Monday, 31 March 2014

Perfect 10

A try from Anthony Allen and 17 points from the boot of Owen Williams secured Leicester the victory over Northampton in the 230th meeting between the sides.  The win made Tigers undefeated in 10 games against their southerly neighbours, tying the record set between 1983 and 1990.
Northampton has a mental block about playing Leicester.  In the whole of 2013 they only failed to win 5 domestic games and 3 of them were Leicester.  They haven’t beaten us since September 2010 and even with a 2 man advantage at the end let it slip through their grasp.  Northampton’s kickers missed 10 points whilst Owen Williams was a perfect 6/6. 

The first half was when Tigers gouged their advantage.  Dominating not so much possession as territory it meant that when the Saints erred it was within Williams’ scope to eek the lead out further.  The second half was scrappy with Saints unable to harness their passion and drive.

Tigers were fast out of the blocks.  The first half hour was a pitched battle of bloody intensity as Tigers’ forward carriers battered at the Northampton gates.  Hooley opened the scoring after Goneva failed to roll away.

Tigers were hammering away at the Northampton line.  The temperature was rising.  Tom Wood’s deliberate knock on was deemed only accidental by referee Wayne Barnes and Tigers had a 5m scrum. 

And what a scrum.  The packs were fired up, straining at the leash like murderous dogs waiting for the call of “set”.  The first one is reset.  The second one stands up.  Then Northampton pile through.  As the bodies come up Tom Youngs’ face is covered in blood.  He’s seething.  He says his been bitten.

No evidence is forthcoming and they go again.  Straining every muscle and every sinew it’s a dead heat.

Tigers play.  It goes left three phases then back right through Tuilagi and Crane.  Ed Slater runs a powerful line from Ben Youngs’ shoulder, ripping through three tacklers to within an inch of the line.  Northampton sense the danger; Phil Dowson attempts to kill the ball.  He can’t.  There’s an overlap.  George North is tempted out of the line by Ben Youngs’ magnificent 25 yard floated pass and Anthony Allen is over unmolested in the corner.

Owen Williams starts his perfect day with his most challenging kick, from the right hand touchline he starts it wide right and draws it just inside the right-hand upright.

Burrell is caught holding on in his own half then Kahn Fotuali’i fails to release the man in tackle, Williams slots the 40m penalty each time to stretch the lead to 13-3.

Northampton lost captain Hartley and prop Ma’afu before halftime, Hartley injuring his shoulder attempting to ruck Jamie Gibson.

At the same time as Hartley was leaving the field Hooley spooned a penalty kick wide right.

Northampton denuded of their captain came back into the match strongly.  Ben Youngs failed to deal with a chip through and Louis Deacon did magnificently to track back and hold Calum Clark just short.  When the ball went wide Dowson looked like he had the easiest of run ins, only to falter, that mental block again, and check his run inside.

The pressure was not relieved though; Northampton had a 5m line out.  2 minutes left before halftime and with the drive being repelled Kahn Fotuali’i took the ball and ran.  Using referee Barnes as a shield he escaped Owen Williams and ran through Anthony Allen for the score.

The second half was a cagier, scrappy affair.  The first 20 minutes of the second quarter especially.  Tigers often gained good territory but through mistakes and Northampton’s excellent defence always came up empty.  Kicks were to the fore as both teams only wanted the ball in the opposition half.

Hooley had a kick at goal following a high tackle, but again he pushed it wide.  Williams in contrast slotted his attempt from a similar spot following a scrum penalty.

With Hooley hooked James Wilson was tried at fly half.  He had no troubles slotting a penalty, after Marcos Ayerza made no effort to release a tackled man, to get within a try of the lead with 20 minutes remaining.

And Northampton went for it.  Perhaps too much.  With confidence flowing through their veins and memories of a vivid counter attack to score in last year’s final they played from their own 22.  And for a while it looked like working.  Stretching the Tigers defence.

But they counted not for Ed Slater.  The Milton Keynes Mammoth had other ideas.  Tackling George Pisi he slammed him to the floor, rising and releasing his man like a swimmer gasping for air he dove again to go for the ball.  Pisi hung on.  Barnes blew his whistle.  Williams slotted his kick plum centre.

