The season of Goode will go on for some time yet

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The Independent Online

Somewhere out there is the card-carrying member of the Monster Raving Loony Party who sees sense in a four-way play-off to settle the Premiership's season-long slog. But until that person has a change of heart the participants will have to give it their all. "It's two games now and any one can win it," says Leicester's fly-half, Andy Goode, lacking nothing in accuracy if not necessarily in enthusiasm.

It must be pointed out that the Tigers have form in this regard. When the winner-takes-all play-offs were dreamed up in 2000-01 they disliked the idea so much they got the vote overturned. Leicester were happier playing Monopoly with the Premiership under the old system, taking the title every year between 1999 and 2002.

They have been much less successful at games of "It's a Knockout". Not only were they humiliated by Wasps in last year's Premiership final, they have since lost to the same opponents in the semi-final of this season's Powergen Cup and to Bath, at the Walkers Stadium, in the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup.

"We have had no trophy since 2002 and it's a barren spell," says Goode. "It pisses people off at the club but we sat here this time last year saying the same thing and then Wasps did a job on us in the final. Hopefully, it won't go wrong for us this weekend and, if we get through, in two weeks' time."

Needless to say Leicester, who finished two points ahead of their semi-final visitors today, London Irish, having beaten them home and away in the "regular" fixtures, are relying on more than hope. To watch the 26-year-old Goode run a back line in training with Geordan Murphy on the inside ball, or the big wings Tom Varndell and Alex Tuilagi further out, is to glimpse an array of options made all the more potent by Daryl Gibson and Ollie Smith in the centres.

But how adventurous can they afford to be? "I think London Irish have scored 18 tries in the last three games," says Goode, "with about 14 of them from turnovers and interceptions."

And if anyone knows how to sling a pass and get hit by the arrow of misfortune, it's Goode. During the crucial Heineken Cup pool match at home to Stade Français in January, he threw an interception to Mirco Bergamasco. It took guts for Goode to run the same move very soon after to create a try by Danny Hipkiss, and Leicester won.

Against Bath - with a four-on-two overlap outside him and two opponents in the sin bin - Goode played it safe and was pilloried for it. He had judged his nearest marker Olly Barkley to be too close for comfort, while towards the touchline David Bory was about to rush out of the Bath defensive line.

"We are coached by Pat Howard that if you are not sure, then hold on to the ball," says Goode. "So I held on to it. I could argue that what was even worse was that the forwards then got turned over when we had a seven-on-two. But I'm not the sort to go back over things too often - though it was a relief at the time that I had a week's holiday in Dubai booked straight afterwards."

Leicester's form at home is as solid as Irish's is on the road. The Exiles' director of operations at inside centre has been Mike Catt and, as revealed in these pages last week, he is in line for selection tomorrow in the England squad to tour Australia.

The England head coach Andy Robinson told Sale on Wednesday he would speak to their fly-half Charlie Hodgson before making a decision about him. The strong word from Newcastle is that they do not want Jonny Wilkinson to go. So could there be a Goode-Catt axis at 10 and 12?

"I have no idea what Robbo has got in mind," says Goode. "Catty's probably the form centre in the Premiership and if he's fit it doesn't matter if he is 34. He came to Leicester for an interview to be the backs coach and he interviewed very well from what I hear. He analyses the game well."

Goode, of course, finished the Six Nations' Championship as England's starting fly-half. He came on for Hodgson at half-time in the calamitous defeat by France in Paris on the penultimate Sunday and played tidily in the loss to Ireland the following Saturday, when Hodgson was said to have a sore hamstring. Confusingly, it was only another seven days before Hodgson played a full and exacting 80 minutes in Sale's win at London Irish.

"I don't know whether Charlie was fit [for the Ireland game]," says Goode. "I am fairly honest that I think he is the first choice fly-half. The thing for me is that Andy Robinson has now seen me playing at that level and hopefully there is no longer a question mark over me. This is a two-Test tour to Australia, and not a massive slog that is going to take a lot out of you. I don't need a rest and anyway I have got only five caps so it is not as if I can dictate whether I need a rest or not."

The mooted return of Brian Ashton as England's backs coach gives Goode the right vibes too. "I was coached by Brian with the Under-19s back in god-knows-when and again last season with England A. It's clear that England needed changes in the coaching front. Brian thinks outside the box, which is great for attacking rugby. Pat Howard is the same at Leicester. Thinkers like those two are very rare in the game."

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