Wells tweaks Tigers' tactics to tame Toulouse

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The Independent Online

John Wells, the Leicester coach, has yet to decide which of his middle-jumping locks, Ben Kay or Louis Deacon, to pair with the non-jumping but hard-hitting Martin Johnson in the Heineken Cup semi-final with Toulouse at the Walkers Stadium on Sunday.

He is not entirely sure either that Ollie Smith, the brilliant young outside centre whose father died suddenly last week, will be in the optimum frame of mind for a contest of such significance. "I think Ollie will be right," Wells said yesterday. "He'll have to be, won't he?"

What really has Wells scratching his head, however, is the opposition. "This could be a 9-6 game or a 40-30 game, depending on their mood," he said of Toulouse, who share with their hosts the distinction of winning two European titles, one more than anyone else has managed since the tournament started 10 years ago. "We are under no illusions as to the quality of rugby they are capable of producing. Yet we also know that on the odd occasion, they shoot themselves in the foot by playing as adventurously as they do.

"They approach things differently from any other French club, in that their whole game is based around their use of the ball in the loose. They have a great scrum and a great line-out, yet if those fail to work for them, they never seem too bothered. They just go and get the ball from elsewhere, and carry on playing. To my mind, they have the best backs of any club team in Europe, and if we allow them to impose their skills on us, we'll find ourselves in a difficult place."

Neither side will be at full strength this weekend, thanks to the suspension being served by Leicester's errant No 8, Martin Corry, and the injuries affecting four of the visitors' more celebrated internationals: Xavier Garbajosa, Nicolas Jeanjean, the Welshman Gareth Thomas and, perhaps crucially, the French national captain, Fabien Pelous. But Leicester's strategy is already clear, despite the selectorial fluidity. They will take on Toulouse up front in the hope of forcing the 9-6 option, as opposed to the 40-30 one.

This is not because they made such an excellent job of demolishing the Leinster pack in a one-sided quarter-final in Dublin. As Wells admitted: "Those Leinster forwards weren't up to it. There are at least half a dozen packs in French rugby who would have duffed them up."

It is because Wells suspects, probably correctly, that when it comes to forward power, organisation and ruthlessness, Toulouse are a notch behind their greatest domestic rivals, Biarritz and Stade Français, who contest the other semi-final, in Paris tomorrow.

Certainly, the coach wants to see a more united performance from the Leicester forwards than the one he witnessed during their Premiership defeat at Saracens last weekend. "We went down there wanting to play football. They wanted to fight and brawl," he said, in his usual honest fashion. "There may be times when we need to play a bit more like that. Whether that time comes for either side this weekend, we shall see."

The Scottish Rugby Union has yet to decide whether to sack Matt Williams, the Australian coach of the national team, after successive Six Nations Championship humiliations. Williams addressed the union's board yesterday to try to save his job, and will be informed of their decision by the end of the month.

Wasps have appointed the former All Black prop Craig Dowd as their forwards coach for next season.