Panic suddenly set in.  From the kick off there was no one home to claim Ben Youngs’ box kick; Dowson eventually capturing it on the rebound before the Saints were driven back into touch in their own half.  Nervous and itching to get in a good hit their entire backline was caught offside at the lineout.

Williams again.  Lead stretched to 11 points.  2 tries were not longer enough; the Saints would have to find their kicking boots too.

Tigers made their subs with 10 minutes left.  Trying to save fuel for the decisive trip to Clermont this weekend.  Northampton’s own sub Lee Dickson raised the pace to run the Tigers defence ragged.

But still they could not crack the defence.  It took two yellow cards gifted from Wayne Barnes before they could break down the epic defence. 

The first was for Ben Youngs.  Youngs kicks through, Tigers muff the catch and North breaks.  To my eye he gets back to his feet and competes fairly for the ball, arguably winning a penalty for holding on.  But Barnes saw no release of the man and also saw fit to put Youngs in the bin.

Buoyed by the man advantage the Saints played wide.  Tigers thought they had the choke tackle and piled men into the maul, but Dickson showed ferocity to dig the ball out.  With 7 Tigers men in the tackle plus the man in the bin Tigers were severely underhanded and the Saints scented blood.

Fotuali’i, now at fly half, throws the miss pass to Samoan test winger Ken Pisi, 10 yards out and the line at his mercy.  Surely he’s in at the corner?  Surely?  But no!  Adam Thompstone is flying in like a man possessed to knock him off balance and Scott Hamilton sweeping round a full 30 meters from behind the ruck is there to bundle him into touch a matter of millimetres from the line.

Just 2 minutes after the first card and Barnes is reaching for another.  Goneva, the mild mannered Fijian, is fingered this time for, of all things, a dangerous tackle. 

Goneva attempts to dislodge the ball with a swinging arm, and gets a good piece of the ball.  A lesser player than George North would have fumbled it.  But he holds on.  With that penalty given Dickson taps it quickly and goes again.  Goneva leaves him go the ten meters then seeing the pass already gone dives over him.

As Fotuali’i's cross kick comes to nothing Goneva is binned.  Madness.  And the Saints fans have the audacity to claim Barnes favours Leicester.

With the two man advantage the try was inevitable.  Tigers simply could not cover all the bases.  They manfully dealt with the driving maul but as play went centrally then back towards the touchline Tigers were a man short and Ethan Waller dove in for the score.

Crucially Wilson missed the conversion and Saints still needed the full fat 7 points for victory.

Tigers will be disappointed they let Saints get as close as they did.  Locked into the Saints half and with the ball Tigers should have seen it out.  But with 30 seconds of the game remaining and for the first time all match Barnes decided that Kitchener had gone off his feet to win a ruck.

I do not for one minute contest that Kitchener was off his feet.  He clearly was.  But so was every player for at least half the rucks all match.  Rugby is a hard game for players at the best of times, there is no need for refereeing inconsistencies to make it harder.

So less than 30 seconds left and the Saints had the ball on the 22.  They needed a try and a conversion to secure victory.  Off the top they run a wrap around off the inside centre, Burrell fumbles the ball, backwards according to Barnes, North sweeping behind gathers and chips in one motion.  Pisi is at full pelt whilst Manu and Hamilton have to turn.  The after burners come on for Tuilagi.  He storms past Hamilton to take the ball in front of Pisi.

The ball slips out of his grasp into touch.  10 seconds left.  The Saints are too slow to form the lineout and to the relief of the Tigers full time is called.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Team Named for Derby Day

It’s finally time.  Derby day is here.  Tigers make one change from the side that thrashed Exeter as Mat Tait takes over from Scott Hamilton.  Last time out Northampton struggled to defeat away to Sale and have made 3 changes; Kahn Fotuali’i comes in at scrum half, George Pisi starts at outside centre and Phil Dowson starts at openside.

Tigers go into this match in terrific form winning 5 on the bounce and scoring 13 tries in their last 3 games.  Meanwhile Northampton has lost their last two away to Exeter then Sale; before that though they were on a 13 game unbeaten run.  We all know the cliché of the form book going out the window in derbies; but Tigers have been on a great run against Saints going undefeated in the last 9 meetings.

