Inside the Tigers’ Den - Leicester stars feature in double win in Wales
A double win in Cardiff is exactly what the doctor ordered for both England and Leicester and before kick-off neither side could have hoped for a better performance.
On Friday night England kicked-off the 2015 Six Nations tournament with a 21-16 victory over Wales thanks to their best 40 minutes of rugby since the 2003 World Cup.
England scored 13 unanswered points after the break to beat an off colour Wales. While all the English points were scored by Bath players, with the eye-catching duo of Anthony Watson and Jonathan Joseph both crossing for tries and George Ford kicking 11 points, the victory was built on brilliant performances across the board, including two key Tigers.
Scrum half Ben Youngs had one of his best games in an England shirt, playing at a staggering pace and tempo which meant England were on the front foot and even the famous Welsh defence struggled to deal it with.
The cornerstone of England’s forward domination was the granite frame of Tigers tight-head Dan Cole who came straight back into the starting lineup after a year of injury problems.
England were on top in the scrum throughout on Friday, winning all their own feed and some of Wales’ in the fired-up contest at the Millennium Stadium and that was largely due to Cole.
He also proved his prowess around the field and although David Wilson has done a mighty job for England during Cole’s absence there is little chance of the Bath man wrestling a starting spot back any time soon.
Tom Youngs came off the bench on 54 minutes and improved England after a couple of shaky lineout throws by Dylan Hartley. He also made a nuisance of himself around the field making important impact tackles which should be well beyond a man of his size and weight. After such an important and momentous win England head coach Stuart Lancaster is unlikely to change much for Italy on Saturday but one area he might consider making an adjustment is at hooker.
The likely continuity which England are searching for is probably bad news for Tom Croft who did not feature off the bench, largely because Wasps captain James Haskell was having such a monumental match at blindside. He will almost certainly keep his place in the starting line up for the home match against the Azzurri, who lost 26-3 at home to Ireland. Lancaster has named the same 23 for the Italy match with the starting side announced today.
Stripped of their international stars Leicester continued the English dominance in Wales when they beat Cardiff Blues 43-9 in the final LV= Cup pool stage match to set-up a home semi-final against Exeter Chiefs on March 15.
The six try bonus points victory was Leicester’s first ever win at Cardiff Arms Park and only their second bonus-point victory in Wales.
Just like England, Tigers came back from a slow start which saw them go 9-0 down in the first-half to score a remarkable 43 unanswered points to inflict Cardiff’s biggest home defeat since the region was formed in 2003.
Fraser Balmain, Niall Morris, David Mele, Tommy Bell, George Catchpole and Adam Thompstone (2) scored the tries. South African lock Sebastian de Chaves continued his growth at Leicester as he excellently captained Tigers for the first time. Amongst the star performers on the day were young centre duo Jack Roberts and George Catchpole. So impressive was their performance that assistant coach Richard Blaze said they could break their way into the squad to face Gloucester on Friday night.
He said: “George and Jack are building a nice combination in the centres.Catchpole set up a couple of nice tries too.
“Jack is good, he is small and deceptively quick. That turn of pace really puts defences under pressure.
“The young guys have put themselves in the shop window to be selected for the Premiership game this week.
“There might be a few selections people could be surprised of because of their form in the LV.”
Blaze said the competition has energised the whole squad.He said: “The guys have been outstanding in training. You can see the enthusiasm.
“The senior guys who have not been involved in the LV= Cup can see the buzz on the training field and it makes them want to be involved.
“It was a good win. In previous weeks, we have been mentally weak so we spoke to the senior players to have a bit of composure if we went behind and we did because our ill-discipline cost us.”
Leicester Tigers have finally announced some new signings for the 2015/16 season but it is not the big names fans will have been hoping for.
Coming into Welford Road are London Welsh’s Tongan international Opeti Fonua, Worcester Warriors lock Mike Williams and Brendon O’Connor from the Auckland Blues in New Zealand.
Fonua, has five international caps - the latest coming against Wales in 2013, and at 6ft 6in and 300 lbs, that’s more than 21 stone, he will add some might to the pack. Back-rower O’Connor is English-qualified but has played all his rugby in the Southern hemisphere. He has Super 15 experience with Canterbury Crusaders and the Auckland Blues and captained Hawkes Bay to their Ranfurly Shield victory in 2014.
He is a former New Zealand Under-20s player and World Junior Championship winner.
Zimbabwe-born but English qualifie Williams plays at both lock and flanker for Worcester.
All three men are quality signings but not the big name marquee players that can inspire a team.
South African international Francois Hougaard could be that man. The 35-cap Spring Bok is being widely linked with a move to the club. The Blue Bulls player plays on both the wing and at scrum half.
However with British Lion Geoff Parling, England international Mat Tait and emerging talent Jamie Gibson on the way out of Welford Road and rumours Tom Croft and Julian Salvi could also leave there will be some sizable voids to fill,