Leicester Tigers v London Irish

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Leicester Tigers v London Irish

by OxonRob on Wed Nov 23, 2005 3:06 pm

Ambitions in Tigger-taming

On Friday night we play the vaunted Tigers at their Welford Road fortress, long the bastion of English rugby, and for years a lone centre of excellence amidst a sea of rugby dross. However, nothing lasts for ever. Even the Roman empire was eventually overthrown, by the Vandals, if memory serves.

So, has Tiggers’ time come?

‘Possibly’ has to be the equivocal response to all the wishful thinking which currently abounds in London Irish hearts.

By bemoaning their loss of International players to the autumn internationals, Leicester give the impression that they will field a team not really competent for the Guinness Premiership. Indeed if we lost eight players to international duty, I reckon we’d be a tad miffed - if not a tad surprised! (Tiggers will be missing Corry, Cullen, Deacon, Ellis, Moody, Murphy, Alex Tuilagi and Varndell.)

However, that is the way it goes when you are successful and at the top. The bigger clubs have to plan for such occurrences in their squad-building. Lowly London Irish don’t really have to. We have only two players thought fit to play for their country at the moment. (Leguizamon and the now injured Magne, both back rowers.) Quite obviously, we are not much cop.

But wait! Arrest that thought. Said lowly London Irish are one point ahead of the mighty Tiggers in the GP at the moment. How is this possible?

Significantly Mighty Tiggers’ first pick team have drawn with Wasps [A] and Newcastle [H] while their two losses, against Worcester and Sale, have both been away fixtures and have both taken place while their international tyros were absent. They have beaten Saints [H], Bath [H], Leeds [A], and Gloucester [H]. Does that say anything about Tiggers in front of their home crowd? They beat Gloucester during the AI window, too!

London Irish, denuded of Leguizamon and Magne, have beaten Bath [H], Newcastle [A] and Gloucester [H] during the AI interregnum, but when at our then full strength earlier in the season, went down narrowly to Worcester [H] and Saints [A] and were slaughtered by Sale [A]. We scraped through against Bristol [H] and of course beat up Leeds in the LDH for five GBPs.

The critical issue here is that London Irish have added significantly to their player resources since the start of October. Who can deny that Flutey, Rautenbach and Coetzee have strengthened the team out of all proportion to their number?

We think we are only now becoming a force to be reckoned with, but is it a false dawn, enhanced by the absences in our opponents’ teams? The timing of our run of wins might suggest it, even if our new recruits and improving play do not. When we compete once more with clubs denuded only by injury, will we see our pattern of success continue? We don’t have long to find out.

In the meanwhile, we face a Tiggers team shorn of all its stars – or do we? All the message board chat has been of our facing the weakest Leicester team in years, and some have suggested that we only have to turn up to get the result. Oh yes?

Pat Howard has already announced his match squad, and if any other club fielded such a line-up we’d not be approaching the game with unbridled confidence. In hope perhaps, but not in blind expectation.

Leicester Tigers: 15 Sam Vesty; 14 Leon Lloyd, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Matt Cornwell, 11 Ollie Smith; 10 Andy Goode, 9 Austin Healey (captain); 1 Alex Moreno, 2 George Chuter, 3 Darren Morris; 4 James Hamilton, 5 Ben Kay; 6 Will Johnson, 7 Shane Jennings/Luke Abraham, 8 Brett Deacon.
Replacements: 16 James Buckland, 17 Michael Holford, 18 Tom Croft, 19 Luke Abraham/Will Skinner, 20 Neil Cole, 21 Ross Broadfoot, 22 Johnny Murphy.

At the back Vesty and Smith are both quick, good footballers with international credentials. Lloyd, another international, is still outstanding and powerful on his day, although his days are no longer quite so numerous. Dan Hipkiss has played with the England Sevens team, and Matt Cornwell is the England Under-21 captain, and has apparently been playing well in recent weeks.

Many think that Andy Goode should at least be on the England bench, and Austin Healey is hardly unknown for having more natural ability than most. Little Austin has kicked at the posts for the Lions, England and Leicester, but Goode can kick goals from outside the stadium.

Up front, England discard George Chuter and Welsh discard Darren Morris are joined by dual Italy/Argentina discard Alex Moreno. The front row tussle could be interesting.

Ben Kay, with 40 England caps, is joined by Jamie Hamilton in the second row. At 2.03m and 123kg, Hamilton is taller and heavier than Bob Casey. He has also scored two tries this season. (Kay, incidentally, is likely to be the smallest lock on the park at 1.98m and 112kg.)

The Leicester back row is likely to be the one part of the Tiggers pack that the Exiles can reckon to attack with some prospects of success, but it is not full of development team hopefuls. Jennings came over from Leinster in the summer to replace Back, and Louis Deacon's and Martin Johnson’s younger brothers need little introduction. They are large and they compete. My question is whether they will enjoy running around all day, assuming that we play a running game.

Is the team Leicester have announced a rubbish side? No! Is this our best chance of beating them at Welford Road? Probably.

When last we won up at Leicester, in May 2003, we faced Johnson, Back & Co in their pomp. Last season only our poor passing in front of the whitewash prevented us from returning with a win.

This term we have the players and the play to win again. But so do Leicester.
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