Friday, 26 September 2014

Irish side named as Injury curse stirkes again

Tigers' injury curse has struck again with Logo Mulipola, Geoff Parling, Tom Youngs and Niall Morris all falling victim.  Tom Youngs is out until Christmas with a shoulder injury, Niall Morris will miss 6 weeks with a knee injury whilst Geoff Parling is out for an indeterminate amount of time following repeated concussions.  Mulipola was seen limping off after 50 minutes last week but his injury and its extent have been kept under wraps by the club.

But there is some positive news at last.

After serving an 8 week stand down period from August 1st to allow for an injury dispensation signing Miles Benjamin is available again.  The electric winger scored 5 times in 10 outings last season to give him the second best strike rate in the current squad behind only Vereniki Goneva.

Also returning is Californian winger Blaine Scully after an unknown injury ruled him out for the trips to Exeter and Bath.

The two wingers availability sees Goneva shift into the centres to cover for the withdrawn Manu Tuilagi.  Rumours surfaced last Friday that Tuilagi would not be fit to face Bath but now it seems the "niggle" has dragged on for a second week at least.  Goneva's last outings in the centre was the trip to the Madejski in February last year.

The injury crisis has left the pack decimated.  Missing are Marcos Ayerza, Michele Rizzo, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Logo Mulipola, Louis Deacon, Geoff Parling, Brad Thorn, Ed Slater, Tom Croft and Pablo Matera.  That's not just a decent pack but a world class bench spare as well.

That leaves Tigers relying on young props Tom Bristow and Fraser Balmain.  Bristow starts his first Premiership game for the club, though he did start 6 games for London Welsh in their previous Premiership season; Balmain is slightly more experienced with 8 Premiership starts including last season's home win against London Irish.

Parling's concussion problems give young South African Sebastian De Chaves another chance in the second row alongside Graham Kitchener.  De Chaves was impressive against Newcastle and deserved a start ahead of Parling regardless.  

The back row is still strong with Crane and Salvi first choice players.  Jamie Gibson provides decent cover as Croft returns from his major knee injury.

The injury crisis severely hampers Richard Cockerill's choice of bench players forcing him into a 6-2 forwards to backs split.  As well as the compulsory whole replacement front row Tigers have also named a lock, Harry Wells, and two number 8s, former rugby league man Laurence Pearce and Canadian-Italian Bob Barbieri.  The only backs on the bench are local duo Matt Smith and Sam Harrison.  

This means that both games at Welford Road this season have seen unusual bench selections with the Newcastle game seeing a 4-4 split between forwards and backs.

London Irish have a terrible record at Welford Road avoiding defeat just twice in 22 years, including the thrilling 24 all draw 3 years ago when Dan Bowden inspired Irish to two late tries to seal the draw.

The Exiles have won one lost two so far this season; an atrocious day with the boot from Juan Pablo Socino, who missed 6 of 7 kicks, helped them to overcome Newcastle at Kingston Park; Harlequins quick first half proved too much at the London Double header and Saracens snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a last play driving maul try from Billy Vunipola.

Irish make one change from that side as anatomically named Ofisa Treviranus drops out to be replaced by Scots international Kieran Low.  That see former Newcastle and Llanelli wing Andy Fenby retain the full backs jersey, with 2011 Premiership Final try scorer James Short on one wing and former Tigers and Nottingham wing Alex Lewington on the other.  

The centres see a classic bludgeon and rapier combo as the mercurial Shane Geraghty combines with former Macclesfield and Rotherham man Fergus Mulchrone.  Mulchrone is a ball of muscle with good instincts hones in the lower leagues.

Another ex-Tiger is scrum half Scott Steele, a summer signing who found his path blocked at Leicester by Ben Youngs and Sam Harrison.  He partners Chris Noakes a New Zealander with experience of Super Rugby.

The Exiles pack is a star studded 7 international affair, accidental Lion Tom Court joins Australian-English test cap David Paice and Halani Aulika in an all international front row.  The only uncapped man in the pack is yet another former Tiger George Skivington an uncompromising experienced warrior.  His second row partner is Jebb Sinclair, the Canadian's red card cost his nation a win over Scotland this summer, even worse for the big man was that the decision was atrocious given for little more than a hand off.

The back row sees the aforementioned Low join fellow Scots cap Blair Cowan and former Gloucester captain Luke Narraway in a speedy breakaway trio.

Tigers squad is down to its bear bones and faces a side growing in confidence.  The record defeat to Bath has hurt the side and supporters but they need to bounce back to limit the damage.  With a packed Welford Road and vociferous home support to please Tigers will hope to do just that.

15 Mat Tait
14 Blaine Scully
13 Vereniki Goneva
12 Owen Williams
11 Miles Benjamin
10 Freddie Burns
9 Ben Youngs (c)
1 Tom Bristow
2 Leonardo Ghiraldini
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Sebastian De Chaves
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 Neil Briggs
17 Riccardo Brugnara
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Laurence Pearce
20 Robert Barbieri
21 Harry Wells
22 Sam Harrison
23 Matt Smith

London Irish: 
15 Andrew Fenby
14 Alex Lewington
13 Fergus Mulchrone
12 Shane Geraghty
11 James Short
10 Chris Noakes
9 Scott Steele
1 Tom Court
2 David Paice
3 Halani Aulika
4 George Skivington (c)
5 Jebb Sinclair
6 Kieran Low
7 Blair Cowan
8 Luke Narraway

16 Gerard Ellis
17 Matt Parr
18 Leo Halavatau
19 Dan Leo
20 Tom Guest
21 Tomás O'Leary
22 Eamonn Sheridan
23 Topsy Ojo

Referee: Greg Garner
Touch Judges: Simon McConnell & Paul Burton

TMO: David Sainsbury.

