27 December 2004
Whilst firmly in the Christmas spirit ahead of the big day on December 25, Leicester Tigers star Geordan Murphy knows the importance of remaining focused before Tigers host Worcester Warriors at a sold-out Welford Road on Monday, December 27 (kick-off 3pm). After all, as Northampton Saints and London Wasps recently learnt - you do not want Worcester to catch you even half-cold.
"They've beaten some top sides and if you don't give them the respect they deserve they can easily cause a shock," warns Geordan.
"I've watched some of their tapes and they've been doing fantastically well. The last time when our guys went there they didn't play, probably, as much rugby as they could've and I think they'll be quite disappointed with that. I think they'll have nothing to lose on the 27th and they'll come to Welford Road looking to throw the ball around a bit."
The on-field threat of Worcester aside, before the Zurich Premiership new-boys come to Welford Road - for their first-ever league visit to the ground - Tigers have to make sure that all the festive cheer is out of their systems; making the Warriors' threat all that more real.
"We're all professionals and it's important that we do remain focused," says Geordan, who is entertaining his girlfriend and her family on Christmas Day. "If anyone took their eye off the ball I think they'd be reminded pretty sharply by the management and their team-mates about what lies ahead - we have games to play and even though it's a fantastic time of the year, it's our jobs and we have to remain focused."
But the conditions also play a huge role at this time of the year. Like Geordan says, the players are professionals and their rugby would not suffer because of festivities, although their game could easily hit a low if the conditions are too bad.
"Once you get into November and December, and let's not even mention January and February, in the northern hemisphere it's not as firm as someone like myself would like," he says. "But that's the way it is and you have to play to the conditions and it's interesting how you have to vary your game in the wet."
And, as a full back - Geordan can expect a bit more extra attention from opposition fly-halves, with him adding: "It's something that you would expect full backs to do, so yeah, I expect a few high balls and 'skiddy' balls over the next few weeks."
Gloucester made good use of the boot in their 20-13 Powergen Cup win over Tigers last week, a pattern likely to be followed as the weather deteriorates over the next few months.
"It's very hard to win a game when you're pinned in your own 22," agrees Geordan. "It's something we've been working on and you could see a bit more kicking from us over the coming weeks."
As things stand now, Tigers are currently on top of the Zurich Premiership - by eight points - at the halfway mark and they still have their Heineken Cup destiny firmly in their own hands.
Says Geordan: "I think we're in a very strong position, obviously we've been doing well so far, but it's only the halfway mark in the season - there's a long way to go, so there's no point in getting too excited right now. We've won nothing yet, so we can't pat ourselves on the back too much, but on the other hand it's also important to take credit where credit's due - it's just up to us now to win the rest of our games.
"I guess there is the risk of becoming too complacent if you're out in front, but some of the guys in this team have won trophies, and been around for a while, and we know what it takes. If you become complacent and start sliding down the league you'll be in trouble, but from the other point of view if you're out there in front you can get even more of a lead, which is quite a decent thing. So, hopefully we can just chip away and keep getting some wins."
But good results aside, Tigers have also unearthed a few gems this season on the playing-front - none more so than in the backline, with 19 year olds Matt Cornwell and Tom Varndell impressing in the absence of Leicester's international and injured stars, so much so that senior members of the backline, like Geordan and Austin Healey, have had to keep a close eye over their shoulders.
Geordan, however, is more than happy to fight for his beloved No.15 shirt, saying: "It's a good kind of pressure, I think, in that I love to see young guys coming through the ranks and doing very well - I wouldn't begrudge anybody anything, especially when it's a young player doing well. But it's fantastic for the team and fantastic for rugby, because you know that you have to play quality rugby to get yourself into the team and when you get picked out of all these guys it gives you confidence as you must be doing something right."