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Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview

By ChrisC
April 19 2015

The Waiting Game. We spend our lives waiting.  As children for birthdays, fireworks night, Christmas, holidays.  As teenagers for the day when we can drink/smoke and do all the forbidden adult things that we crave. We wait for exam results. We wait for that first date and wonder at the fluttering feeling as we hold hands and kiss for the first time. We wait for the marriage proposal to be made or accepted.  We wait for the wedding, for children maybe, for the outcome of a job interview, the new home, perhaps grandchildren and so it goes on – the waiting game.

For us though the latest part of the waiting game is over played out in a sunlit Spanish valley where, after two long agonising years, our brave man has at last found peace.


We’ve all been waiting, from the moment the disease was revealed to be at an advanced stage we’ve been waiting.


He who’d always been the big strong floppy haired optimist telling me I worried too much and doing his “aw shucks” impression when my wife, his big sister, told him off for some misdemeanour or another. He’d tormented her since they were children but she loved him so. 


He clung on to hope as a surrogate for the rest of us who viewed the future with increasing dread, even upon the final throw of the medical dice, when the crippling treatment ceased and palliative care took its place he was airily dismissive of his plight.


With his Morphine pump and chest drain in place, he was sitting in the warm Spanish sun chatting , eating a sandwich and drinking a mug of tea while re-gathering his strength after Skyping his grandchildren . It was all disarmingly normal other than for his skeletal appearance and the presence of the paraphernalia heralding his imminent denouement.


It was though an all too brief final period of lucidity. There was to be no further propitiation and soon he lapsed into a merciful coma and was gone. He was just sixty-four. The waiting was over.


We’re briefly in the UK now to collect our dog, car and possessions to travel back southward for another absence when we’ll support his widow the best we can for as long as she needs us while in the aftermath she starts the healing process of those deep, raw wounds with which the last two gruelling years have marked her.


The sunlit valley was such a familiar happy place that for the moment feels so alien and plangent.


Once more our long suffering and supportive friends are forsaking their apartment and the “cafe culture” of city living so as to move into our house from where they can enjoy the beauty of the English Spring which is already showing its new finery as the etiolated trees in the dale adopt the misty green hue that’s a harbinger of brighter, leafier days ahead. 


The endlessly cheerful daffodils are making their head nodding welcome to the new season as if to say “the waiting’s over, there are happier times to come”


I love the springtime with its sense of hope, freshness and new birth, although this year it has been blighted by a clutch of funerals which, through the sense of sadness and loss, have served to remind me of the fragility of life and its inestimable value.



For too brief a moment we’ve disappeared into our own normality and mundane distraction, part of which for me is rugby so for now I’m looking at this weekend’s fixture against London Welsh.


Now let me start with a bit of a mea culpa.  I haven’t seen much of London Welsh this season.


The poor souls who call the Kassam Stadium home turf where to support their newly promoted team have bravely born witness to the repeated bashings.


The average attendance at the Kassam has been just over 3000 with the zenith being the 4337 folks who watched them get a relative mild 43 – 14 pummelling  from Saints.


In the interests of research I did watch the recording of their last match, again at the Kassam, when they hosted Wasps.


It wasn’t a pretty sight as they went down 40-13 bringing their points against to an eye watering 829 with just 176 in their credit column along with 23 tries compared to 119 tries on the debit side. They are though the only team to have scored fewer tries than Tigers. 


I know that with the potty play off malarkey that decides the club to be promoted the eventual beneficiary comes somewhat late to the transfer market but for all that the squad declared by the newcomers didn’t look half bad and possibly good enough to survive in the Premiership for the critical inaugural season when the financial and logistical chips are stacked against them.


Olly Barkley, James Down, , Chris Hala’ufia, Tim Molenaar, Dean Schofield, Taione Vea, Piri Weepu and now Leicester bound Opeti Fonua all looked able additions to the battle hardened squad that had again secured promotion.


Since then of course, once London Welsh was metaphorically writ large on the iceberg called relegation, the head coach has been replaced and some players have already bailed out, those remaining know that unless superior alternative employment is found they’ll be back in the Championship next season.


Others meanwhile have held firm with Jewell, Awcock, Reynolds and James Lewis having recently signed on for more, their wages covered by the long awaited settlement of the funding dispute between the club, the RFU and PRL.


If the latest dismantling of this weekend’s opponents by Wasps was horrible less so were Tigers’ attacking efforts at Allianz Park. 


Matters again turned on a refereeing decision – this time that of the otherwise satisfactory Mr Carley who fully utilised the current “offences du jour” of holding on to the ball and not releasing a tackled player.  Sadly both offences requiring a great deal of subjectivity on the part of match officials. 