Saturday, 20 September 2014


Well.  What to say about that?

Let's start with some book keeping.  To keep me sane.  That was Tigers record loss in competitive rugby.  Record loss in league rugby.  Record loss to Bath.  It was the first nilling we have suffered since the famous 33-0 drubbing in Ulster in January 2004.  It is the third time we have failed to trouble the scorers in league rugby after a 1989 nilling at Kingsholm and a 14-0 defeat to Northampton in 2003.

So it is not hyperbolic to call that the worst Tigers performance I've ever seen.  Factually it is.  And probably the worst performance from long before I started watching too.

First of all, and bitterly, grudgingly, lets give Bath some credit.  Scoring 45 points is hard against anyone.  They utterly overwhelmed us, taking almost every chance they had.  Thankfully they did spoon at least 2 chances in the first half or we would be looking at 50.

They were fast, aggressive and penalty free in defence.  Their attack was sharp and their carrying powerful.

But enough about them.

We were awful.  In the first half we just didn't look up for it at all.  Off the pace and uninterested at times.  We were bullied at the breakdown and Ford masterfully controlled territory so that we just didn't have a sniff of attacking ball.  The one chance we had in the 22 we were inattentive at the ruck and got turned over.

In the second half it actually picked up.  Its just our problems changed.  We had mountains of ball, tons of it, and some of it in pretty good possessions.  We actually ran at some pace and pushed the Bath defence back.  But we couldn't do it for long enough.  A rare penalty was gained and kicked to the corner.  Spilled in the maul.

To add insult to injury Bath then raced the length for a score that exposed our atrocious tackling.  But we came back at them, only to do it again.  Knock ons, kicks away, turned over we ran the full gamut of ways to balls up try scoring chances once Wayne Barnes ruled out Bob Barbieri's effort for an imaginary double movement.

Towards the end we had a penalty with Nick Auterac sin binned.  For me it should have been kicked at goal.  38-7 is no less embarrassing than 38-3 but both better than the dreaded nil.

Rubbing salt in the wound was David Mele's red card for stamping.  Some have criticised the decision but I just can't, the ball is miles away, Barbieri had already won the turnover and was setting up a new ruck.

Still after Ulster we responded with a 49-7 win, after Northampton we beat Leeds 39-11 and after Gloucester in 1989 we bounced back with a 37-6 win over Liverpool St. Helens.

Hope springs eternal.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Croft set to make season's debut

Tigers travel to Bath aiming to end one of our longest running hoodoos.  Tigers have won only one Premiership match at the Rec since 2006, a 37-6 romp in 2011 that saw Tony Allen race in from his own half and Tom Croft bag a brace.  Of course Tigers did famously overcome Bath in a tight Anglo-Welsh semi final in 2012; Tigers were steered by a fantastic George Ford that day who slotted 4 penalties and controlled territory remarkably.

Tomorrow Ford will be driving the Bath team instead, whilst Tigers general will be Bath born and raised Freddie Burns.  Professional rugby has led to some unimaginable things, a Bath boy leading the Tigers chief amongst them!

Tigers have announced 3 changes to the starting line up for last week's west country win; in the back row Jordan Crane comes in for his 150th First XV start with Tom Croft joining him at 6 for his first start of the season, in the front row Leonardo Ghiraldini starts at hooker.

The unchanged backline sees Mat Tait, Niall Morris and Vereniki Goneva continue in the back three; with Tuilagi and Allen combining in the centres for a 45th time.  At half back Ben Youngs continues to captain the side and he plays alongside Burns.

Julian Salvi joins Crane and Croft in the back row whilst Parling and Kitchener form the lock partnership.  Mulipola continues at loosehead with young Fraser Balmain at tighthead.

Bath make on change from the side that ravaged London Welsh as Matt Banahan replaces the injured Anthony Watson.  Banahan saw red for poleaxing Anthony Allen in Tigers last victory in the fixture.  The Bath midfield features the trickery of Kyle Eastmond and Jonathan Joseph in the centres, the pair are creative and quick, they slashed Tigers defence apart in the Welford Road game last season.

At half back is the aforementioned Ford joined by Chris Cook.  People talk about Tigers reluctance to blood youth but the 23 year old Cook only made his first Premiership start last week.

Bath's pack is fearsome.  Davy Wilson is a powerhouse at tighthead and he is joined by internationals Rob Webber and Paul James.  James will have to watch his scrummaging angle as he has gained a reputation for boring in during his time in the Premiership.

The back row is denied Francois Louw by injury sustained on international duty, a feeling Tigers known all about, but still possess strength in Liverpudlian Car Fearns and cunning in local lad Guy mercer.  Leroy Houston is all elbows and knees when carrying, a bit like Thomas Waldrom his strength is his carrying rather than breakdown work.

The referee will be Wayne Barnes.  Barnes has taken charge of 3 previous encounters between Tigers and Bath, last season's LV Cup defeat means Tigers have lost 2 won 1 of the encounters. 

