Thursday, 22 January 2015

And now the end is near ..

Leicester Tigers face an uphill battle to qualify for the quarter finals and the chance of glory (or another April exit), the odds seem stacked against us, but just how could we qualify?  In a homage to the indisputable greatest film of the 20th Century, Wayne's World, The Ultra Submarines have been dreaming of their best alternate endings:

The Red Rose Ending:

Stuart Lancaster’s Red Rose Revolution continues as English Clubs back up their six wins in round 3, and five wins in round 5 with a perfect seven in round 6. Wasps and Quins start us off, with thumping wins over Leinster and Castres. Northampton thrash Racing at the Gardens. Steffon Armitage is to the fore with another hat-trick as Toulon run in a try bonus point at Scarlets and Tom Youngs and Geoff Parling get braces as Tigers stroll to the bonus point win at Ravenhill. 

On Sunday, Ford inspires Bath to a bonus point win. England reject Toby Flood has a nightmare, justifying Lancaster’s decision to alienate him and Toulouse limp to a loss in Montpellier. With the Prem Rugby twitter account exploding in delight, Saracens top off the weekend winning 40-10 at the Stade Marcel Michelin and sneaking their London neighbours Quins through in the final best runner up spot. At the end of a breathless day, heavyweights Toulouse, Clermont and Leinster are out and 6 of the 8 quarter finalists are English.

Group Winners:
Saints 24 pts PD +150
Toulon 23 pts PD +81
Sarries 22pts PD +66
Wasps 21 pts PD +80
Bath 20pts PD +53

Second Places:
Racing 19 pts PD +45
Tigers 18 pts PD +29
Quins 18 pts PD +22
Clermont 18pts PD +18
Toulouse 17pts PD 0

Third Places:
Leinster 18 pts PD +17
Glasgow 14 pts PD +9

Quarter Finals:
Saints vs Quins
Toulon vs Tigers
Sarries vs Racing
Wasps vs Bath

The French Connection Ending:

“L’Espirit de Clocher”, In France, no matter what the competition, what the tables say, you play for the honour of your home town, for the church bells. Castres defeat Quins 17-9, at the same time Leinster out class Wasps leaving Pool one irrelevant in the battle for second places. 

In Pool 5, Northampton thrash Racing at the Gardens taking them to 24 points. Tigers scrape the try bonus point on the final play and a 10 point victory. Seemingly, heading out still with Sarries and Bath favourites to be best runner ups. On the Sunday, the clock tower strikes again. Montpellier are inspired to victory over Toulouse, in a humdinger of a game Toulouse pick up both a losing and try bonus going down 35-32. Clermont inspired by a large crowd and stung by previous losses hurt Sarries hard with a 21 point victory.

Group Winners:
Saints 24 pts PD +150
Toulon 23 pts PD +81
Clermont 23 pts PD +69
Leinster 23 pts PD +67
Bath 20pts PD +53

Racing 19 pts PD +45
Tigers 18 pts PD +11
Toulouse 18pts PD 0
Sarries 17pts PD +15
Wasps 16 pts PD +30

Quins 13 pts PD 0
Glasgow 14 pts PD +9

Quarter Finals:
Saints vs Toulouse
Toulon vs Tigers
Clermont vs Racing
Leinster vs Bath

The Cream also rises Ending:

In Pool 2, Leinster beat Wasps and Quins beat Castres with 4 tries and a 21 point margin. Given a target, Tigers rise to the challenge, reaching 18 points and a points difference of 31. It is said that Mulipola in full flight is like watching the running of the bulls in Pamplona.  Toulouse see Montpellier off with a bonus point win to top their pool and Bath brush Glasgow aside. Finally, Clermont beat Saracens by 6 in a low scoring match.

Group Winners:
Saints 24 pts PD +150
Toulon 23 pts PD +81
Leinster 23 pts PD +68
Clermont 22 pts PD +54
Toulouse 21 pts PD +23

Bath 20 pts PD +52
Racing 19 pts PD +45
Tigers 18 pts PD +31
Sarries 18 pts PD +30
Quins 18 pts PD +29

Wasps 16 pts PD +29
Glasgow 14 pts PD +10

Quarter Finals:
Saints vs Tigers
Toulon vs Racing
Leinster vs Bath
Clermont vs Toulouse

The Scooby Doo Ending: 

Injuries and Warren Gatland force Llanelli to send a team of kids out against the might of Toulon. After 20 minutes Toulon are 21 points up and strolling to victory, however enter our hero. Referee Wayne Barnes keeps hearing things. Can they be saying what he thinks they are? Eventually he calls the captain over:

“Look, if you don’t stop swearing I’m going to have to use some cards”

“We’re Toulon, Mate, we swear when we want. Why have they put a load of %^$£!*% kids out anyway the disrespectful $%^”&”

10 minutes later the match is abandoned with Toulon down to 8 players. At the disciplinary hearing it emerges the Young Scarlets provoked matters, asking for autographs. Barnes is found to have acted entirely in order with the rulebook and Toulon are fined 10 points. Tigers win the group and Mourad Boudjellal is left saying "Et je aurais pris la fuite avec elle aussi, si ce ne était pas pour vous mêler enfants!".

