28 December 2004
Leicester Tigers head coach John Wells praised his side's 'team performance' on Monday, which saw the Zurich Premiership pace-setters record a comprehensive 50-7 win over Premiership new-boys, Worcester Warriors, on Monday. Tigers, who scored seven tries to one - including one penalty try, now head the Zurich Premiership standings by nine points over defending champions, London Wasps.
"Considering all the distractions, I thought it was a tremendous team performance today," said Wells. "I think when we look at the video we'll find a few bits and pieces that didn't work as well as it should've and we knew we were off the pace in one or two areas, although I won't go into much detail there.
"But I think, to score 50 points against a side like Worcester, which the vast majority of teams it has to be said have struggled to score points against, I'm pretty delighted and so are the players."
Leicester fly-half Andy Goode weighed in with 20 points on the day - through one try, six conversions and a penalty, whilst Tigers also 'scored' a penalty try and another five superb touchdowns.
Tigers' forwards, however, once again laid the foundation for their exciting backs division and Wells said as much: "They came up here with a bloody good set of forwards. We spent quite a bit of time looking at their games on video and just about everybody playing against them battled against Worcester up front.
"We went into today's game knowing full well that we needed to scrummage well, and on our terms, which is why I think Julian White got the Bradstone Man of the Match Award. He stopped them doing what we expected them to do and he gave us good ball to work with."
Wells, however, admitted that he was surprised with the final scoreline.
"The first 20 minutes, with one try in it, that was hard work," he added. "Then we scored three tries in almost as many minutes just before half-time, which killed the game and put the seal on it. I thought we probably played better rugby in the second half, without really scoring the tries, but both teams started making changes, which often disrupts the cohesion a bit."
On a disappointing note, Tigers suffered a few injuries during the match - most notably to try-scoring ace Seru Rabeni in the 12th minute, front row star Graham Rowntree and young back row Brett Deacon.
Wells continued: "Seru took his knock whilst he was in mid-air - there was nothing in it. We'll have to find out what the problem is, because it's a repeat of his previous troubles, although it just happened, it wasn't done on purpose. Brett wasn't even on for very long, but he appeared to have pulled his hamstring, we're going to look into that and see why or how it happened.
"Graham's had a back problem for two or three weeks and part of the reason why he wasn't involved last week was because of that, but with the other injuries we've got, he was actually the least injured, which is why he sat on the bench in the end. It's still on-going with that, so I'm going to have to be careful with what we do with him, really."
The injuries to Rabeni, Rowntree and Brett Deacon aside, Tigers were dealt a few harsh blows before kick-off, when wings Austin Healey and Tom Varndell both withdrew because of injury and illness, whilst all-action flanker Lewis Moody was unable to take his place on the bench.
"Austin's got a bad back," said Wells. "It's the same problem that he's had all year and all the problems he's had this year have been related to that. He's doing his best to manage it, but he goes through good and bad phases.
"Tom Varndell, unbeknown to us, took the MMR injection on Christmas Eve at his mother's behest, and he's been ill ever since. It's nothing serious, he's been walking around, but he didn't feel well enough to play, which is why he was dragged out just before the game."
And Lewis Moody?
Wells smiled, and then added: "He aggravated his hand while opening Christmas presents! He's had a sore hand, which he's strapped up over the past few weeks, and we deliberately rested him this week to get on top of it. He was opening presents on the 25th with his family and he came in the next day with a swollen day and he said, 'Wellsy, Wellsy, I've damaged it opening presents!'."
As 2004 draws to an end - Tigers' next game is on January 2, 2005 against Gloucester (away) - Leicester have certainly come on in leaps and bounds over the past few months. Having battled to get a berth in Europe this season via the Wildcard, Tigers are now many people's favourites to challenge for silverware in the Heineken Cup and the Zurich Premiership.
"I think if you look back to where we were this time last year, it's been a pretty productive last few months," said Wells. "A lot has happened in the last 12 months, I don't want to go into that, but I can sit comfortably at this moment in time knowing we're at least eight points ahead of the next team in the Premiership and in control of our own destiny in the Heineken Cup, which is a great position to be in.
"How we go from here still remains to be seen, everything's still open to be won or lost, but at least we're in control of where we're going."
Of course, opposition teams aside, one danger Tigers face is complacency.
"We've identified those guys that, sometimes, do relax mentally," admitted Wells. "I also think with Johnno and Backy around, you can't underestimate the value of those two guys on the rest of the squad and when Johnno was taken off today the first thing he wanted to was get in the players' faces and give them instructions. That's just typical of what he's like; yes, there's a guy that has achieved everything in his career, but he still wants more. And, thankfully, I've also got other guys that still want to win things, too."