Mr Carley was assisted by Messrs Goodliffe and Maybank, revenants to remind us that things were not all that rosy (no pun intended) on the refereeing front in days past.


Obviously crooked scrum feeds, squint line out throws and illegal binding were ignored and most certainly not on the radar of the new crop of referees.


The pivotal point though was when Mr Carley sent Tom Youngs to the sidelines for ten minutes, a period when Saracens scored three tries, or in the case of the their third and final try established the enabling position.  A feat they looked unlikely to achieve either before Youngs’ departure or once he’d returned and the Tigers’ defence was restored out wide where, in the absence of Goneva who made way for Ghiraldini, the main damage was done.


Now don’t get me wrong if Yellow Cards were handed out for stupidity Tom Youngs’ pointless interference with a player who posed no threat is right up there in the pantheon of dimwittedness but on almost every other occasion such an indiscretion would have resulted in a penalty alone.


Quite what Mr Carley thought was so egregious as to dismiss Youngs is a mystery.  Before and after that incident there had been plenty of occurrences, not least the dangerous tackles (and I use the word “tackle” in its widest sense) by Billy Vunipola and Kelly Brown, more worthy of sanction but Yellow Cards were there none until Goneva took the meting out of justice to Brown, denied by the four match officials, into his own hands late on.


An RFU disciplinary panel has now handed him a ban for the London Welsh match while RFU team member Billy Vunipola’s citing was ignored by the RFU’s Marsupial Assizes.  


If Saracens were unable to make their attack count significantly, other than against fourteen men, then that of Tigers looked equally unlikely to score even had Saracens been reduced to a half dozen so bereft of wit and invention was it.


The backs who, contrary to the belief of some of the team’s followers, are not short of talent look to be coached by rote and, without the brain of Ant Allen to guide them toward on field alternatives, are as predictable as night following day as they slavishly follow the coach’s directions from which chiaroscuro is so woefully absent.


There’s a lot riding on Mauger and Hansen’s arrival – an awful lot!


The loss was bad enough and, even if Tigers’ league position was only diminished by a retrievable one place as a consequence, the probable loss of Ayerza for this week at least is potentially a greater blow if the prognosis is overly optimistic as Rizzo, who replaced the Argentine, was also forced from the field.


I expect that Ghiraldini will be starting as hooker while Tom Youngs sits in a corner with a pointy hat on and there’ll be nothing lost in the scrummaging stakes from the Italian international’s presence.


Cole, who was clearly as bemused as the rest of us by Mr Carley’s decision to penalise the British Lion when a collapse, initiated by Vunipola’s illegal binding, saw Cole penalised.  He’s in fine form is Mr Cole and likely to be on the tight-head while I expect to see Mulipola starting on the loose-head in place of Ayerza.


Given that Wasps are not the strongest scrummaging outfit in the Premiership the visitors’ starting front row of ex Cardiff Blues’ Nathan Trevett, Koree Britton, ex of Gloucester, who had a very brief stop over at Franklins Gardens and who Tigers’ fans will recall getting marmalised when in the famous Cherry & White shirt at Welford Road a few seasons back, looked underpowered.


Tongan international tight-head Taione Vea who joined from Wasps has, for the most part, been on duty for London Welsh but for the last couple of matches has been replaced by ex Bedford Blues signing Ben Cooper.  Maybe Vea, who’s heading up to Kingston Park, is injured but if not he could start and bolster the Welsh front row which looks to be heading for a peristaltic experience in the crepuscular environs of the scrum.


Just a few years back Dean Schofield, after being a Sale Sharks’ stalwart and a force in the land was sampling the rarefied atmosphere of Toulon, then he had a couple of unsatisfactory seasons at Worcester and now he’s headed back up north to Leeds.  In the twilight of his career he’s not the player he was when he gambolled over the Welford Road turf on a try scoring run and where I expect he’ll be having another and maybe valedictory visit on Saturday.


Most likely he’ll be paired with another ex Cardiff Blues player; lock James Down. It looks as if they’ll be up against a mix of Thorn, Parling and Kitchener with Jamie Gibson aiding what should be a dominant line out performance from the home side.


Tongan international Opeti Fonua is on his way to Welford Road and the giant 140kg back row certainly puts himself about to considerable effect. He’s scored three Premiership tries and if he gets near the try line then watch out, his 2 metre frame with all that weight and power will be over. He’ll be giving new team mate and rival for next season’s #8 shirt; Jordan Crane, who’s been the model of constancy in this troubled season, a workout. Crane’s another who’s unfathomably underrated by some. Maybe they’d like him to dress as Ronald McDonald to satisfy their craving for pizzazz?


