Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester set to reignite Barbarians rivalry

Leicester Tigers v Ulster. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-141020-141402001
Leicester Tigers v Ulster. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-141020-141402001
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Stepping into the Crumbie Stand, as it used to be known, at Welford Road tomorrow night (Tuesday, 7.30pm) you could be forgiven for thinking it was an evening from really any decade in the last hundred years as Leicester will reignite their long and rich history with the Barbarians.

The Barbarians come to Welford Road as part of their 125 year celebration and it is a fitting destination for the invitational side as they have been playing the Tigers since Christmas 1909.

That year the Barbarians replaced Scottish team Fettes-Lorettonians who traditionally played Leicester during the holidays and started a new tradition of their own.

Matches between the Tigers and the Barbarians were traditionally the highlight of the year for many supporters for generations to come with the biggest names in world rugby gracing Welford Road in the fixture.

Now a star-studded Barbarians team which ran the Wallabies all the way in an exhilarating 36-40 loss at Twickenham on Saturday will take on a strong and proud Leicester side.

Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill has handed a first senior debut to summer signing Christian Loamanu at outside centre and the big Togan-born Japan international could made a really explosive impact on the game.

At 6ft 2in and weighing in at 16st 9lbs the versatile player, who has been known to play in the backrow for Treviso, offers some punch in midfield.

This is a South Sea Island centre of Tuilagi-esque stature and he could just provide the same type of brutal physicality.

It will be Loamanu’s first appearance for the club since moving from the Italian club after suffering with injuries.

He joins England international Freddie Burns, and Anthony Allen in the backs along with Fijian wing ace Niki Goneva and Miles Benjamins.

Interestingly Owen Williams will wear the 10 shirt with Burns playing at fullback for the first time for the club.

Cockerill has named a slightly weaker pack, giving some of his big name player a rest, but is still able to name Italian international Michele Rizzo and Fraser Balmain as his starting props.

Jordan Crane will captain the side from number eight.

One man who won’t be playing is second row Graham Kitchener who has been drafted into the England training squad as a replacement for the injured Joe Launchbury, who will miss all the Autumn internationals with a nerve problem in his neck which will see him out of action for up to eight weeks.

Leicester come into the game having secured an important 17-16 morale boosting win at London Irish on Saturday to re-start their recovery after a difficult start to the season.

Last week Leicester’s backs coach Paul Burke left the club, seemingly taking the fall for Tigers lack of attacking prowess this season. They have currently scored the fewest tries in the Aviva Premiership bar London Welsh who many are calling one of the worst sides ever to play in the league.

But for all the changes of the backroom staff to improve the attacking play at the club it was Leicester’s defensive effort which was to be admired at the weekend.

Leicester soaked up an incredible level of pressure to go in 10-3 up at half time in the first game of this year’s LV= Cup competitions after Miles Benjamin crossed the line. New signing Tommy Bell scored the conversion and penalty.

After the break Irish began reeling Tigers back in with a pair of Myles Dorrian penalties but a try from Italian international Robert Barbieri against the run of play gave Leicester some breathing room to take the score to 17-9.

It turned out the room was needed as Guy Armitage reached out to convert some of the home side’s pressure with a converted try to make it 17-16 with five minutes left to play.

Leicester were made to work hard in defence all day put they held out to earn the victory.

Most pleasing for Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill and the club will be the fact that the victory came from a team packed full of academy players and first teamers returning from injury.

Much has been made of the lack of talent to come out of the Leicester Academy of late to supplement the first team but 13 of Tigers’ 23 man squad on Saturday came through their youth section.

Leicester have no problem producing young talented players, where they do have a problem is fitting them into a senior side which is packed with international talent. Of late a number of Leicester players, developed at the club, have left to go onto better things, most notably George Ford but also Billy Twelvetrees, Henry Purdy and Alex Lewington.

However these next few weeks are a great chance for the current crop of future stars to make a name for themselves and show why they deserve a place in the side ahead of players with international caps to their name. Its a hard job but nearly everyone now wearing an England shirt from the club have been there and done it.