15 Mat Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Anthony Allen
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Freddie Burns
9 Ben Youngs (c)
1 Logovi'i Mulipola
2 Leonardo Ghiraldini
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Graham Kitchener
5 Geoff Parling
6 Tom Croft
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane
16 Tom Youngs
17 Riccardo Brugnara
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Robert Barbieri
21 David Mele
22 Owen Williams
23 Matt Smith

15 Luke Arscott
14 Semesa Rokoduguni
13 Jonathan Joseph
12 Kyle Eastmond
11 Matt Banahan
10 George Ford
9 Chris Cook
1 Paul James
2 Rob Webber
3 David Wilson
4 Stuart Hooper (c)
5 Dave Attwood
6 Carl Fearns
7 Guy Mercer
8 Leroy Houston Replacements: 
16 Tom Dunn
17 Nick Auterac
18 Henry Thomas
19 Dominic Day
20 Alafoti Fa'osiliva
21 Peter Stringer
22 Ollie Devoto
23 Olly Woodburn

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Tigers take Sandy Park Spoils

Leicester secured their 3rd straight win at Exeter's Sandy Park to share an early lead of the Premiership table.  Tigers won 24-20 after tries from Anthony Allen and Ben Youngs plus 11 points from Freddie Burns and a final penalty from Owen Williams.  Exeter lead 17-13 at half time through scores from Dave Ewers and Haydn Thomas.

Tigers were down a man early after the ludicrously harsh yellow card for Vereniki Goneva's allegedly high tackle.  Goneva's arm clearly makes contact under the collarbone, possibly slipping up to justify a harsh penalty, but by no means over the shoulder to warrant a yellow.

Exeter were by far the better side in the first completely deserving their 4 point half time lead.  Exeter out enthused Tigers, raising the tempo and fly into everything.  Tigers seemed heavy legged and negative in contrast.

Both Exeter tries came after poor control at the base of the scrum from Barbieri; Dave Ewers twisted out of Geoff Parling's tackle for the first score whilst Goneva was still in the bin with Thomas spinning out of Balmain's challenge for the second.

In between Tigers had struck back to level the score with Anthony Allen try.  Following a pin point kick to the corner Tigers pack drew a maul penalty from the Chiefs; with advantage Freddie Burns took the ball level with the left hand up right, leaned back and dithered deliberately to draw the defence closer, and slotted a delicious grubber kick between the posts for Anthony Allen to snaffle for his first try since March.

Dave Ewers breaking his bind from a scrum quickly gave Burns the chance to avenge Thomas' score.  A late flurry of penalties saw Steenson nail another kick after Salvi was ruled to have not released in the tackle, then at the first ruck from the kick off an Exeter were off side from the kick ahead and Burns gave us the half time score of 17-13 to the hosts.

Tigers were much improved in the second half, controlling the territory and raising the physicality levels.  Almost immediately from the kick off Tom Youngs counter ruck forced Haydn Thomas off his feet in the ruck.  Burns was cool under pressure to reduce the arrears to 1.

Burns was again to the fore with two excellent raking kicks pinning Exeter back into the corners.  From the second Kitchener raised his giant paw to claim the throw in and Tigers set the maul.  With another penalty advantage Ben Youngs organised a drive with Leonardo Ghiraldini driving the half back over.  Burns sole blot on his copy book was the missed simple conversion.

But Tigers had the lead for the first time after almost an hour and bitterly hung on to it.  

Gareth Steenson clawed back 3 points when Julian Salvi was ruled off side, after turning down a shot at goal minutes earlier, but it was in vain as Tigers dominated the final 10 minutes to snuff out any chance of defeat.

Jamie Gibson was only denied a fantastic turnover by a Exeter player holding on; Burns found a great touch only 5m from the line and Tigers pack rumbled forwards again.

Only Dave Ewers despairing lunge from the side prevented a try and there was a serious case for a penalty try, if a scrum was marching forward like that I doubt the referee would not storm under the posts.

Tigers took the lineout again but could not replicate the drive; the forwards were more than content in rumbling around the fringe and when Exeter conceded a central ruck penalty Owen Williams was more than happy to slot the 3.

Exeter had some decent territory in the final throes but that was snuffed out with debutant Riccardo Brugnara earning a penalty by forcing Moray Low to stand up in the scrum.

From that line out Tigers ground the clock down and secured the early season win that might prove vital in the final reckonings.

Friday, 12 September 2014

5 changes as Tigers head to Sandy Park

Leicester Tigers welcome back British Lions duo Geoff Parling and Tom Youngs to the starting line up after the pair have recovered from minor knocks.  Also returning to the Tigers line up is Mat Tait, the 38 times England international, at full back and Anthony Allen to the centres.  Robert Barbieri makes his Premiership starting debut a week after his unusual control at the base of the ruck immediately endeared him to Tigers fans.

Niall Morris switches to the wing to make room for Tait, from last week's 23 Scully and Seremaia Bai miss out entirely with Matt Smith retaining his place on the bench.  Up front Ghiraldini drops to the bench where he joins Tiziano Pasquali and a first time in the match day squad for Riccardo Brugnara makes an all Italian replacement front row.  Brugnara and Pasquali impressed this Monday in the A league and deserve their place.

Tom Croft's much antcipated return is put off another week despite being named in the starting line up last time out.  In the back row Gibson continues at 6 with Crane dropping to the bench.

Exeter are coming off a 6 day turnaround but unsurprisingly keep the same XV that ravaged newly promoted London Welsh in Oxford.  That means an early encounter for Thomas Waldrom with his old mates.  Waldrom played 112 times for the Tigers and has won Premiership Player of the Season in the past.  He made an immediate impact for the Devonians touching down twice last weekend.