Bath drown in a Ford Ending: 

Possibly less likely than the Scooby Doo Ending...

Wasps beat Leinster with Leinster getting a losing bonus point. Quins therefore crash out in third place. Saints beat Racing. Toulon win easily, Tigers limp to a one point victory in an awful game and seemingly out, the offy crashes as the "Cockerill out NOW!!!" thread gets to 100 pages by 10pm.

Then on Sunday, Glasgow beat Bath convincingly and Montpellier beat Toulouse by 4 points in an awful game. Clermont avenge their loss to Sarries in last season’s semi-final with a 45-0 victory.

Group Winners:
Saints 24pts PD +130
Clermont 23 pts PD +93
Toulon 23pts PD +79
Wasps 20 pts PD + 50
Glasgow 18pts PD +39

Racing 19pts PD +65
Leinster 19pts PD +44
Tigers 17pts PD +2
Toulouse 17pts PD -1
Sarries 17 pts PD -9

Quins 18 pts PD +30
Bath 15 pts PD +23

Quarter Finals:
Saints v Tigers
Clermont v Leinster
Toulon v Racing
Wasps v Glasgow


Ultimately, there are many weird and wonderful ways we could qualify, including some not discussed here, Bath and Glasgow could draw for example. In reality, it’s easier to look at what results would knock us out.

Pool 1 – Anything involving both teams getting 2 points or Sarries winning and Clermont getting 1 point is curtains for us, but by the time that game is on we will know exactly what the scenario is.

Pool 2 – A Wasps win with Leinster getting 1 or more bonus points is the only result which stops us having a shot at overtaking second place in this group. They play first so we will know what we have to do.

Pool 3 – We have to win, almost certainly with a bonus point.

Pool 4 – Any combination of results which involves 3 points or more for Toulouse and either 4 points for Bath or 5 for Glasgow puts them out of reach.

Pool 5 – We can’t catch them so we don’t care. Technically one of Saints or Racing Metro could fail to qualify with very strange results elsewhere, but they will both be above Tigers regardless.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

6 try Tigers keep Euro dream alive

A dominant Tigers performance kept our slim European hopes alive with a 6 try thrashing of an injury stricken Llanelli side.  Tries from Miles Benjamin, Jordan Crane, Adam Thompstone, Sam Harrison and a brace for Tom Youngs secured a 40-23 win for hosts.  Llanelli's tries came from prop Rob Evans and two late scores for wing Harry Robinson.

Tigers knew they needed the full 5 points.  I wish they needed 5 points every week.  Early indications were given when Tigers turned down the chance for 3 points and kicked the opening penalty to touch instead.  For the lineout Mulipola was withdrawn and fed for a rumble.  After gaining good front foot ball it was whipped away, Adam Thompstone's tight pass was crucial as Benjamin used his strength and trickery to beat two men for the finish.

Just 5 minutes later and Tigers again kicked an attacking penalty to the corner.  This time the pack kept the glory for themselves, rumbling forward for Jordan Crane to dot down.

Both tries were excellently converted by Freddie Burns.

Rhys Priestland had nibbled away at Tigers lead with two penalties to make it 14-6.  Tiger never make it easy for themselves though and just after coughing up a certain try, Ben Youngs' firing a bullet at Mulipola who was just a couple of feet from him and would surely have crashed over with a sympathetic pass, they found themselves down to 14 men.  Graham Kitchener was baffling yellow carded on the half way line and the Scarlets scored from their own maul, prop Rob Evans the beneficiary.

Into the second half and Tigers were still playing with ambition.  Croft and Kitchener combined on turnover ball inside our 22 to break out to half way, with Kitchener adding a glorious dink chip on the end.  Thompstone also made a strong break down the right and was rewarded on 46 minutes as he scored his first try since March 2014.  It came from an attacking move from a scrum.  Yes such things do still exist.  Llanelli were probably so surprised to see a first phase attack they didn't know what to do.

