If any normal club lost a tight-head prop of the calibre of Martin Castrogiovanni ahead of a Guinness Premiership final at Twickenham, there would be serious concern. Leicester are anything but normal in the human resources department. When the Tigers take on London Irish in front of an 80,000-plus crowd this evening, their scrum will be anchored by a four-square farmer by the name of Julian White who just happens to be the most destructive set-piece operator in European rugby.
This is not good news for London Irish, who comprehensively outscrummaged Harlequins in last weekend's semi-final on the other side of the A316 but will find themselves stepping up a class today. Leicester might miss Castrogiovanni's energetic ball-carrying and general nuisance value but they will not be weakened by his absence from the darkened recesses, and as a solid scrum is still a staple ingredient of success in this hard old game, it is the Irish who have reason to worry.
At least the Exiles can forget about another experienced international, the All Black centre Aaron Mauger. Like Castrogiovanni, he is unfit. In addition, the Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill is sticking to his policy of keeping some of his biggest names – the flanker Lewis Moody, the scrum-half Harry Ellis – on the bench and leaving a player as respected as Martin Corry out of the squad altogether. But the way people like Dan Hipkiss, Julien Dupuy, Tom Croft and Craig Newby have been performing of late, it scarcely makes much difference. The favourites are favourities for a good reason.
London Irish have declared two of those injured at Harlequins, the centre Seilala Mapusua and the captain Bob Casey, fit to start. Another casualty, the England lock Nick Kennedy, has also been named in the side, but his chances of surviving a fitness test on his injured knee are no better than 50-50. The Exiles' back row is in the finest of fettle, and if Mike Catt plays another blinder in his dotage, a first title is not beyond the realms of possibility. For all that, most of the cognoscenti expect Leicester to do enough.
Across town in Acton, the fallen champions Wasps confirmed that Tony Hanks, the 37-year-old New Zealander, would succeed Ian McGeechan as director of rugby. Hanks has solid links with the club – almost as solid as those he has with Waikato, where he has been coaching with considerable success in recent seasons. "I came back to Wasps in November with every intention of resuming my Waikato commitments, but this is an opportunity too good to turn down," he said.
Despite talk of a possible consultancy role, it seems McGeechan's links with Wasps have been severed. Shaun Edwards, his chief lieutenant, will be staying, but judging by his words yesterday, the events of the last week have not been easy for him. "I consider it an honour and a privilege to have worked with Ian over the last few years," he said. "He is a friend as well as a colleague, and he will continue to be both a friend and mentor to me."
McGeechan will lead the British and Irish Lions to South Africa a week tomorrow, with Edwards in tow as part of his coaching team.Reuse content