In the centres Exeter give youth its head by playing two 21 year olds; Henry Slade made his name at fly half  in England U-20's inaugural Junior World Cup win but now features at 13, Sam Hill was 12 in that final and stays at inside centre now.  The young pair will be a target for Manu Tuilagi, just 23 himself.

Exeter's captain so far this season has been local hooker Jack Yeandle.  Yeandle is originally a product of Crediton but cut his teeth with Doncaster before returning to Devon with his home town team.  He is joined in the front row by fellow battle hardened ex-Championship players Carl Rimmer, originally from Coventry but signed from Cornish Pirates, and Tomas Francis, 22, who joined this summer from London Scottish.

One change to the match day 23 sees Damian Welch come into the bench in place of Don Armand.

Tigers have played Exeter 9 times since their promotion in 2010 winning 6 and losing 3.  The league campaign has seen the same side win both fixtures in the season each time; Exeter won both games in 2011/12 with Tigers completing the double in the other 3 season.  

Saturday's referee is Irish Londoner J.P. Doyle.  Doyle has experience of this fixture after taking charge of the Tigers win in January 2011; Doyle has a reputation of letting the game flow but when he awards penalties he is not shy at waving cards about as Tigers found to their cost in last year's semi final. 

On average during last season's regular Premiership season the home side had to commit 40% more penalties than the away side before seeing a yellow card from Doyle; so Exeter's bumper 13,000 crowd at an expanded Sandy Park may well prove the decisive factor in what will be a tight game.

15 Mat Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Anthony Allen
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Freddie Burns
9 Ben Youngs (c)
1 Logovi'i Mulipola
2 Tom Youngs
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Graham Kitchener
5 Geoff Parling
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Julian Salvi
8 Robert Barbieri

16 Leonardo Ghiraldini
17 Riccardo Brugnara
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Jordan Crane
21 David Mele
22 Owen Williams
23 Matt Smith

15 Chrysander Botha
14 Ian Whitten
13 Henry Slade
12 Sam Hill
11 Matt Jess
10 Gareth Steenson
9 Haydn Thomas
1 Carl Rimmer
2 Jack Yeandle (c)
3 Tomas Francis
4 Mitch Lees
5 Ryan Caldwell
6 Dave Ewers
7 Ben White
8 Thomas Waldrom
16 Elvis Taione
17 Ben Moon
18 Moray Low
19 Damian Welch
20 Kai Horstmann
21 Will Chudley
22 Ceri Sweeney
23 Jack Arnott

Referee: JP Doyle
Touch Judges: Paul Burton, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Rowan Kitt

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

About Last Night: Lights go out on Extras

A young Extras side succumbed to a more experienced Newcastle side eventually losing 34-8.  The Tigers side needed all of Neil Briggs’ 29 years to nudge the average age of the starting XV just above 20, whilst Newcastle fielded US international Eric Fry, England tourists Scott Wilson & Andy Saull, former Tigers Rob Hawkins & Andy Tuilagi, Super League Grand Final Man of the Match Lee Smith and a smattering of experienced Premiership players such as Rory Clegg, Jamie Helleur and Tom Catterick.

Tigers’ only fundamental weakness was with dealing with the restarts.  This reared its head right from the off and meant Tigers struggled to clear their half right through the game.  Newcastle dominated the opening 10 minutes spending the entire time camped in Tigers 22.  Brave defence ensued to keep the Falcons out, with the pack particularly to the fore.

On 15 minutes and after only 2 penalties referee Gareth Holsgrove from Peterborough produced a yellow card for Will Owen.  The offence on first look appeared to be for tackling Andy Tuilagi in full flight and forcing a fumble.  But the referee saw skulduggery and gave the Falcons a 3-0 lead.

Tigers struck straight back with a long range penalty from Williams after 21 minutes.  This was only Tigers second incursion into the Newcastle half after a foray a minute earlier was knocked on by Bryant. 

Just before the end of Owen’s sin bin period Newcastle finally profited from the man advantage.  A very suspicious steal at the base of the scrum, that appeared to me to be clearly in the scrum when it was pilfered, was taken by Newcastle 9 Andy Davies.   

After a battering on the line Newcastle were awarded a penalty and went quickly to Andy Tuilagi who used his considerable bulk to muscle over the line.

Tigers took the play to Newcastle for the rest of the half, creating opportunities but lacking the precision to finish them.  Despite his earlier no nonsense style the referee allowed Newcastle to deliberately slap down the ball with a man clear to the line with no yellow card.  Owen Williams was wide with the conversion.

Soon after a quick lineout was thrown at least 3 yards forwards Newcastle once again benefited from the Peterborough officials interesting interpretation of our sport’s rule book.  Rory Clegg was nerveless with the boot to take the score out to 13-3 at half time.

Tigers replaced Neil Briggs and Tiziano Pasquali at half time with Harry Thacker and Dan Hogan taking the average age of the side to below 19 years 6 months.  Thacker was his usual ball of energy and his brother Charlie, starting at 13 but switching to full back early in the second half, appears to share his ability to play bigger than his size. 

The second half really sprung into life in the 53rd minute; Newcastle were attacking inside the Tigers 22 when Rob Hawkins fumbled the ball, as Tresidder cleaned up and attempted to break Hawkins swung a panicked arm at the Derbyshire teen catching him clean under the jaw.  The Crumbie cried foul and the players piled in to support their young friend.

How did the referee deal with this 30 year old forward’s high tackle garrotting the teen half back?  Obviously he revered the penalty for a bit of pushing and shoving and refused to even card Hawkins when a yellow was certain and a red hardly obscene.