Tigers’ man of the moment is Vereniki Goneva with 6 tries in his last 5 starts, how Northampton cope with Goneva will be crucial.  In the 9 game unbeaten run Tigers have managed to score 25 or more points in 6 matches; the Saints meanwhile have only reached that score once and lost that game.  The last two meetings at Franklin’s Gardens have ended with Bonus Point wins for the visitors.

With a cloth ear to controversy the RFU in their infinite wisdom have appointed Wayne Barnes as referee.  The same Barnes who sent off Dylan Hartley in the Premiership final after he accused Barnes of being a “fucking cheat”, the same Barnes who sent off Alesana Tuilagi and Chris Ashton three years ago, the same Barnes who sin binned Manu Tuilagi and Ashton in the Premiership semi final of 2011.  Given the Northampton crowd’s obsession with Barnes he will be under immense pressure to “right the wrongs” they perceive him to have done to them in the past.

Equally Cockerill will be looking for Barnes to clamp down on Northampton’s history of late tackles on our key playmakers; he is in an unenviable position of scrutiny.  The RFU must make these appointments deliberately as Barnes has now refereed 5 of the last 8 meetings between the sides.  Given they let people referee their own local clubs they probably don’t even think about this sort of pressure on a referee.

Both teams are missing their USA internationals as the Eagles welcome Uruguay to Atlanta in a World Cup qualifier.  Last week Samu Manoa scored a breakaway try as the USA struggled to a disappointing draw in Montevideo.  Any side would miss a player like Manoa but it is another absentee that is likely to be felt more strongly.

Northampton’s two game losing streak has coincided with the injury to fly half Stephen Myler.  The Widnes born controller has been in magnificent form, both in open play and as a goal kicker.  The Saints can be accused of a lack of depth in position as the only cover is youngster Will Hooley, originally from Cambridge. 

Tigers number 8 Jordan Crane makes his hundredth league start for Leicester.  Crane has been in brilliant form the last two matches as he is getting back towards his best.  His strong central carrying has been key to Tigers getting onto the front foot and drawing in the defenders, giving the wide men like Goneva and Tuilagi more room to roam.

The history books and the form guide suggest Tigers should be favourites but Northampton will never be more motivated to turn over their greatest rivals than this week.  With 8 wins and draw in the last 9 fixtures it is surely their time to gain the bragging rights.

15 Mat Tait
14 Vereniki Goneva
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Anthony Allen
11 Adam Thompstone
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 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 Rob Hawkins
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Graham Kitchener
20 Pablo Matera
21 David Mele
22 Toby Flood
23 Scott Hamilton

15 Ben Foden
14 Jamie Elliott
13 George Pisi
12 Luther Burrell
11 George North
10 Will Hooley
9 Kahn Fotuali'i
1 Alex Waller
2 Dylan Hartley (c)
3 Salesi Ma'afu
4 Courtney Lawes
5 Christian Day
6 Calum Clark
7 Phil Dowson
8 Tom Wood 
16 Mike Haywood
17 Ethan Waller
18 Tom Mercey
19 James Craig
20 GJ Van Velze
21 Lee Dickson
22 James Wilson
23 Ken Pisi

Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Roger Bailiff and Gordon Goodliffe
TV: BT Sport 1HD, Saturday 3:15 KO.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Island Power Tigers to Victory

Tigers secured a second consecutive bonus point victory defeating Exeter 45-15 at Welford Road.  Tigers crossed the whitewash 6 times showing terrific power, pace and execution.  Vereniki Goneva was to the fore again, and afterwards Richard Cockerill hinted that his move away this summer might not be a lost caused just yet.  
To go with that potential fillip the fans received a huge boost as Tom Croft played a full part in the game’s warm up.  It had been said he would act as water boy in this match but to take contact in the warm up is a huge boost.  Clermont may be too soon but the Premiership play offs surely beckon.

Tigers were in fine form without Croft though as Manu Tuilagi and Anthony Allen re-united what is Tigers most selected centre partnership in League history; the pair last lined up together in May’s Twickenham Final. 

