With the cold snap accounting for five of the fixtures in this week’s Guinness Premiership, only the match between Leicester and Wasps survived in front of a packed house at an icy Welford Road.
Leicester’s forwards dominated a game that had started with promise from a Wasps team languishing in 5th place and six points away from a much coveted playoff spot. A sub-plot to the game was the battle at fly half between Danny Cipriani and Toby Flood who will both be hoping for positive news this Wednesday when Martin Johnson announces his elite squad for the forthcoming Six Nations. With this in mind I’ll give my opinions on where these two players sit in the England set up and what options are open to Johnson in this area of the pitch.
Wasps started the brighter of the two teams and were rewarded after just a couple of minutes when Danny Cipriani, made a delightful outside break that led to Mark Van Gisbergen going over for the first points of the game. A Toby Flood penalty followed for the home side but a successful Cipriani penalty meant the visitors led 8-3 with half time approaching.
The turning point of the game came just before the break as Leicester’s forwards took a stranglehold on proceedings. A series of scrums on the Wasps five metre line led to the Wasps front five capitulating under pressure from the Tigers. A yellow card for Wasps prop Tim Payne ensued just before a well worked move led to Johne Murphy scoring in the far corner.
After the interval, Leicester’s dominance up front continued and Wasps had no answer. An attacking lineout on the Wasps line inspired a move that ended with Lote Tuquiri ghosting past a lumbering Simon Shaw to cross the white wash for his first try in the Premiership – although the grounding of the ball was questionable at best.
A penalty try that should be divided equally between the Leicester pack after more collapsed scrums and a further try for Tuquiri sealed the bonus point victory for the tigers with a final score line of 34-8 that was in no way flattering to the home side.
Cipriani and Flood both impressed in certain aspects of the game. Cipriani looked dangerous with ball in hand but unfortunately a lack of a platform from his forwards saw limited opportunities for him to prove his worth. Flood kicked supremely well out of hand, landing penalty after penalty into the five metre channel for his forwards to attack from. The backs scored three of the tries for the Tigers and all were orchestrated by Flood at 10.
Flood has been the outstanding fly-half in the Premiership this season and will almost be a certainty in the elite squad. A starting place looks doubtful however with a revitalised Jonny Wilkinson revelling in France as the current leading point’s scorer in the Top 14. A fight for the 12 shirt with Rikki Flutey and Shane Geraghty will be a more likely option for Flood.
Cipriani’s lack of match fitness and inconsistency will probably lead to another stint with the second tier Saxons. The previously mentioned players are currently in a better position to make a mark on the full international stage than Cipriani.
The selection of who plays at nine, ten and twelve for England will be one of the most important decisions for Martin Johnson. At nine, the dependable Paul Hodgson is the current proprietor of the shirt but Danny Care is the better option for me as long at Johnson lets him play the way he does for Harlequins and not simply a link man between forwards and backs as we saw in the Autumn.
Wilkinson is the obvious choice at ten and if he and Care can strike up the sort of the relationship that Care enjoys with Nick Evans at Quins then a more dangerous looking Wilkinson playing on the gain line is something that we may enjoy seeing again in the February and March.
The biggest decision that lies with Johnson is who he picks at 12 to compliment Wilkinson. The partnership with Geraghty has not flourished but with the returning Rikki Flutey back in the fold this option looks the more inviting for me. A strong ball carrier with good hands is what Wilkinson enjoyed in the days of Mike Tindall and Will Greenwood and this could aid the Wilkinson of old sprinkle some magic on Twickenham come the 6th February.