My guess is that Carl Kirwan, who’s heading to Sixways, will get the start ahead of ex Tiger Richard Thorpe who could be on the bench or they may be rotated. Either way they’ll have to take on Julian Salvi who’s too often suffered at the whistle of match officials largely because, I believe, he’s Julian Salvi so he’ll be hoping to be allowed to get on with his work for a change.


There’s been some mixing and matching on the London Welsh blindside with the Ulster bound Peter Browne, ex Tiger; Ben Pienaar and potentially new Tiger the ex Brumbie; Aussie Lachlan McCaffrey who’s one of those fashionable utility type characters who can play anywhere in the back row. 


It will of course depend on “offence du jour” but all things being equal I can see the Tigers’ breakaways completing a dominant performance from the Tigers’ pack.


Star signing Piri Weepu has packed his bags already and is at Wasps en route to Oyonnax (thanks for popping in Piri!!!) so the loyal Robert Lewis, who’s been with London Welsh through thick and thin  has been in the #9 shirt recently.


He’s a bright player doing the best he can behind a consistently beaten pack so my guess is that Ben Youngs will be all over him like a cheap suit.


Freddie Burns was cursed with snail like ball at Allianz Park but with Tigers sure to get faster presentation to him this time Burns should be able to stand flatter.  His instinct is not to sit back in the pocket but to play on the gain line however with service as glacial as it was against Saracens he’d have got the ball and a Saracen at the same time which would have served no good purpose.  My bet is that he’ll open his considerable bag of tricks this time out when he could face the experienced Olly Barkley who’s really done the rounds since he left Bath after seven seasons at The Rec.,


Initially having an ill starred season at Gloucester, he returned to Bath for three more seasons, then he got itchy feet (or wallet) and set off to Racing Metro for a brief spell.  Then onward to Grenoble and Scarlets where he tarried briefly before fetching up at London Welsh.  Still shows his old class at times and gives an option at inside centre when required.


Ah! Options at inside centre! Remember those prelapsarian times?


As it is it’ll be Bai throwing his considerable presence upon the defensive redoubts and probably being met by the soon to retire Tom May who’s sticking admirably to his task and likely to be paired again with ex Scarlet Nick Reynolds who is a nippy sort scoring three tries from his sixteen Premiership appearances.


If Loamanu, who would be a real threat, is still missing then Tigers will stick with Matt Smith at outside centre as with Bai, and assuming Yellow Cards aren’t deployed against his team, the visitors’ attack doesn’t look likely to breach what’s become the third meanest defence in the Premiership.


However given the grumous nature of Tigers’ attacking strategy and its inability to achieve much concatenation how often they’ll breach the porous London Welsh defence will be interesting to note.  Against Wasps London Welsh’s set up was slow and disorganised although with Goneva absent the chance of some long awaited tries is prejudiced.


As for the other wing I thought Morris was a bit of a peripheral figure at Allianz Park and I still feel that Scully should start, partnered with Thompstone while Morris moves to the bench to cover wing and full back.


Matt Tait kept trying but to little effect and he struggled with the high ball from Saracens early on.  I must say that I thought he’d be in his element on the Allianz Park plastic carpet (I wonder if there was free fitting and underlay?) I guess he’ll start and although I’d like to see Bell given a start his value as back up fly half may be too compelling to risk him from the off.


The back three for London Welsh look lively enough but don’t get much ball although young Chris Elder scored a stunning try on his Premiership debut against Wasps. Plenty of strength and pace so hard to see why the ex Plymouth player won’t keep the shirt.


Seb Stegman has made the #14 shirt his own scoring three Premiership tries to add to those he nabbed during his six seasons at Harlequins.  He’s also off to Leeds at season’s end and looks a bit suspect defensively, tending to drift in.  In fact London Welsh generally seemed to defend narrowly, looking vulnerable to the ball shifted wide with any degree of dispatch and being attacked through the 13/14 channel which is where Loamanu could prosper.


Welsh League international Elliott Kear, who’s a league convert from Bradford and another ex Quin; Seb Jewell have seen a fair bit of passing traffic on its way to the try line.  Jewell’s staying put for another Championship season and I expect to see him start on Saturday. If he gets the ball in a bit of space he looks fleet footed but against the Tigers’ defence?  Hmmm!


I can’t see past a Tigers’ victory, especially at Welford Road, but London Welsh mustn’t be treated lightly as complacency could be Tigers’ undoing.


