Rugby Union: Tigers tune in to Saracens' TV misery

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The Independent Online
GIVEN THE number of casualties they have suffered this season it would not be unreasonable to list the Leicester Tigers as an endangered species. The injuries have proliferated in particular in the threequarters, cutting deep into the creative core of the side.

Will Greenwood and Joel Stransky are the most notable absentees, but over the months they have been deprived of the services of Nnamdi Ezulike, Leon Lloyd and, for various reasons, Austin Healey. As the team manager, Dean Richards, explained, after breaking off from preparations for today's Allied Dunbar Premiership match against Saracens at Welford Road, "It's been a nightmare for us. We have suffered so much disruption in the threequarters as a result that we have been swapping and switching players from week to week, which has not helped us at all."

Leicester's position at the top of the Premiership table is all the more worthy, then, and owes as much to the strength in depth of their squad as it does to their powerful pack. Inevitably there have been charges of Leicester eschewing the wide game and remaining forward-orientated, but Richards rebuts the suggestion.

"We are not that boring a side," he said. "We have a powerful pack and so we may as well use it, but we are still top of the try-scoring list. We have scored 68 tries to Saracens' 67 in the Allied Dunbar Premiership."

Even if some of those scores have come from line-outs and pushovers, Richards has a point. When they are firing, the Tigers can strike from any position.

That the match is to be televised by Sky is not welcome news to Saracens. Mark Evans their director of rugby admitted: "We do not perform well for the cameras." That is something of an understatement. Being telegenic does not come into it: of the five games in which they have been followed by the cameras the north London club has lost four.

Not that Leicester will take any notice. Richards said: "We have lost two out of the last three matches against them and the third one was a draw, so out of a possible six points we have managed just one. That is disappointing. So tomorrow's match means a hell of a lot to us."

Sarries, meanwhile, are not overawed at the prospect of visiting the Tigers' den.

"We have a realistic chance of winning at Welford Road," Evans said. "It is a tough season for everyone. We are tired, but so are they. We have had a few injuries, so have they."

With a tightly packed group chasing hard to get into Europe injuries could decide the fate of the few and in the light of that one of the most crucial blows to Saracens' hopes is the loss of Paul Wallace, who needs an operation on a groin condition and is out for the rest of the season.

Newcastle are at the back of the pack and have to wait until tomorrow, when they tackle Wasps at Loftus Road, but Rob Andrew, their director of rugby, is another confident man.

"We are seventh, but I don't think Harlequins and Richmond, in eighth and ninth, can do enough to climb into the top six," he said. "But I believe we can hoist ourselves that one crucial place higher, so to me it looks like five teams competing for the four places between third and sixth, given that the top two are already there."

Two more sides who are scrapping for a European place are Bath, in third place and beginning to motor again after a mid-season hiccup or two, and London Irish, in fourth. They meet at Sunbury but Bath are without Jeremy Guscott, who is still troubled by a hamstring problem, while the Exiles will be without scrum-half Kevin Putt (Achilles tendon) and Justin Bishop (ankle).

Harlequins take on the bottom club, Bedford, with their brilliant goal- kicker, John Schuster, certain to pass 300 points for the season and with a total of seven more matches, including today's at The Stoop, he could hit 400.

His current total of 296 is a Premiership record and took the former All Black and current Western Samoan a mere 19 matches to compile.