Tigers played into the wind in the opening period and used the conditions to great effect.  The wind held up Ben Youngs’s box kicks and Owen Williams’s garryowens allowing Tigers chase to put the Exeter catchers under great pressure.  Tigers’ forwards played well, breaking tackles in attack and driving them back in defence; Ed Slater really sets the tone with this side; his raw energy and passion drives the side forward.

Exeter opened the scoring with a penalty after Tigers had made the early play.  Referee Dean Richards had an odd, old fashioned, interpretation of the maul that took Tigers some time to understand.

It was Tuilagi though who crossed the whitewash first as Tigers gained the lead they would never relinquish.  Jamie Gibson blocked Exeter’s attempted clearance to gain the turnover in the attacking half; Ben Youngs quickly freed Tuilagi who brushed off Jack Nowell’s attempts at a tackle.  Turning it back inside Tuilagi secured possession before Tigers went right though Crane.  Ben Youngs was quick to the breakdown and found Allen running tight to ruck; he drew in two Exeter defenders before off loading to Goneva.  The Flying Fijian committed the last man to give Tuilagi the easiest of run ins for his first try of the season.

Owen Williams’s conversion was good but the touch judges bafflingly missed it.

Tigers were straight back onto the attack with Hamilton and Tuilagi making impressions up the right hand side.  Tigers were attempting to get outside Exeter’s rush defence with mixed results when Williams found Goneva running a deep outside arc.

The Fijian magician was through the hole and, carrying the ball in one hand, committed three men before bringing a bullocking Mulipola back on a switch towards the posts.

Jack Nowell had no chance to stop the 20 stone of prime Samoan beef as he strode through the Cornishman’s tackle to score under the posts.

Williams had no problem with the conversion, and this time the touch judges agreed.

A deliberate knock on, no yellow this week, gave Williams a chance for the penalty.  The Welshman missed by the slimmest of margins as the ball drifted to strike the left hand upright.  It mattered not though as Tigers claimed the bouncing ball and earned Williams a quick chance at redemption.  Second time around he was perfect.

Exeter responded well; though Ben White was lucky to gain the penalty for Crane holding on the floor rather than give one away for failing to release a tackled man.  From that decision Exeter scored from a driving maul.  Tigers looked to have stopped it twice, but Richards’s old fashioned interpretation gave Exeter another go that let hooker Jack Yeandle take advantage.

As with the first try Tigers struck back immediately.  Regaining the momentum is a crucial part of the game and always makes the game feel more comfortable. 

Jordan Crane made a powerful surge through the middle, offloading to Julian Salvi for the crucial extra yards.  With quick ball Ben Youngs showed to go right before turning back left.  Exeter's defence was at sixes and sevens, Goneva came onto the ball at pace.  Slaloming through the would be tacklers he beat 4 men to go under the posts after receiving the ball 30 yards out.

The new big screen showed the moves and the crowd was wowed by the Fijian’s footwork.

Its next use saw Exeter Captain Dean Mumm get a yellow card; his high tackle on Owen Williams received the expected outrage from the Tigers faithful.  Whilst Mumm was missing Tigers piled on the pressure.  With another advantage Vereniki Goneva scored again as he powered through Exeter’s defence from Ben Youngs’s pop pass.  But referee Richards was not happy.  Eskewing the TMO he ruled it out for a tight forward pass.

Williams slotted the penalty for a half time score of 25-10.

Some good old fashioned scrum power saw Williams get another chance early in the second half; Tigers were patient when looking for the bonus point and the Welshman put Tigers 18 points clear.

The bonus point was secured just 6 minutes later.  Owen Williams cleared a penalty from one 22 to the other to set up the line out.  Jordan Crane claimed cleanly at the tail before Anthony Allen was freed into the midfield straight away. 

Quick ball and Owen Williams had it again, Tuilagi used as a dummy to draw the men in, allowing Scott Hamilton to roam in the open spaces.  Hamilton feeds Thompstone straightening for the final flourish.  Bonus Point secured the intensity drops as Tigers use 7 of their 8 subs in the next 10 minutes.

Ed Slater forced a 5m lineout with a charge down of Henry Slade’s desperate clearance.  Good pressure from Tigers in the lineout forced the knock on and Tigers scrum.  A big push on the loosehead side from the freshly introduced Boris Stankovich gave David Mele the short side and the Frenchman gladly took the ball with the line begging.