The bonus point was secured after the introduction of Ayerza and Tom Youngs saw the scrum go from secure to totally dominant.  A penalty at a scrum saw the ball kicked for the touchline.  Like the first half Tigers drove and were unstoppable.  This time Tom Youngs was sequestered at the back of the charging pack.

Youngs secured his first ever brace for the club 5 minutes later, picking a beautiful inside out line from his brother's snipe around the fringe of the ruck.

With the bonus point and match secure Tigers took their foot off the gas and allowed some excellent handling from Llanelli to slip Harry Robinson round the corner and in for a try.  Points difference is the new tie breaker this season for European Rugby, these late tries may still be the death of us.

Tigers struck one back through substitute Sam Harrison feeding off Robert Barbieri's break and pass before Robinson finished the scoring with another effort for the west Walians.

Tigers were impressive with Bai & Crane particularly to the fore.  If we can keep up the forward interplay of the last few weeks but combined with a more miserly defence we can still make a late season for the Premiership title.  Europe is in hit and hope territory.  Our best bets to better as second places all play after us next Sunday so we must simply win and win well.  If we are knocked out on a tie break then so be it.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Tigers pull the plug on Bath

Tigers avenged their record defeat to Bath earlier this year with a comprehensive 17-8 victory at the weekend that has put them level on points with Wasps in 4th and only 7 points short of Bath in second.  Tigers won the game thanks to a ferocious first half where they will be disappointed to have only managed one try.

The Tigers intentions were revealed from the off; rather than kick the opening kick off clear they ran the ball from their 22.  This aggressive mind set led to Tigers turning down 3 kickable penalties before claiming the try, a rolling maul with Tom Youngs burrowing his way over.

Bath's dirty play was in danger of spoiling the match as inexperienced referee Matt Carley refused to deal with the persistent off the ball thuggery of the Bath front row.  Rob Webber's punch to Geoff Parling's face was baffling not given a red, or even yellow, card but Leicester did gain the penalty.  When Bath offended from the subsequent lineout Owen Williams stepped up to nail the tricky kick from just inside the half way line to make it 11-3.

This was how it stayed until half time after some heroic try-line Bath defenc held Tigers attack for 21 phases in their own 22.  Tigers were impatient, trying to force the ball wide, when the same kind of dogged rugby that secured the win against Sale would surely have been more effective.  Tigers did have a penalty from this pressure but again were aggressive and attacking kicking it to the corner but this time Dave Attwood spotted his chance and stole the lineout.

Even with ball cleared Tigers had ample opportunity to create a score, Goneva making a notable midfield burst to within 10 metres of the line, but Bath's defence forced a knock on from Crane and this time the chance was truly lost.

Bath looked to have scored a try before half time but unlike last year the blatant forward pass was spotted and media darling Sam Burgess was denied his first score in Rugby.

During half time the fog descended and the second half was more of a slog fest.  Tigers first score of the half came just 4 minutes after the resumption.  Quick and aggressive Tigers defence pounced on a succession of poor Bath offloads, the final one from media darling Sam Burgess forcing Anthony Watson backwards with no support.  Whilst in league he would be able to go again in Rugby Watson is penalised for holding on.

Williams slotted the 3 points from the Bath 10m line for the 11 point lead.

It was Tigers defence that then earned them their final 3 points as well.  After a probing scuttling kick from Tait pushed Bath back into their own half Bath won clean ball from the line out; Ben Youngs was last in the line and rushed forwards to pressure Ford, unsettling the fly half and forcing the weak pass to Devoto.  Devoto was not expecting it was was held up by the Tigers backrow of Gibson and Crane.  From the scrum the inevitable penalty.  And from the penalty the inevitable 3 points for Williams.

The final 20 minutes were all Bath, the west country men were asking questions but Tigers defence had most of the answers.  Probably our front row were replaced 5 minutes too late, perhaps all of our subs.  Bath turned down kickable penalties, whether because they really wanted the tries or have no faith in George Ford's kicking it is difficult to say.

When the 20 minutes were up Bath finally managed to score.  Apparently.  From the TMO pictures it appeared to be grounded well short but referee Carley awarded the try none the less.  Ross Batty the second hooker to score from a driven maul.

With the clock dead and a kick for a perhaps valuable bonus point George Ford pulled the kick horribly wide, a not unusual sight for seasoned Tigers observers.

The good win was followed up with news that Owen Williams, Graham Kitchener & Fraser Balmain have all signed new contracts and the club has submitted planning documents to re-build the Aylestone Road end of the ground this summer.  The club is really going somewhere at the moment, hopefully to Twickenham in May.