Nobody beats Leicester twice – and that may hold true
A Munster win would constitute a bigger achievement than what they did a week ago
Manu Tuilagi returns to the Leicester midfield for the return match against Munster at Welford Road. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.
CHAMPIONS CUP – POOL 4
Kick-off: 5.30. Venue: Welford Road. On TV: Live on BT Sport.
The old adage, coined by Mick Galwey, was that no one beats Munster twice. Once upon a time, it used to have some validity too, until campaigns such as two seasons ago when Leicester completed a back-to-back double over them in December. But, if the truth be told, it applies more to the Tigers than anyone else.
In the 18 seasons since these back-to-back rounds were introduced in the 1999-2000 season, nobody has ever beaten Leicester twice in a row. That season, they lost 30-17 away to Glasgow and six days later gained revenge by 34-21 at Welford Road.
They have since lost a further six times in round three and averted successive defeats a week later, most strikingly in 2003 when recovering from an embarrassing 33-0 loss at the then Ravenhill to venomously dissect Ulster six days later at Welford Road by 49-7, a rampaging Martin Johnson applying the coup de grace with possibly the longest run to the try line he ever enjoyed.
Perpignan came closest to completing a double in 2010, backing up their 24-19 win at home by drawing 22-22 in Welford Road a week later. But on all other six occasions when the Tigers lost in round three they won a week later, always in Welford Road.
The most pertinent example of all, of course, was a mere 12 months ago, when they recovered from another embarrassing defeat in Thomond Park, by 38-0, with a gritty 18-16 win seven days later.
The most salient lesson of all for Johann van Graan’s players, one they’ve clearly been reciting all week, is how they were outmuscled at the breakdown. They were also dragged into something of a bare knuckle scrap, and if this is another stop-start, bad-tempered, ill-disciplined affair, that is again more likely to suit the home side than the away one.
To that end, Matt O’Connor has raised the temperatures for this rematch, the tenth between the one-time Euro superpowers and two-time champions, in the immediate aftermath of last Saturday’s game. While he has not revisited his claims that Andrew Conway had a duty of care toward the Tigers’ Tongan fullback Telusa Veainu, whose broken jaw will rule him out for several months, the former Leinster coach has maintained that Jerome Garces allowed Munster away with all manner of illegalities at the breakdown – something of a compliment when it comes from a Leicester coach.
“Comments from pundits and the press that we failed to adapt to the French referee have been tough to take. My view is that the laws of the game are the laws of the game. There should be no room for interpretation from any official, or any need for teams to adapt to the way a game is being refereed in the technical parts of the game.”
“Not rolling away is not rolling away. Not releasing the tackled ball carrier is not releasing the tackled ball carrier. Putting your hands in front of the ball at the breakdown is putting your hands in front of the ball at the breakdown. They are laws. They can’t be adapted every week by different officials.”
As well as being emotionally fired up in front of a febrile full house, this Leicester team looks a more potent one than the team of 12 months ago. Even without the dangerous Veainu they welcome back centres Matt To’omua and Manu Tuilagi, with Mathew Tait reverting to fullback. Australia international hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau, who arrived in Leicester this week, is included among the replacements.
Van Graan has made two injury enforced changes, with hooker Kevin O’Byrne (to make his Euro debut) and winger Darren Sweetnam recalled for the concussed Andrew Conway and Rhys Marshall, who had a huge game last week. The fit again Keith Earls and Niall Scannell are named on the bench.
Munster were themselves highly charged and highly effective this time last year, and there were signs last week of them again rediscovering their Euro mojo.
Even so, they’ll do well to replicate that edge again, whereas it’s a near certainty Leicester will have it. The backrow of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Chris Kloete are sure to be dragged into the scrap up front, which in turn will heap more pressure than was the case last week on Ian Keatley.
Furthermore, Tuilagi and To’omua give Leicester game-changers in midfield. As history shows, for Munster to win what is liable to be a tight game would constitute an even bigger achievement than a week ago.
LEICESTER TIGERS: Matthew Tait; Adam Thompstone, Manu Tuilagi, Matt To’omua, Jonny May; George Ford, Ben Youngs; Kyle Traynor, Tom Youngs (c), Dan Cole, Michael Fitzgerald, Graham Kitchener, Tino Mapapalangi, Mike Williams, Sione Kalafamoni. Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Logovii Mulipola, Chris Baumann, Dom Barrow, Luke Hamilton, Sam Harrison, Joe Ford, Nick Malouf .
MUNSTER: Simon Zebo; Darren Sweetnam, Sam Arnold, Rory Scannell, Alex Wootton; Ian Keatley, Conor Murray; Dave Kilcoyne, Kevin O’Byrne, Stephen Archer, Jean Kleyn, Billy Holland, Peter O’Mahony (c), Chris Cloete, CJ Stander. Replacements: Niall Scannell, Brian Scott, John Ryan, Darren O’Shea, Jack O’Donoghue, Duncan Williams, JJ Hanrahan, Keith Earls.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France).
Previous meetings: Pl 9 Leicester 5 wins. Munster 4 wins. (2001-02, final) Leicester 15 Munster 9. (2002-03) Leicester 7 Munster 20. (2006-07) Leicester 19 Munster 21, Munster 6 Leicester 13. ((2015-16) Munster 19 Leicester 31, Leicester 17 Munster 6. (2016-17) Munster 38 Leicester 0, Leicester 18 Munster 16. (2017-18) Munster 33 Leicester 10.
Results so far: Leicester _ 18-22 v Racing (a) 54-29 v Castres (h), 10-33 v Munster (a). Munster _ 17-17 v Castres (a), 14-7 v Racing (h), 33-10 v Leicester.
Leading try scorers: Leicester _ Telusa Veainu, Jonny May 3 each. Munster _ Simon Zebo 2.
Leading points scorers: Leicester _ George Ford 30. Munster _ Ian Keatley 17.
Betting (Paddy Power): 4/5 Leicester, 14/1 Draw, 11/4 Munster. Handicap odds (Munster + 1pt) 10/11 Leicester, 25/1 Draw, 10/11 Munster.
Forecast: Leicester to win.