Tigers on tilt, and with the crowd booing and sharing their witticisms on the referee’s eye sight, parentage and size of the bribe he must of took from Deano, were rolled over the line with a contested grounding given with undue haste generating more cat calls from the disgruntled Crumbie.

Owen Williams made way after 57 mins as Tresidder moved to fly half, not the Welshman’s best performance but he was leading an incredibly young side in tough circumstances.

Just to round out the fun we then had a 10 minute delay after an intrepid night watchman turned off the GNC stand’s flood lights.  Given this was a reserve fixture and the Crumbie flood lights provided a perfectly illuminated surface the 10 minute delay was completely unnecessary and a classic example of the referee’s pedantry and poor handling of the fixture.

As he didn’t appear to be watching the match anyway I fail to understand how a bit of shade on the far side would have made a difference.

Injury to sub Oliver Povoas forced Welsh wing Rhys Williams into the pack as Tigers opened up to chase the game.  Tigers looked good with the pace raised and hopefully this youthful team can raise the pace in the pitiful 4 remaining fixtures of the season.

Newcastle’s Dan Temm was sin binned for a innocuous midfield offence, just to prove the referee was not biased simply bizarre, and Tigers took advantage as George Prince dummied to a circling Charlie Beckett before sneaking over in the corner.

The comeback was short lived though as Newcastle’s power come through with a pick and drive try.  The final nail in the coffin, and the Falcons bonus point effort, was a break away by sub winger Penny after some excellent interplay by the Tigers deep in the Falcons 22.

This was a tough lesson in the vagaries of refereeing and the power needed at the top level but Tigers youthful cubs stood up very well.  Beckett and Milne in the back row are sizeable customers with good game awareness.  Brugnara and Pasquali impressed again and both seem likely to push on this season for the LV Cup at least.

In the backs Tresidder interested the fringe defence and created problems, whilst Charlie Thacker reminded me of a young Dan Hipkiss, with a cutting side step and good strength on a slim frame.

Extras: Bryant (Sakoh 45mins);R.Williams, C.Thacker, Pohe, Odogwu; O.Williams (Prince 57mins), Tresidder; Brugnara (Sio 51 mins), Briggs (H.Thacker H/T), Pasquali (Hogan H/T); Maksymiw, Hubbart (Joseph 60 mins); Beckett, Milne (Povoas 53 mins (Norville 73 mins)), Owen.

Yellow Card: Owen 15 mins.  Try: Prince 83 mins Pen: O.Williams 21 mins.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Goneva Hat trick clips Falcons' wings

Tigers opened their season with a second half blitz that saw 4 tries in half an hour and the bonus point claimed in a 36-17 win.  Flying Fijian winger Vereniki Goneva matched George North and Dave Strettle by grabbing an opening day hat trick with substitute scrum half David Mele scoring the 4th, Freddie Burns scored 16 points with the boot.

The first half was a territorial battle; a rare chance came the way of Tigers following Seremaia Bai's chip down the left flank.  Chased by Goneva the Fijian won the foot race and hacked on only to be taken out with the line at his mercy.  Bizarrely referee Luke Pearce did not even award a penalty, let alone the penalty try and red card the trip might have merited.

Newcastle defended the subsequent 5m lineout excellently, stopping a rampant Mulipola short then holding Tigers attack out for multiple phases before conceding the penalty for offside.  Burns slotted that and 2 more for scrum offences with Socino claiming Newcastle's sole first half points after a contentious off side call against Jordan Crane for a 9-3 score line.  A further penalty for Newcastle killing the ball inside the 22 gave Tigers a 12-3 half time lead.

The second half was a completely different game with 6 tries and a lot of running rugby.  Newcastle started the half with a bang.  Burns missed touch along the Crumbie side as Sinoti Sinoti tip toed down the line.  The Samoan fed the ball inside to the impressive Simon Hammersley, a summer singing from Hull Ionians, who carved the Tigers defence apart.  With only Burns remaining he was powerless to stop Hammersley drawing the man and finding Richard Mayhew for the easy run in.

This visibly stung Tigers into action.  Attacking with purpose we got the ball into Manu's hand, always a solid plan, and waited.  He did not disappoint, powering past his man he was hauled down inches short and looked to have lost the ball forward.  Goneva was following up and pounced on the loose ball to claim the try.

Luke Pearce passed the decision to the TMO, and it quickly emerged that Manu had slam dunked the ball into Godman's head, and very clearly he had done it backwards.  One of the odder tries Goneva will score.

Goneva doubled his tally just 5 minutes later.  Burns was the creator dancing through a gap he created with a mesmerising dummy, before an inside pass to Goneva who muscled his way past the last man before stretching out to find the line.

Newcastle now really came into it, looking a completely different side to the first half and the one that struggled last season.  They carved Tigers apart again before the half back partners of Burns then Youngs combined in the ruck to force a crucial turnover.  Again the Falcons came with Sinoti Sinoti making a dangerous burst inside the Tigers 22, unfortunately the Samoan lost his bearings and simply dropped the ball whilst in full flight.  Was it a pass to no one, a fumble or an attempted kick?  Who knows it ended up as none of them.

Newcastle were looking dangerous and cut into the 22 again.  In a crazy passage that I'm struggling to describe the Falcon attacker was cut down in full flight and passed, for my money, before a ruck was formed.  That off load allowed Goneva to lurk in the back field, stepping in to intercept a Newcastle pass when the Falcons had a massive overlap and the try line begging.

