The second Guinness Premiership semi-final sees log-toppers Gloucester taking on the Leicester Tigers at Kingsholm Road. This is the Gloucester “Cherry & Whites” third semi play-off in six seasons – last season they were beaten 44-16 in the final by the Tigers, and so they will be looking to avenge that defeat today.
Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan has been pragmatic on last year’s final stating “We were well beaten last year, but I would like to think a year on we’ve matured and we are better for it.” Well they certainly were better for it, once again topping the table after all pool matches. However the same can’t be said for Leicester Tigers, who sneaked into the play-offs on the back of a desperate win at Harlequins and a Sale Sharks defeat.
Whilst Gloucester set off to a perfect start in the premiership, Leicester were decimated by World Cup call-ups, injuries and a caretaker coaching team – head coach Marcello Loffreda joined them 2 months into the season. Once the squad finally got going, there were hiccups from within – key players off form (Aaron Mauger and Andy Goode), injuries (Raubeni, Tuilagi, Ellis, Jennings), a general lack of leadership and whispers of a split between assistant coaches Richard Cockerill, Neil Back and Marcello Loffreda. However they have managed to make the play-offs, and you certainly can’t write-off a team who expect success every season.
Players to watch:
Virtually the entire Gloucester backline is worth watching – but none more so than the talented young flyhalf Ryan Lamb, an expansive running flyhalf who also is a pretty consistent kicker. Another name that really stands out is the vastly underrated centre/winger, James Simpson-Daniel. This chap has the ability to create something out of nothing – and at pace too. Another name to watch out for is Tongan flanker Akapusi Qera, a scavenger of note and a prolific try-scorer. Qera has also been shortlisted as one of the Guinness Premiership players of the season. Lock and captain Marco Bortolami is also a key player for Gloucester, and he will be hoping to steal some ball from the Tigers locks.
Powerhouse Samoan winger Alesana Tuilagi returns from injury and will be looking to outpace and out muscle Simpson-Daniel on the wing. All Blacks centre Aaron Mauger has been surpringly uninspiring this season – now would be an ideal time to show his undoubted class. Same too applies for Andy Goode, the Tigers pivot. Goode has had a poor season by his standards, falling further down the England pecking order and there was talk of him moving on. But when he is on song with his boot, it can be decisive. Amongst the forwards, eighthman Jordan Crane is a rising star.
Expect Gloucester to try play their usual expansive game, and Tigers try keep it tight and amongst their forwards to restrict the Cherry and Whites’ possession. Both teams have big, experienced front rows so expect a tough battle upfront as well. Whilst you can never write off the Tigers, you have to think that Gloucester’s fine form over the past few seasons has to be rewarded – so Gloucester to sneak through…just.
SA Players in action:
Leicester Tigers: Marco Wentzel
Gloucester: 15 Iain Balshaw, 14 James Simpson-Daniel, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Lesley Vainikolo, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Gareth Delve, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Alex Brown, 4 Marco Bortolami (captain), 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Andy Titterrell, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Olivier Azam, 17 Jack Forster, 18 Will James, 19 Luke Narraway, 20 Gareth Cooper, 21 Willie Walker, 22 Mark Foster.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Tom Varndell, 13 Danny Hipkiss, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Harry Ellis, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Ben Herring, 6 Martin Corry (captain), 5 Ben Kay, 4 Marco Wentzel, 3 Julian White, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Boris Stankovich.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Richard Blaze, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Christophe Laussucq, 21 Sam Vesty, 22 Ayoola Erinle.
Venue: Kingsholm, Gloucester
Kick-off: 16.30 (17.30 SA time, 15.30 GMT)
Referee: Dave Pearson
Touch judges: Stuart Terheege, Peter Huckle
TMO: Laurie Bryant, Geoff Warren