Perpignan: The home side haven’t won in the Top 14 since the 2nd of October, the latest loss coming against Castres away last weekend. The advantage that the Catalan side do have though is that playing at the Stade Aimé Giral is a tough experience for any away side, even one with the pedigree of Leicester. They are not out of the pool by any means, sitting nicely in second place on 6 points and having collected two bonus points as well. Given that they travel to Welford Road next week, getting a result this weekend is essential.
Leicester: Last week’s win at London Irish was Leicester’s first away win in the Premiership this season, and comes at the perfect time before travelling to such an ominous ground like Perpignan’s. Their injury worries are easing gradually, as Toby Flood looks likely to return at half-back with Ben Youngs, although Tom Croft is a new long-term absentee. The most impressive part of their win last weekend at the Madejski was undoubtedly their scrum, and against a ferocious Perpignan pack roared on by their passionate fans on Saturday, they will need to replicate that dominance at the very least.
What to expect:
Speaking in the Leicester Mercury this week, the Tigers loosehead Marcos Ayerza predicted that the first 10 minutes of the match “will be a war“. Perpignan have a reputation for being incredibly aggressive and physical at home, but then again Leicester are not a team stacked full of shrinking violets. Therefore, the physicality should be nearly as intense as a test match.
If Leicester do win this game, then it nearly guarantees their progression to the knockout stages. It will also reduce the pressure on getting a result in next week’s game at Welford Road. One concern to note is that during the Autumn Internationals, when the England pack was on the back foot against South Africa and New Zealand, Ben Youngs struggled. His ability to turn games inside out is no longer a secret, and the Catalan back-row will no doubt hound him all day long.
All eyes on:
For the home side, lock Robins Tchale-Watchou is an impressive talent. The former Stade Francais player and current Cameroon vice-captain has really improved since his move south from Paris. Not exactly your average second row, the former University Basketball star along with having an impressive stature is incredibly fast for a second row. Having signed a three year contract extension in 2009, he has become an essential part of the Catalan pack, and is loved by the home supporters.
The return of Toby Flood for Leicester is very welcome, even though they have coped well without him. His goal-kicking during the Autumn Internationals was impeccable, as he finally shook off the shadow of Jonny Wilkinson and cemented himself as England’s fly-half. Back in club colours, this is a hell of game to make your comeback in, but Flood has the composure and confidence to do so without too much trouble.
Head to head: Jerome Porical v Geordan Murphy
New France international Porical suffered in the hammering from Australia that left the whole national team humiliated. However, his cap came on the back of many seasons of exceptional performances for Perpignan at full-back. The third generation of his family to play for the club after his father Gerard and grandfather Paul, Porical’s pace and big boot will be crucial in getting Perpignan into the right positions. He comes up against the wily old Tiger of Geordan Murphy, whose experience in the Heineken Cup is as good as anyone’s. In his 13th season with the club, time is not exactly on his side, and nothing would mean more to the Leicester legend than adding another Heineken Cup medal to his collection. But before that can happen, he will have to survive an aerial bombardment and vicious Catalan crowd this Saturday. It’s a challenge he will relish.
Weather: Plenty of sunshine and a high of 13 degrees, it will seem like summer for the Leicester boys.
Last Year’s Result: 14/12/08: Perpignan 26-20 Leicester.
Prediction: Despite Perpignan’s recent poor run of form in the Top 14, they will have targeted this game as a chance to turn their season around, and have enough to disrupt Leicester’s set-piece. It will be tight, but Perpignan by 5.
by Ben Coles