Ten minutes later and it was Mele snipping again for the try.  A quick tap from Mele saw Waldrom just short but with quick possession the Catalan half back could weave his way through the defence for the try, with only a hint of a fumble on the grounding.

Mele’s third try of the season eclipses his total in 130 games over 7 seasons of rugby with Perpignan.

A third try bonus point win of the Premiership season in the only three games that Manu Tuilagi has started are a testament to the man’s influence on our play.  Away trips to Northampton and Clermont are next to come.  If Tigers can play like this in those two fixtures then who knows what this season, so blighted by injuries, might still yield?

Saturday, 22 March 2014

3 Changed for Cheifs

Injury and unavailability forces Richard Cockerill into two changes from the side that beat Newcastle three weeks ago.  Inside centre Dan Bowden, in New Zealand for his Sister’s wedding, has had to have an appendectomy after complaining of stomach ache.  On the wing Blaine Scully is absent representing his country in a crucial World Cup Qualifier in Montevideo.

Experienced centre Anthony Allen replaces Bowden to reprise his successful centre partnership with Manu Tuilagi.  Adam Thompstone, who scored a hat trick of tries on debut in this fixture last year, comes in for US Eagle Scully on the wing.

The other backs are unchanged; Owen Williams is preferred to previous captain Toby Flood as partner for Ben Youngs in the half backs; Mat Tait and superstar winger Vereniki Goneva retain their places in the back three.  

The official web site's preview is claiming this is Ben Youngs's 100th start but my stats show only 98 so far.  The club's own stats on the web site agree with my own.  If anyone has any ideas where the phantom game is then please leave a comment below.

One change in the forwards is made as Pablo Matera is replaced by Julian Salvi at openside.  Matera showed great awareness and strength to poach the bonus point try against Newcastle and is extremely unlucky to miss out on the matchday squad altogether.

Jordan Crane and Jamie Gibson round out the back row whilst the tight five is unchanged.  Ed Slater continues as captain beside Louis Deacon in the second row; Marcos Ayerza, Tom Youngs and Logo Mulipola make an all international front row.

Graham Kitchener returns to fitness and is named on the bench.  Kitchener has played only once since injuring his ankle against Ulster in January.  Boris Stankovich maintains his ever present season, again named on the bench alongside Fraser Balmain, Rob Hawkins, Thomas Waldrom, David Mele, Toby Flood and Scott Hamilton.

With 7 tries in the last 2 games Tigers have been feeling their way back into top form.  They will need to find their best against Exeter.  Last weekend the Chiefs became the 16th different club to win the Cup after their 15-8 win against Northampton.  The game was played at top intensity and Exeter will be on the crest of a wave at the moment.

Exeter plays a pressure game at a fast tempo to try and unsettle opposition.  Tigers should counter this with more pressure and be able to beat them at their own game.  With heavy duty carries in Manu, Logo and Tom Youngs we should be able to break their tackles and get onto the front foot. 

Henry Slade showed remarkable coolness to steer Exeter to their Cup Final triumph but struggled with his goal kicking at times.  His personal dual with Owen Williams will go a long way to determining who comes out on top this Sunday.

For the second home game in a row the referee is Dean Richards.  

15 Mat Tait
14 Vereniki Goneva
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Anthony Allen
11 Adam Thompstone
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 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 Rob Hawkins
17 Boris Stankovich
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Graham Kitchener
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mele
22 Toby Flood
23 Scott Hamilton

15 Luke Arscott
14 Jack Nowell
13 Ian Whitten
12 Phil Dollman
11 Fetu'u Vainikolo
10 Henry Slade
9 Dave Lewis
1 Ben Moon
2 Jack Yeandle
3 Hoani Tui
4 Dean Mumm (c)
5 Damian Welch
6 Dave Ewers
7 Ben White
8 Kai Horstmann

16 Luke Cowan-Dickie
17 Carl Rimmer
18 Alex Brown
19 Don Armand
20 Tom Johnson
21 Haydn Thomas
22 Gareth Steenson
23 Matt Jess

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Scully takes Flight and Tigers set to face Russian Test?

