After a rocky start to the season Tigers remain in the Premiership play-off hunt, though have left themselves a big task. After 10 of 18 rounds Tigers are in 7th position, 7 points behind the play off places & 1 further point back from a potential home semi-final. Sitting just off the tightly bunched top 6, realistically Tigers can only afford to lose two more games & will need to pick up a good selection of bonus points too as they not only need to close the gap but also overtake so many teams.
The next three weeks will tell us a lot about whether Tigers are genuine contenders in the Premiership & European Cup, or whether they are pretenders flattering to deceive and taking advantage of opponents resting players against us.
Last Sunday, Tigers celebrated New Years Eve with a comfortable win in front of a sold-out Welford Road crowd. Tigers’ forward power was just too much for an understrength Bath side to deal with. Tries from forwards James Cronin, Matt Rogerson, George Martin & a penalty try from a collapsed maul were joined by a lovely blindside break from evergreen Mike Brown.
Injuries, though, are beginning to rack up with four more games before the long hiatus for the Six Nations. In particular in the centre where Solomone Kata limped off to potentially join Guy Porter & Matt Scott on the treatment table. This could stretch the squad and require a needs must team selection this weekend.
Visitors on Saturday are the champions Saracens, currently in 5th place.Tthe Londoners are having their own injury crisis at prop & we may see former Tigers favourite Logovi’i Mulipola in their starting line-up. Saracens’ scrum has been a problem for them all season, so will be an area that Tigers will be looking to assert dominance & gain territory as well as possession.
Other than the scrum, Saracens remain a formidable proposition. Captain Owen Farrell may have “stepped back” from England but will lead the side from fly half while Maro Itoje, Jamie George & Ben Earl are sure to feature having been rested last week for Saracen’s win against Newcastle.
Afterwards, Tigers Women face Harlequins in a Premiership Women’s Rugby match, fans with a ticket to the men’s match can stay to watch, or those who only want to watch the women’s match can buy a cheaper ticket for entrance to that match only. Tigers Women are still winless in their maiden top flight campaign, while Harlequins are on one win from six, so it is another good chance for the women to break their duck.
The week after Saracens the Tigers Men head back to European competition, where they have been performing better than the league. Tigers sit in second in their pool of six teams, only points difference keeping them from top spot. They face two extremely tough games to seal their place in the round-of-16 as they travel to La Rochelle, back-to-back defending European Champions, before welcoming Leinster, the side La Rochelle beat in both finals, in the final pool game.
Tigers have a very strong recent record in France and will be looking to add a 6th successive win when visiting the continent. It is likely Tigers will choose to rotate their players, but I hope we view this as a chance to lay down a marker & potentially eliminate a rival for the title at the pool stage. Leinster have become Tigers’ most frequent European opponent over the years, with 14 match-ups so far including the quarter-final of each of the past two seasons. Getting that Irish scalp is another serious chance to push their credentials and would make waves across the tournament.
The alternative of course is potentially three tough defeats and the season as good as dead by January. These are the games where the best players & coaches thrive. These are the games we want to see as fans. And these are the games we need to be winning to add another trophy to our collection.