Match preview: Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons

Saturday 25 February 2012 – 3.00pm

Welford Road, Leicester

Aviva Premiership #16

The Falcons tomorrow make their second visit to Welford Road in a month, having lost the LV= Cup meeting with Leicester three weeks ago. This time the points at stake are far more important – the Tiggers need them to further their quest for a playoff place, while we are seeking just to stay in the Premiership.

Only three teams have won in Leicester this season, Exeter and Saracens back in September (the latter becoming the first away team to score 50 points at Welford Road in the league thanks to a late penalty) and Harlequins the following month.

Since then, Richard Cockerill’s men are on a nine-game unbeaten run at home, winning the past seven of those outings in front of the gigantic Caterpillar Stand, which famously holds more spectators than the whole of Kingston Park.

Like Clive Owen in Inside Man, I choose my words carefully – spectators, not fans or supporters. Those who have regularly visited Welford Road as an away fan will know it is not one of the louder stadiums in the Premiership, but even by their standards the Tiggers faithful were quiet three weeks ago. The South Stand or The Shed it ain’t.

Still, we have an extremely poor record at the home of England’s most successful rugby union club, just two wins and nothing but a single draw (a violent Friday night match in 2005) since 1997.

Our record in LE2:

20/09/1969                                     L6-48

31/03/1975                                     L15-18

11/04/1977                                     W18-6

13/03/1982 (Cup QF)                    L9-18

19/04/1986                                      L15-56

28/02/1987 (Cup R4)                    L6-19

16/04/1988                                     L0-65

12/03/1994 (Division 1)                L5-66

30/12/1997 (Premiership 1)        W25-19

12/12/1998 (Premiership 1)        L18-31

12/02/2000 (Premiership 1)        L26-34

17/03/2001 (Premiership)           L7-51

13/04/2002 (Premiership)           L12-20

21/09/2002 (Premiership)           L9-52

26/09/2003 (Premiership)           L21-28

19/02/2005 (Premiership)           L10-83

14/10/2005 (Premiership)           D16-16

27/01/2007 (Premiership)           L5-39

26/01/2008 (Premiership)           L14-41

20/12/2008 (Premiership)           L3-20

19/09/2009 (Premiership)           L6-15

27/11/2010 (Premiership)           L19-44

04/02/2012 (Cup)                          L19-24

Leicester’s most recent match was on Sunday against Saracens in Watford. Their 19-20 victory, achieved thanks to a late Geordan Murphy drop-goal, make the Tigers the first side to win away to the champions since October 2010, so their uncharacteristic fourth placing in the Premiership table does not mean we have an easy task tomorrow.

It will be significantly easier thanks to a large number of internationals being away with their countries in the Six Nations. Toby Flood, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Dan Cole will be at Twickenham facing Wales, though Thomas Waldrom was released back to his club. Top-class tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni is an Italian regular but injury has ruled him out of the rest of the Six Nations, which is a huge loss for his country.

It is interesting that our final three home Premiership games are on Friday nights. I know Quins and Sale were already set to be on Fridays, but Saracens was moved before it was selected to be on TV.

I wonder if this may give us a bit of a psychological advantage over Wasps and Worcester when they play later in the weekend. They will have the pressure of either knowing we have won, so they have to, or that we’ve lost so they need to take advantage.

Unfortunately both of our relegation rivals are in action tonight, Wasps at Sale and Worcester at home to Saracens, the latter live on ESPN. Both very tough games, so perhaps it would not be a surprise to see the relegation picture exactly the same as it is now on Sunday morning.

I feel though that the new-found confidence and ability to fight until the final whistle will stand the Falcons in good stead nowhere better than at Welford Road, where away teams so often come off worse in 50-50s and are kicked into submission by early penalties.

Not that that’s a criticism of Leicester – it is up to their opponents to rise to the challenge and play what is in front of them. It’s been a while since I felt so optimistic that we could do that at Well-quiet Road.

This weekend’s game comes too early for new signings Peter Stringer, James Goode and Adam Balding, but Jeremy Manning is a surprise choice on the wing and Andrew van der Heijden is back in the second row. Having those two fit again is a massive boost:

15 Greg Goosen, 14 Tom Bedford, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Jeremy Manning, 10 Jimmy Gopperth (c), 9 Chris Pilgrim, 1 Grant Shiells, 2 Rob Vickers, 3 Euan Murray, 4 Andrew van der Heijden, 5 Tim Swinson, 6 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch, 8 Mark Wilson.

Replacements: 16 Michael Mayhew, 17 Jonny Golding, 18 Ashley Wells, 19 Taiasina Tu’ifua, 20 Richard Mayhew, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Rikki Sheriffe, 23 Joel Hodgson.

Tiggers captain Geordan Murphy makes his 300th appearance in the green, red and white tomorrow, but he skippers a side that contains only two former Falcons – James Grindal at scrum-half and Craig Newby on the bench:

15 Geordan Murphy (c),
 14 Horacio Agulla, 
13 Matt Smith,
 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 
11 Scott Hamilton, 
10 George Ford, 
9 James Grindal, 
1 Marcos Ayerza,
 2 George Chuter,
 3 Logoviii Mulipola,
 4 Ed Slater,
 5 George Skivington, 
6 Steve Mafi, 
7 Julian Salvi, 
8 Thomas Waldrom.

Replacements:
 16 Rob Hawkins,
 17 Boris Stankovich,
 18 Julian White, 
19 Graham Kitchener, 
20 Craig Newby,
 21 Scott Steele,
 22 Jeremy Staunton,
 23 Niall Morris.

If you haven’t been to Leicester for the past couple of seasons you may not be aware that The Victory on Aylestone Road, one of the best pubs in the Premiership, has closed. Last year Falcons fans congregated pre-match in the Swan & Rushes further on Oxford Street, which follows on from Infirmary Road, which follows on from Aylestone Road, heading towards the town centre.

Or there is a Wetherspoons in town, can’t remember its name though. There is also a very good Pukka Pies chippy to the north west of the station, down towards the shops. Hopefully the EDL (I think) march was the only reason it was closed a couple of weeks ago.

So, my services to Leicestershire commerce done, all I have left to say it “Come on the Mighty Falcons!!”

(Follow The South Stand Choir on Twitter: @SouthStandChoir)

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