Scully set to miss run up to Quarter Final

Tigers are set to miss Blaine Scully for the final two weeks build up to the monumental trip to Clermont in the Heineken Cup Quarter Final.  Winger-cum-full back Scully has been named as part of Mike Tolkin’s US Eagles squad that takes on Uruguay in a two legged Rugby World Cup qualifier.
The first leg is set for this Saturday in Montevideo with the return fixture at Kenneshaw State University in Atlanta a week later.  That rules Scully out of the Exeter game this Sunday as well as the visit to Northampton.  The Saints will be missing Samu Manoa who is amongst 11 players from the top three divisions of English rugby selected.

Scully’s absence deals the Californian wingers chances of playing in Clermont a body blow.  Cemented in the First XV at present his national service will give Adam Thompstone or a fit again Miles Benjamin a chance to press their claims.  You cannot begrudge a man an international cap but the creep of the international rugby continues unabated.

USA Squad:
Forwards: Todd Clever (NTT Shining Arcs), Tom Coolican (Richmond), Cam Dolan (Northampton), Eric Fry (London Scottish), Olive Kilifi (Seattle-OPSB), Titi Lamositele (Saracens), Scott LaValla (Stade Francais), Samu Manoa (Northampton), Hayden Smith (Saracens), Lou Stanfill (Seattle-OPSB), Kyle Sumsion (BYU), Phil Thiel (Life), Tai Tuisamoa (OMBAC), Nick Wallace (James Bay)

Backs: Miles Craigwell (Seattle-OPSB), Luke Hume (Narbonne), Seamus Kelly (Cal), Toby L'Estrange (London Welsh), Tim Maupin (Olympic Club), Folau Niua (Glasgow), Mike Petri (NYAC), Blaine Scully (Leicester), Robbie Shaw (London Scottish), Andrew Suniula (London Wasps), Shalom Suniula (Seattle-OPSB), Chris Wyles (Saracens)


Tigers to play Russian Champions?

Brown’s Sport & Leisure Club in Vilamoura, Portugal, have been advertising that they will be hosting a match between Russian Champions Krasny Yar and English Champions Leicester Tigers on Friday April 11th.  

Link Here 

And another here 

And Facebook Here 

As part of the “Algarve Rugby Festival” Krasny Yar will also be playing the British Army the week before.  Last season London Irish faced the Army in the 2013 edition of the “Algarve Rugby Festival” so this is not perhaps the wild fantasy it appears to be.

Tigers have not confirmed the fixture or the level of team being sent.  It is unclear whether the invasion of Crimea by Russian forces will affect this event.

Krasny Yar features a professional squad with the most recognisable names to western fans being ex-Northampton wing Vasily Artemyev and ex-Wasps flanker Victor Gresev.  They topped the regular season table in Russia before beating cross town rivals Enisey-STM in a two legged final.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Bonus Point Blitz

Tigers roared back into the Premiership’s Top 4 with a stunning bonus point win away to Dean Richard’s Newcastle Falcons.  The 41-18 win was secured with a 3 try second half blitz that saw Tigers storm away from Newcastle who had closed the gap to 20-18.

Manu Tuilagi made only his second start of the Premiership season as Tigers recorded their first Premiership bonus point victory since September, also against Newcastle and notably the last game Manu started.

Lee Smith opened the scoring for the hosts with a monster 50 meter penalty only for Rob Vickers to block Marcos Ayerza on the kick off and let Tigers level up straight away.  Newcastle controlled the possession well during the opening stages and took advantage of some rusty Tuilagi defence for Noah Cato to step the centre and Ayerza for a try.

Owen Williams closed the gap to one point with two more successful penalty attempts.  Tigers were growing into the match; Jordan Crane’s pick and go through the middle made huge yards as did Marcos Ayerza who collected the off load.  But Ayerza was unable to find Ben Youngs with the try line begging.  Youngs was again at the centre of the action after his tap and go split the Newcastle defence.  His ambitious pass to Scully was under cooked and the Californian knocked on.

Maverick Fijian genius Vereniki Goneva unlocked the Newcastle defence late in the first half with a body swerve and forceful hand off followed by a gloriously delicate chip ahead; winning the foot race to ground the ball.

