Saturday 4 February 2012 – 3.00pm
Welford Road, Leicester
LV= Cup Group 3 #4
Our LV= Cup campaign is likely to end tomorrow at Welford Road, since it will take a bonus point win and other results to go our way for us to reach the semi-finals.
Sale will need to beat Scarlets with a decent swing in the points difference, and Gloucester will have to fail to win, for us to progress.
The Tiggers are themselves top of Group 2, three points ahead of London Irish following their victory at Harlequins a week ago, following a hammering of Gloucester at home and a hammering in Llanelli in October. Thus, they will also be looking to win and progress to a first semi-final since 2008, and closer to the final at Sixways next month.
I don’t understand why the finals are being played at relatively small grounds these days. I know there were only 6,000-odd at our final last year, but if the semis had been held a fortnight earlier on the middle Six Nations weekend, rather than a week before the final, the crowd at Franklin’s Gardens would surely have been bigger. Heck, they might even have had to use Welford Road instead, which has twice the capacity of Sixways and isn’t too far away.
Perhaps I haven’t put that as clearly as I wanted to, but my point is that sometimes the unions do not help themselves.
Getting back to Saturday, we now have Leicester legend and former title-winning manager John Wells on board at KP as a coach, as Gary Gold further expands his backroom team.
Wells would have been my choice to succeed Alan Tait, so I was pretty happy when I read about Wells’ appointment. It is an ironic coincidence that his first match with us will be at his old home of Welford Road.
Gold and Mike Ford got off to a cracking start on Sunday, and while I’m sure we won’t win every single match for the rest of the season, more performances like that will give us a chance of staying in the Premiership, which is obviously the priority.
The Falcons have a long rivalry with Leicester in this cup, as we have with Sale whom we hammered on Sunday. The biggest meeting was obviously the 1981 John Player Cup Final at Twickenham. An article by a Tigers fan here shows us that Clive Woodward was on the winning team that day, alongside current Leicester chief executive Peter Wheeler.
Les Cusworth is now Argentina manager I see.
Our cup record against Leicester is not good though, with five defeats in as many meetings:
02/05/1981 Twickenham John Player Cup Final L15-22
13/03/1982 Welford Road John Player Cup QF L9-18
28/02/1987 Welford Road John Player Cup R4 L6-19
22/02/1992 Kingston Park Pilkington Cup QF L0-10
22/02/1997 Kingston Park Pilkington Cup QF L8-18
That last match was Pat Lam’s home debut in his first spell at the Falcons.
With the Six Nations starting this weekend Leicester will obviously be hit by international call-ups. Former Falcon and general nice bloke Geoff Parling could make his England debut off the bench at Murrayfield, while club-mates Ben Youngs, Tom Croft and Dan Cole starts in the front row where he and his Red Rose colleageues will be up against our own Scotland international Euan Murray.
Since his country’s next two matches on Sundays, this may well be the only match Murray misses for us during the tournament.
We have further interest in Edinburgh with Phil Dowson winning his first cap from the start and Lee Dickson alongside Parling as a replacement.
Prop Martin Castrogiovanni will be in Paris, in Italy’s starting lineup in the tournament opener against France.
In the A internationals, Leicester’s Billy Twelveminutes, who will join Gloucester in the summer, and Ed Slater are in the Saxons side that will take on Grant Shiells’ Scotland A in Galashiels tonight.
The Falcons have named pretty much our strongest team available with Greg Goosen back to fitness and Jon Golding making his first start of the season. Will Welch’s injury means Richard Mayhew wears the number seven shirt and Jimmy Gopperth is back at fly-half. Jamie Helleur also makes a comeback from injury on the bench.
Falcons: Greg Goosen, Ryan Shortland, Corne Uys, James Fitzpatrick, Suka Hufanga, Jimmy Gopperth, Chris Pilgrim, Jon Golding, Rob Vickers, James Hall, Adriaan Fondse, Tim Swinson, Ally Hogg, Richard Mayhew, Mark Wilson.
Replacements: Joe Graham, Darren Fearn, Ashley Wells, Richard Boyle, Taiasina Tu’ifua, Will Chudley, Jamie Helleur, Joel Hodgson.
Richard Cockerill has named Ben Woods as his captain for tomorrow, while Thomas Waldrom is also in the back row after being released by the Saxons. There are also three former Falcons on the bench in Craig Newby, James Grindal and my ex-black Toby Flood, who has recently returned from injury. Julian Salvi was a transfer target for Alan Tait last summer.
Leicester: Niall Morris, Horacio Agulla, Matt Smith, Anthony Allen, Scott Hamilton, Jeremy Staunton, Sam Harrison, Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter, Julian White, George Skivington, Graham Kitchener, Steve Mafi, Ben Woods ©, Thomas Waldrom.
Replacements: Rob Hawkins, Logovi’i Mulipola, Ryan Bower, Craig Newby, Julian Salvi, James Grindal, Tony Flood, Andy Forsyth.
A few weeks ago I was feeling pretty underwhelmed about this game, and thought for a while about whether I should go or not. Finally I decided I should since the time when I won’t be able to go to so many matches will eventually come, plus I will miss Bath next week.
With the recent managerial changes and Sunday’s beating of Sale, I’m quite excited now!
(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)