That then is my last preview of the season. 


It’s been another injury wracked period for Tigers, the rugby depths have been plummeted and while the relative heights have been scaled, from the nadir of tenth spot to fifth, the summit looks an unlikely destination.


During this, for me, truncated season, aside from rugby I’ve written about schooldays, holidays, career, music, childhood, films, gambling, cars, health, friends, Christmas, computers, fantasy fiction, life, death and the human condition in general.  And to those of you who have stuck with me through it all, you have my thanks, as you do for the kind, supportive and appreciative messages you’ve sent.


But that’s it from me until after the pool stages of the World Cup when the Premiership returns and there’ll be new players, coaches and, I hope, a new optimism at Tigers.


Life though will have inexorably moved on and we shall have to wait and see what the future holds.

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Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview (IP Logged)
19/04/2015 21:27
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2015:05:05:19:07:46 by Tiggs.

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
Tiggs (IP Logged)
19/04/2015 21:56
Puts things in perspective, it really is just a game of rugby.
Thanks Chris for all your efforts again this year, and my best wishes for your latest trip !

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
Purebob (IP Logged)
20/04/2015 07:44
I am sorry for your loss Chris.

Having walked similar paths to those you and your loved ones are taking, I must say that your words resonate. of course the soul-howling caused by existential loss, but also in reminding us just how IMPORTANT are distractions like rugby.

Where would we be without such wonderful normality at times of horror ?

Go well in your off-season sir, and I wish you and your loved ones more laughter than you can currently imagine.

And thanks for another season of exemplary previews. You are still my favourite and most trusted rugby journalist.


Donate now to Cancer research

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
S4llyC (IP Logged)
20/04/2015 08:45
PB says it all really, Chris. My deepest sympathy to you and Helen and all the family.

Thinking of you during the coming months, and looking forward to your literary return to the preview seat when you are ready.

Many thanks for your superb pieces this season, during what must have been a difficult time. Best wishes to you all xx.

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
Rich W (IP Logged)
20/04/2015 10:46
Thank you as always Chris - sterling work of course - but all the more so given the heartbreaking tale that lies behind your word.

I can offer little by way of solace - just the promise that my thoughts are with you.

I hope your sojourn is able to bring a modicum of peace.

Thanks for all you efforts this season your words have become part of the joy of following our sport and our club. My (and Andrea's) best wishes to you both.


Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
20/04/2015 11:46
Others have spoken of your loss better than I could

Sympathy may soothe and empathy salve, thus I offer both - in hope

If there is anything clear it is that 'waiting' should be subjugated by living each day, each moment, as time takes care of the rest unaided

''It [the NHS] will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it'' Aneurin Bevan

Are you faithfull?

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
Tiger in the Bath (IP Logged)
20/04/2015 16:48
Chris, you always write very well, but sometimes with real beauty. I found your description of his passing very moving. I wish you and your family every support and comfort as you move through the next, and hopefully easier phase of your lives.

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
Stopsy (IP Logged)
20/04/2015 17:43
Many thanks Chris for this and all of your much valued input for yet another season. I'll drop Mike off the prayer list but my thoughts are with you, Helen and his wife.

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
daktari (IP Logged)
20/04/2015 19:18
No words , just, Thanks.

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
Johns (IP Logged)
21/04/2015 08:33
Chris I send my sincere condolencies to you and your family, I have no doubt you will be the rock that will care and support your family during this difficult time.

Thank you for your excellent previews and hope you return refreshed in the new season.

Best wishes

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
(JSF) (IP Logged)
21/04/2015 10:40
A truly moving piece, my sincere condolences on your loss.

As others have said have a good break and return renewed in the Autumn.

Thank you as always for your insights, both rugby and personal.

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
21/04/2015 16:42
Fantastic writing. Even manages to make death sound like s thing of beauty. Perhaps to some it is. We all take the death of our loved one's in different ways.
. Sort of puts rugby, or any other game into some sort of perspective but as Chris himself might say, that is why we are here. So, putting aside my sincere condolences to Chris and his family, I can concur with his assessment and cannot see beyond a bp win.
. Thank you for your 'writings' this season and for ending the season with such a beautiful article. We try to match it and some can do it but for some of us it is a miserable failure.

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
21/04/2015 17:14
Idle: ''We try to match it and some can do it ....''

I'm not sure any of us can match Chris's efforts, as nor can many professionals, which is why his pearls are so sought after

''It [the NHS] will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it'' Aneurin Bevan

Are you faithfull?

Re: Tigers v London Welsh AP Match Preview
21/04/2015 17:28
Very true osv.

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