Have pilfered the pass he outpaced the Kieran Brookes, a tough ask, and Sinoti Sinoti all the way to seal his opening day hat trick.  

The interception seemed to take the wind out of Newcastle's sails; a 21 point deficit rather than a possible 7 point gap.  The bonus point seemed inevitable and it came just 5 minutes later.  Another of Bai's excellent chips forced the Falcons to scurry back and Powell only just beat Blaine Scully to the loose ball, conceding a 5m scrum in the process.

The Tigers pack heaved, with Geordie Fraser Balmain at the heart of it, and Newcastle crumbled.  The Falcons did well to stay together and force the grounding from Mele, making the conversion harder in the process.

Barbieri's bunny hops with the ball trapped between his ankles were a masterstroke, keeping the ball under control and unarguably in the scrum.

After the final try the game fizzled out as Tigers cleared the bench.  Newcastle grabbed a consolation try with 10 minutes left and kept attacking until the end but ultimately in was the 25 minute 4 try blitz from Tigers that sealed the victory.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Teams Up: Newcastle at Home

A bumper 22,000 plus crowd is set to welcome Tigers back to action in what will be the largest opening gate since the new CAT stand opened in 2009.  The added attractions of Dean Richards, John Wells and Alesana Tuilagi as well as a summer transfer splurge on 8 internationals has excited the Welford Road faithful in the week that the club announced increased turnover and profits.

Tigers name a very interesting side with first Premiership starts for Seremaia Bai, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Freddie Burns.  Geoff Parling's knock against Edinburgh seems more serious than first hoped as he misses out on the match day squad completely.  Also missing against his former side is Mat Tait, who featured from the bench last weekend against Cardiff.  

Matt Smith is on the bench in what is surely an injury related selection.  Smith is a good lad but is not the all round player of Tait's class.

Sebastian De Chaves and Graham Kitchener form the second row partnership with Tom Croft providing cover from flanker.  No lock is named on the bench with flankers Jamie Gibson and Bob Barbieri supporting Tom Bristow, Tiziano Pasquali and the returning Tom Youngs.

Newcastle haven't won at Welford Road for 17 years, their sole victory in Leicester coming in their Championship season in December 1997; coincidentally this was Dean Richards last start for the club as he was a late replacement in the second row.  They haven't beaten the Tigers at all since 2009.  Even with all the injuries I can't see that changing this weekend.

15 Niall Morris
14 Blaine Scully
13 Manu Tuilagi
12 Seremaia Bai
11 Vereniki Goneva
10 Freddie Burns
9 Ben Youngs (c)
1 Logovi'i Mulipola
2 Leonardo Ghiraldini
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Sebastian De Chaves
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Tom Croft
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 Tom Youngs
17 Tom Bristow
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Jamie Gibson
20 Robert Barbieri
21 David Mele
22 Owen Williams
23 Matt Smith

15. Simon Hammersley
14. Sinoti Sinoti
13. Adam Powell
12. Juan Pablo Socino
11. Noah Cato
10. Phil Godman
9. Mike Blair
1. Rob Vickers
2. George McGuigan
3. Oliver Tomaszczyk
4. Calum Green
5. Josh Furno
6. Richard Mayhew
7. Will Welch (c)
8. Ally Hogg

16. Scott Lawson
17. Alex Rodgers
18. Kieran Brookes
19. Dom Barrow
20. Andy Saul
21. Ruki Tipuna
22. Alex Tuilagi
23. Gonzalo Teisi

Referee: Luke Pearce (27th Premiership game)
Touch Judges: Andy Watson & Nigel Carrick. TMO: David Grashoff.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

2014/15 Season Preview: Leicester

Nickname: Tigers
Founded: 1880
Last Year: Losing Semi Finalists (3rd in Prem, 74 points), Quarter Finals in Heineken Cup, Group Stage in Anglo-Welsh
Europe: Champions Cup
Director of Rugby: Richard Cockerill

In: Freddie Burns (Gloucester), Laurence Pearce (Rotherham), Michele Rizzo (Treviso), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Robert Barbieri (Treviso), Christian Loamanu (Treviso), Seremaia Bai (Castres), Aniseko Sio (Vaimoso), Brad Thorn (Otago Highlanders)
Out: Toby Flood (Toulouse), Thomas Waldrom (Exeter), Steve Mafi (Western Force), Dan Bowden (Yamaha Jubilo then Auckland Blues), Boris Stankovich (Newport), Rob Hawkins (Newcastle), George Chuter (Retirement), Ryan Bower (Worcester), Scott Steele (London Irish), Joe Cain (Retirement), Michael Noone (Jersey), Jerome Schuster (Tarbes), Pasqualle Dunn (Doncaster RL), Lucas Guillaume (Unknown), Henry Purdy (Gloucester), Harry Rudkin (Loughborough Students)
Ins: 9
Outs: 16

Louis Deacon has already heralded this as the best Tigers squad he’s ever been a part of, and if we ever see the fully fit squad it will truly make the mouth water.

Last season Tigers missed the Premiership Final for the first time since 2005, suffering an agonising defeat at Northampton.  They went there because we missed the early season moves by Saracens and Northampton who failed to drift back to the pack as previous front runners have.  With the quality in those squads high another tight finish and record score needed for a home semi final is easily foreseeable.

