By Rugby World editor, Paul Morgan
WHEN I WAS at Welford Road a couple of seasons ago the then Gloucester defence coach Dennis Betts said his side couldn’t control ‘the beast’ that is the Leicester Tigers.
Well I saw that beast again at Welford Road in this win over Wasps. Very few sides can work out the recipe for victory at Welford Road.
No one who was there will say that Leicester played well but the facts remain:
- They have lost one home league game in 31
- They are ten points clear at the top of the table
- They will make the play-offs for the seventh successive year
Even when they don’t play well Leicester have a psychological advantage over almost every other side in England, when they are at home. It is the same for Manchester United in football – in fact Leicester are without doubt the Manchester United of English rugby.
I haven’t yet seen a side his season who can seriously take Leicester’s title off them. Someone is going to need one hell of a run into the play-offs to build the momentum to do it. When Northampton have all their players back it is possible but don’t bet against another title for the Tigers.
Strength in depth is of course the key, something that sadly Wasps don’t have any more after spending the last few seasons losing good player after good player.
And the club has a wonderful spirit, that is tough to replicate. The players coming in carry on the standards of those who leave and under Richard Cockerill they have some on leaps and bounds.
A club like Leicester needs a former player in the top job. They need to hand down the way of the Tiger and in Cockerill they have a man who lives and breaths the club.
Leicester can lose four players to England and have a string of others on the injured list and still come up with a starting front row of Boris Stankovich, George Chuter and Martin Castrogiovanni, with Steve Mafi and George Skivington behind.
You couldn’t fail to be impressive by the attitude of the Wasps players. They defended as if their lives depended on it – in the week when their Director of Rugby Tony Hanks was sacked – and of course deserved a bonus point.
But like a cobra Leicester were given two chances to feast and they took them both. Jeremy Staunton intercepted a long Dave Walder pass (they must have worked on that in training) and 6ft 4in Steve Mafi waltzed in from 20 metres before the half hour mark. That was the one time Wasps’ defending went astray!
Looking forward Wasps can onbny mount a credible challenge for the top six, and not the play-offs. They need to recruit for next season and fast.
Players of note:
Serge Betsen – Someone at Wasps get him in a room and make sure he doesn’t leave until he signs another contract. He turned in another immense performance and can’t be allowed to retire this summer
Tom Lindsay – What potential! But Wasps need to employ a specialist throwing in coach like Simon Hardy to work with Lindsay, day and night if necessary. This lad could play for England very soon if he gets the set piece right.
Manu Tuilagi – I am now convinced that the 2011 World Cup will not be too early for Manu. Move him up now and get him ready for New Zealand.
Riki Flutey – Showed some lovely touches and has the class to return to the England set-up.