 5 Stimpson European 19/05/2002  Parc des Princes
Bath  W 22-10 T: Johnson, Healey, Stanley; C: 2 Stimpson; 
P: Stimpson
Premiership 13/05/2001  Twickenham
Sale  W 9-6 P: 3 Stransky Cup 10/05/1997  Twickenham
Brive  L 9-28 P: 3 Liley European 25/01/1997  Cardiff
Bath  L 15-16 T: Malone, Poole; C: Liley; P: Liley  Cup 04/05/1996  Twickenham
Bath  L 9-21 P: 3 Harris Cup 07/05/1994  Twickenham
Harlequins  W 23-16 T: Potter, M. Johnson; C: 2 Liley; P: 2 Liley; 
DG: Harris
Cup 01/05/1993  Twickenham
Bath  L 6-10 P: 2 Hare Cup 29/04/1989  Twickenham
Bristol  L 22-28 T: Evans, I.Smith; C: Cusworth; P: 4 Cusworth Cup 30/04/1983  Twickenham
Gosforth  W 22-15 T: Barnwell, Kenney, Hare; C: 2 Hare;
P: 2 Hare
Cup 02/05/1981  Twickenham
London Irish  W 21-9 P: 4 Hare; DG: Hare, 2 Cusworth Cup 19/04/1980  Twickenham
Moseley  W 15-12 T: Kenney; C: Hare; P: 2 Hare; DG: Hare Cup 21/04/1979  Twickenham
Gloucester  L 3-6 P: Hare Cup 15/04/1978  Twickenham

This will be Saints 11th final in all competitions and the 7th time they go to Twickenham.  In 4 Knock Out Cup finals at Twickenham they returned potless each time, losing their debut final in a thrilling match with Quins which required extra time before finishing in the Londoner's favour.  Defeats against Wasps, London Irish and Gloucester were to follow.  Squeezed between these final defeats was Saints' greatest day; the 9-8 Heineken Cup Final victory over Munster in May 2000.

Under Jim Mallinder they boast a record of 3 finals  victories to 2 defeats making him Northampton's most decorated coach; winning the EDF Trophy whilst in National League Divison 1 (now the Championship)in 2008, the Amlin Challenge Cup against Bourgoin in 2009 and completing three trophies in three years after sealing their first top tier domestic trophy with the LV Cup win against Gloucester at Sixways.

Heartbreak was to follow though as Leinster over turned a massive 16 point deficit at half time to win by 11 points in Cardiff, holding the Saints scoreless in the process, and denying Northampton a second European crown.  Northampton's most recent final was last season's LV Cup final against our good selves in Worcester.  And we all know how that turned out.  

Saints Finals Record
Opponent Result Comp Date Venue
Leicester L 14-26 Anglo-Welsh 18/03/2012 Worcester
Leinster L 22-33 European 21/05/2011 Cardiff
Gloucester W 30-24 Anglo-Welsh 21/03/2010 Worcester
Bourgoin W 15-3 Euro Challenge 22/05/2009 Stoop
Exeter W 24-13 Trophy 12/04/2008 Twickenham
Gloucester L 22-40 Cup 05/04/2003 Twickenham
London Irish L 7-38 Cup 20/04/2002 Twickenham
Munster W 9-8 European 27/05/2000 Twickenham
Wasps L 23-31 Cup 13/05/2000 Twickenham
Harlequins L 13-25 A.E.T. Cup 04/05/1991 Twickenham