For Tigers to beat one of them, or any other pretender, to a home semi final they will need to be more consistent before Christmas.  Our early season injuries will not help with that.  Benjamin is out by injury dispensation rules for a further 4 weeks; Camacho is still yet to make his debut a year after his signing; Adam Thompstone is out for 2 months with a hand injury; Pablo Matera has dislocated his shoulder in the Rugby Championship; Dan Cole is out until at least November with his new bionic neck; Michele Rizzo missed preseason with a knee injury and is not expected back for a few weeks; none of Tom Youngs, Louis Deacon or Christian Loamanu have featured in preseason but no injury news has been reported.

Phew.  Just as well we have such a large squad.

Tigers have boosted the squad with a whopping 8 internationals over the summer.  Italian duo Leo Ghiraldini and Bob Barbieri have caught the eye in pre-season whilst Seremai Bai and Brad Thorn have made all the right noises about becoming part of the squad.

Freddie Burns arrival will make the 10 shirt hotly contested and the uncertainty around the position could easily cause distractions and cost us games.  So far it seems like it will be the more free spirited risk taking rugby of Burns against the better kicking game and size of Williams, though it is unfair to stereotype either completely.  Burns can kick and Williams is more than capable of igniting the backline.

Over the course of the season this has all the hallmarks of a Goode v Humphreys or an Allen v Twelvetrees type selection debate that will run and run.

The first 6 league games will be crucial; a home semi final with require no more than 5 losses in the whole season and we face tricky trips to Exeter, Bath and Gloucester before our bogey fixture of Quins at home.

In December Tigers’ resources will be stretched to the limit as we face Toulon back to back just a week after England’s gluttonous 4 money spinning international friendly games before having to travel to Northampton for the final game before Christmas. 

The tricky spell then sees us travel to Sale and Harlequins with a home game against Bath in between before we face the final two rounds of Europe and a potentially campaign defining trip to Ravenhill.

The international periods have arguably fallen in our favour with winnable away trips to Welsh, Irish and Newcastle as well as 4 home games across the Autumn Internationals and 6 Nations.

The final stretch of the season sees us face Exeter at home, a trip to Saracens, London Welsh at home, a trip to Wycombe or possibly Coventry to face Wasps before an East Midlands derby to finish the season off.

The matches with Saracens and Northampton will either be full bloodied battle to gain a home semi final or damp squibs as the sides shadow box, desperate not to give away tactics for the play offs.

Potentially disrupting the end of the season will be Europe.  The new schedule is hardly fan friendly with the semi final just a fortnight after the quarters and the final just a fortnight after that.  Fantasising for a moment it is the London Welsh game sandwiched between Champions Cup semi and final.

I think that can best be described as a problem I would like to have.

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

2nd XV: Scully; Loamanu, Smith, Bai, Benjamin; Burns, Mele; Rizzo, Ghiraldini, Mulipola; Thorn, Kitchener; Gibson, Barbieri, Matera.

3rd XV: Hamilton; Camacho, Catchpole, Hepetema, Thompstone; Bryant, Harrison; Bristow, Briggs, Balmain; Deacon, De Chaves; Milne, Pearce , Owen.

Prediction: 2nd

2014/15 Season Preview: Harlequins

Founded: 1866
Years in Top Tier: 26
Last Year: 4th in Prem (67 points), Heineken Cup group stage, Amlin Challenge Cup Semi Finals, Anglo Welsh Cup group stages
Europe: Champions Cup
Director of Rugby: Conor O’Shea

In: Marland Yarde (London Irish), Asaeli Tikoirotuma (Waikato Chiefs)
Out: Tom Guest (London Irish), Sam Smith (Worcester), Maurie Fa’asavalu (Oyonnax), Nick Kennedy (Retirement), Nick Mayhew (Unknown), Paul Sackey (Unknown), Tim Molenaar (London Welsh)
Ins: 2
Outs: 7

A poor 2013/14 by Quins recent standards has caused the Londoners to open up the cheque book for two of the most exciting signings in the league.

Marlon Yarde, son of the delightfully name Scotland (yes, really), needs no introduction.  He was in devastating form for England over the summer and has really kicked on to become England’s stand out wing. 

Asaeli Tikoirotuma is more of an unknown for most of us in Europe.  Joining from the Waikato Chiefs where he played wing for the 2013 Super Rugby winning side he has scored 13 tries in 40 starts for the New Zealanders and has represented Fiji 6 times, mainly at centre.  Like many Fijians he is quick, strong and elusive.  Let’s just hope he doesn’t have quite the same impact as Vereniki Goneva.

Together with Mike Brown they make the most fearsome back three in the Premiership.

Quins are losing Mo Fa’asavalu, the bruising Samoan flanker, but otherwise hold the squad together.  Last year’s loss of Ollie Kohn has still not adequately been replaced but Kyle Sinckler seems to have over taken Will Collier and specialist film maker Paul Doran-Jones at tighthead and has almost reached the standards set by James Johnson.

Beloved by the “national” London based dead tree press and the referees their style can be exhilarating when in full flow but there is a hint of a soft underbelly and a reliance on England players that will be missing for 14 odd weeks of the season.

Last year it took a lengthy winning run at the end of the season, complete with some incredible luck, to sneak 4th place from Bath on the final day, with a tough run of fixtures from January to the end of the 6 Nations and the World Cup providing a bigger distraction than for most clubs I don’t think Quins will quiet be able to make the play offs this season.