Goneva received the ball after a break from Ed Slater.  The captain ran an inside line to burst between two defenders and gain 20 yards.  Quick ball to Dan Bowden was shipped on to the Fijian for his magic finish.  Owen Williams was off target with his conversion making it 14-13.

A single point advantage at half time was quickly expanded to a 7 point lead after two Owen Williams penalties.  The first was after Scott Lawson failed to release the tackled man and second came straight from the kick off.  Newcastle’s kick off failed to go 10 meters and they conceded the penalty from the scrum.

Newcastle came back strongly though with good bursts from their forwards pivoting around Mike Blair.  Noah Cato looked dangerous again but Alex Tait couldn’t hold on to his pass under pressure from Ben Youngs.  

Bafflingly referee Greg Garner saw fit to sin bin Youngs for defending his own line.  Apparently because he tried to tip the ball up and catch it that is now illegal and considered more damaging to the game than late tackles that injure fly halfs out of Grand Finals.

The rule book actually states that players must not intentionally knock the ball forwards.  Nothing about number of hands.  Just intentionally forwards.  The fact we have a generation of referees that have never played the game is clear from instances like these.  

Why wouldn’t Ben Youngs be trying to catch that ball?  The referees seem to think they are being clever and that the players are cynical when most of them just see the ball and go for it. 

Then to see a deliberate knock down punished more strongly than dangerous play that injuries people out of action is not only wrong but offensive to all those that play the game.

Newcastle profited from Garner’s mistake as Scott Lawson burst round the side of a ruck to sprint in on the blindside corner.

The Tigers though were only made more determined by the Coventry raised referee’s anti-Tigers officiating after he ruled out a good try for a forward pass.  The ball was spun wide left and after Owen Williams’s pop pass Pablo Matera straightened his man, got his hand round the back and rolled the pass to Blaine Scully.  No debate about it the try was good.

In Ben Youngs’s absence Dan Bowden stepped into the scrum halfs shoes to great effect, keeping the tempo high and even setting up Goneva’s second try.  Straight from the incorrectly ruled out effort Tigers had an attacking maul.  The set up was superb as Tom Youngs handled the ball at the back.

Bowden broke round the side and popped the pass to Goneva wrapping around from the left wing.  Goneva did well to hold the pass and broke the arm tackles of Noah Cato and Mike Blair.  Relief was palpable as Tigers were clear again.

Goneva almost secured a hat trick 3 minutes later but couldn’t hold on to an interception attempt.  Thankfully Garner seemed to apply some logic to this chance and it was only a knock on.  With Tigers back to full strength it was Thomas Waldrom who next crossed the white wash.

Good ball retention in the Falcons 22 saw Tigers probe to the left and right.  Goneva set up a ruck from a classic switch and Waldrom ran a tight line back towards the ruck.  A ballet dancer’s side step saw him clear of the last man and under the posts.

Garner yellowed Manu Tuilagi for the imaginary “deliberate” knock on 3 minutes later, because obviously Manu wanted to knock it on on the half way line when had he held it a bonus point try would have been a walk in.

A man down Tigers were still pushing for a bonus point to put us level on points with Bath.  It looked like time was draining away after Ed Slater dropped Toby Flood’s close contact pass.  But as ever it was Tigers scrum that came to our rescue when Gary Strain couldn’t take the power of Fraser Balmain.

With 79 minutes now showing on the clock it was now or never.  Flood kicked to touch and Tigers set the line out.  Tigers drove the lineout before Tom Youngs and David Mele broke to the open side.  Pablo Matera following play decided to test the fringe defence of the Falcons and it was found wanting.  After an initial repulse the Argentinean tyro was not held so surged again to power forward for his 2nd try in Tigers colours.

With the bonus point secure there was only just time for Greg Garner to further embarrass himself with the sin binning of Toby Flood despite getting both hands to the ball on his interception attempt.  This was the first time Tigers have suffered 3 yellow cards in a single match since 17th March 2007 at home to Bath; that day we also secured a bonus point victory as Tom Varndell, Henry Tuilagi and Alex Tuilagi all saw yellow.

A fourth victory during the international window and Tigers shift into a share of 3rd place.  A home semi final is still a long way away but more results like this and we just might make it.