2017 started with a rugby match – perfect! Not so perfect for the players and staff but great from the viewpoint of a rugby fan. Saracens were travelling to Leicester to take on a Tigers team that had had a difficult season.
I spent New Years’ Eve, well the afternoon anyway, at the theatre in London with my friends Stella and Tina, watching Beautiful – the show about Carole King. Not sport I know but I can highly recommend it, I’d heard of Carole King and her album Tapestry but knew very little about her, she was a prolific song writer, writing her first at the age of 16. Along with the man that was to become her husband Gerry Goffin she wrote many hit songs for the like of Bobby Vee and The Drifters. The show is wonderful! We had dinner at Cafe Rouge where the chef managed to get Stella’s steak wrong twice, she ended up with a chewy steak at the 3rd attempt, they did at least remove the cost from the bill.
All this adds up to bedtime at just after midnight, which was perfect as I had a 2.5 hour drive to Leicester the next day. The clouds opened as I was driving along the A14 and the run was still falling as I walked to Welford Road having parked at the King Power Stadium. I got many funny looks as I had my ugly yet efficient Saracens Kagool on top of my coat, I have no idea how it keeps me dry, but it does, so pah to the looks.
We had a group of tickets behind the posts in the Robin Hood stand, which meant I met up with lots of my good Saracens friends before the game, what a lovely way to start the new year! With the weather conditions I was expecting an old fashioned arm wrestle and that’s pretty much what we got.
The biggest blow of the day came for Tigers when Manu Tuilagi back from injury made a break to be hauled down close to the touch line, he landed awkwardly and had to be helped from the field after mere 6 minutes. It’s subsequently been revealed that he’d torn a cruciate ligament and is likely to miss the rest of the season. I have no expertise in the matter but it seems to me that his physiology doesn’t suit the demands of the way he plays his game, it’s almost as if he’s too bulky for his lower body to cope, although I’d say he had slimmed down in this latest break. A Tigers fan, Keiran McGill, has added a graph of Manu’s appearances to the Tigers fan page showing Manu as have played in 40 of a possible 116 matches for Tigers, with 2 having been missed while he was on England duty. Those stats are devastating for both the player and the club, it’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to come back from this latest blow.
The first half pretty much consisted of balls kicked skywards and a forwards battle largely dominated by Tigers, in particular the scrum. Owen Williams and Owen Farrell exchanged penalties – 2 apiece saw the score level at 6 a side at half time. I have to say that the silence asked for kicks is immaculately observed at Welford Road which is impressive from a large crowd, in excess of 25,000 on this day. Even when the home crowd were unhappy with one of the penalties they made their views known as Farrell was preparing, but fell silent as he took the kick.
Tigers took the lead with a Williams penalty awarded at scrum time yet agin in the match, Farrell missed an easy penalty minutes later. It was going to take either a piece of brilliance, luck or an error for either side to score a try and in a way Owen Farrell in combined all three, or made use of all 3 as he saw a gap and backed himself to run past Dan Cole to score the only try of the game. The conversion was an easy one and simply slotted over by Farrell to increase his personal tally to 13.
Both teams had a further penalty as Tigers pressed for the win, although they had plenty of ball not only was Saracens defence equal to anything they offered but they were lacking in attacking ideas and didn’t look like crossing the line. In spite of the game living up to that Arm Wrestle label it was enjoyable and it seemed a decent start to 2017 for both teams. The score finished Tigers 12 Saracens 16 with Owen Farrell picked as Man of The Match. A quick mention of an unsung hero in the Saracens’ ranks, Jackson Wray puts a huge effort every time he plays and this day was no exception he seems to be someone who misses out on the plaudits but he’s one of the players of the season for me so far
As far as Tigers were concerned however big news was to come the following day as the unthinkable happened and the board sacked Richard Cockerill. Mr Tigers hadn’t survived the early season results. The timing after a gritty performance against the Champions of England and Europe seemed strange, but I believe the path was set before that game. I hope he finds a new post very soon and is back in the game he loves, if not with the club that runs through his veins.