Prediction: 5th

2014/15 Season Preview: Sale

Nickname: Sharks
Founded: 1861
Years in Top Tier: 21
Last Year: 6th in Prem (57 points), Amlin Challenge Cup Quarter Finals, Anglo Welsh Cup Group Stage
Europe: Champions Cup
Director of Rugby: Steve Diamond

In: Nathan Hines (Clermont), Chris Cuisiter (Glasgow), Alberto De Marchi (Treviso), Darren Fearn (Bedford), Luke McLean (Treviso), Magnus Lund (Biarritz), Shalva Mamukashvili (Armia-Georgia)
Out: Dwayne Peel (Bristol), Henry Thomas (Bath), James Gaskell (Wasps), Rob Miller (Wasps), Tom Holmes (Rotherham), Aston Croall (Blackheath), Tony Buckley (Kanturk), Krill Kulemin (Perpignan)
Ins: 7
Outs: 8

Sale were the surprise of last season finishing 6th after barely avoiding relegation the season before.  The big news coming from Salford this season is a move to Saturday kick offs, in a the slightly odd 2pm slot rather than 3pm, which is great news for people who like their rugby in the day light and on the weekend.

Transfer wise Sale have been busy snaring 6 internationals plus Bedford’s highly regarded former Newcastle prop Darren Fearn.  Alberto De Marchi arrives from Treviso which will presumably signal Eifion Lewis-Roberts spending greater time on the tighthead side of the scrum.  In the engine room the quietly power Russian workhorse Kril Kulemin has been replaced by Wagga Wagga’s favourite Scotsman Nathan Hines. 

Magnus Lund returns from a 6 year spell at Biarritz, and if he can avoid the injuries that spoiled his final year he may well be the pick of the bunch.  Shalva Mamukashvili becomes the Premiership’s first Georgian following in footsteps of Moldovan Vadim Cobilas, Romanian Paulica Ion and a handful of Russian players in crossing the old Iron Curtain.

Sale’s season will mainly rest on the form of Danny Cipriani.  He is the sole play maker in the squad, were he to be injured Sale would have to rely on the more prosaic stylings of Nick Macleod.  Last year Cipriani was mostly excellent and a backs against the wall win at Bath pointed to the great team spirit, and sly scrum tactics, they posses.

Tuitupou & Leota provide plenty of impetus in the back line but not a huge amount of nous, whilst Viliami Fihaki impressed in patches last season and will look to replace Wasps bound James Gaskill at 8.

If Sale can win 4 out of their opening 6 league games they look set for European Champions Cup action once again, but a European pool containing Clermont, Munster and Saracens will drain the batteries of a small squad.

Prediction: 8th

2014/15 Season Preview: London Welsh

London Welsh
Nickname: The Exiles
Founded: 1885
Years in Top Tier: 1
Last Year: Greene King IPA Championship Champions, British & Irish Cup group stage
Europe: Challenge Cup
Director of Rugby: Justin Burnell

In: Piri Weepu (Auckland Blues), Olly Barkley (Llanelli), Tim Molenaar (Harlequins), Dean Schofield (Worcester),Tristan Roberts (Bristol), Chris Elder (Plymouth Albion), Nick Reynolds (Llanelli), Ricky Reeves (Wasps), Taione Vea (Wasps), Shane Cahill (Cornish Pirates), Jack Gilding (Viadana), Nathan Taylor (Hartpury College), Jimmy Litchfield (Hartpury College), James Sandford (Cornish Pirates), Cameron Goodhue (Worcester), Paul Rowley (Plymouth Albion), Jesse Liston (Blackheath), Josh McNally (Henley), Koree Britton (Gloucester), Darren Waters (Newport), Lachlan McCaffrey (ACT Brumbies), Pablo Henn (Limoges), Eddie Aholelei (Melbourne Rebels), James Down (Cardiff Blues), Ben Cooper (Bedford)
Out: Mitch Lees (Exeter), Tyson Keats (Unknown), Peter Edwards (Llanelli), Sonny Parker (Retirement), Cai Griffiths (Ospreys), Billy Moss (Unknown), Paddy Ryan (Unknown), James Tideswell (Leeds), Joe Ajuwa (Rosslyn Park), Ollie Frost (Unknown), Toby L’Estrange (Unknown), Hudson Tonga’uiha (Unknown), Mike Denbee (Unknown), John Quill (Unknown), Rob Andrew (Unknown), Kevin Davis (Ealing), Ian Nimmo (Unknown)
Ins: 25
Outs: 18

Welsh bounced straight back to the Premiership, beating Bristol 48-28 on aggregate, becoming the 7th team in 9 years to achieve that feat.  Playing again at the Kassam Stadium in Blackbird Leys, Oxford, this time they have not had to go through a damaging off season lawsuit.  Or at least not to gain promotion.

This is not the same Welsh side that graced the Premiership two seasons ago.  Lyn Jones has gone to Newport and been replaced by former Cardiff forwards coach Justin Burnell, his honest appraisals and no nonsense style has already garnered many fans and he is assisted by the ever popular Ollie Smith.

There is no debate that the major Welsh signing has been World Cup winner Piri Weepu.  His health is a worry, reportedly suffering a stroke in March, but his talent is undoubted.  A controlling boot and experienced goal kicker Weepu looks suited to the smash and grab style that Welsh will employ.

Much has been made of the 25 signings made by Welsh but realistically many are simply bodies to fill the LV and Challenge Cup fixtures.  Welsh look thin on quality in crucial places like prop and fly half and won’t be helped by flanker Carl Kirwin missing the opening stages with injury.  Kirwin was a star of the promotion push and will surely be around the Premiership for a long time to come.

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Welsh.  I don’t see where more than 3 or 4 games this season can be won and don’t think it will be enough to keep them up.

Prediction: 12th