Inside the Tigers’ Den - Jacks Roberts shines in Leicester’s LV win
There has been a fair bit of dissent from the Tigers faithful of late, many of whom have grown tired of the side under-performing having been spoilt by more than a decade of success.
But a true reflection of the club’s support should be taken from the fact that 24,000 fans turned out at a sold out Welford Road to watch their side do battle with fierce derby rivals Northampton.
The LV= Cup has long been an unpopular competition, used as a development tool to give talented youngsters a chance to experience top flight rugby. And so it was on Saturday with both the Saints and Tigers naming vastly changed sides from the previous weekend.
But no matter what the competition, when these two sides take to the field it matters, and it mattered even more so this weekend because the LV= Cup now presents Leicester’s best chance of winning a trophy this season.
Leicester’s young guns returned the East Midlands bragging rights to Welford Road with a 17-8 victory, maintaining their perfect record in the competition, with three wins from three, and putting them in a great position to secure a home semi-final.
Tigers scored on Saturday through second row Sebastian de Chaves and Laurence Pearce .
It was a first try for both men and the delight was obvious on the face of South African de Chaves who has played a big part in Leicester’s season this year following injury devastation to the second row for much of the season.
While both the tries were scored by forwards the eye-catching performance of the game came from young Welsh centre Jack Roberts.
Roberts, 22, joined Leicester from Championship side Rotherham Titans in October last year but has only played once for the club after breaking his cheekbone in his debut against the Barbarians.
Before joining the club the Wales age group international helped the Titans to the Championship play-offs with 12 tries in 36 games.
On Saturday he was instrumental in both tries. For de Chaves try he was on hand to drive the ball up along with captain Sam Harrison, before the lock made the final couple of yards; and more impressively he showed his devastating speed in a 45m break to get Northampton on the back foot and get Pearce in a position to power over to give Leicester a 14-3 half-time lead.
After the break the introduction of former Stamford RFC prodigy Sam Olver at fly-half gave the Saints better shape and his clever grubber kicked created a try for fellow England U20s international Howard Packman to touch down.
Northampton had a couple of golden chances to cross the line after the break but critical errors cost them dear, knocking on with the line just feet away and then getting pulled back by referee Nigel Owens for accidental offside when they did cross.
But at the end of the day Leicester got the morale boosting victory required after a disappointing anti-climax in Ulster when they never got close to securing the winning bonus point which would have given them a place in the quarter-finals of the European Champions Cup.
On Saturday the team was led by Tigers legend Geordan Murphy and the former Ireland full back was full of praise for the man of the match Roberts.
He said: “He’s a nuggety little centre who reminds me of Tom Youngs. He had a great turn of pace and good skills.
“He played a fantastic game. He signed just before the Barbarians game and broke his cheekbone in that game so he’s been out for a while.
“He played his first game for the A team against Northampton a few weeks ago and had a good game.
“He’s exciting and one of those players who gets the crowd excited when he gets the ball. Hopefully he can kick on through to the first team. He’s a genuine option.”
The LV= Cup’s biggest downfall as a competition is its ludicrous qualifying process. Why teams don’t play the other sides in their group has never been made clear.
Anyway the result is that despite winning all their games Leicester are still chasing a place in the last four alongside six other clubs.
Tigers are top of Pool 3, four points ahead of Wasps, who only have one win, so cannot be overtaken on that criteria if the two sides finish level on points.
Leicester play Cardiff Blues on Saturday, if they pick up at a point, or if Wasps fail to win with a bonus point at Northampton on the same day, then Tigers will be confirmed as pool winners, with semi-final ranking dependent on other pools.
A win in the Welsh capital means they will definitely have a home semi-final.
Kings of developing future talent Exeter Chiefs are the only team to have already qualified.
England will be hoping they are also celebrating a win in Cardiff on Friday night when they open the 2015 Six Nations Championship at the Millennium Stadium.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster has named four Tigers players in his 23-man squad to take on Wales.
Scrum half Ben Youngs starts and prop Dan Cole comes straight into the front row after recovering from injury.
Tom Croft makes a remarkable return to the England set-up with a place amongst the replacement with hooker Tom Youngs.
Croft has only played six games this season, and two the year before that because of injury, but comes into the squad.
He can provide cover in both the backrow and at lock.
Tigers second row Graham Kitchener misses out once again.