Monday Maul
Time for panic at the Tigers? Not yet
Tom Hamilton
September 29, 2014
The joy and despair of rugby © Getty Images

It was a weekend where the Tigers lost again while Exeter put together a remarkable performance to beat Harlequins. Monday Maul assesses the key talking points.

No need to hit the panic button ... yet

By our count, Leicester had approximately 20 players unavailable heading into what proved to be a loss at home to London Irish. Of that 20, their first-choice front-five were all absent either through injury or, in Marcos Ayerza's case, international duty, while they also have British & Irish Lions centre Manu Tuilagi and flanker Tom Croft out and other players like Anthony Allen, Adam Thompstone and Lugovi'i Mulipola missing.

Any team would struggle with that sort of epidemic of unavailability. Leicester are a team who expect to win every match but even they must temper expectation when they have that calibre of players absent. There is no need to press the panic button at Leicester yet. They won the Aviva Premiership two seasons ago and while Northampton are currently playing well, something that will no doubt hurt the Tigers' faithful, when they see some of their more familiar players return from their various retreats the Tigers will pick up.

The weekend's awards

  • Player: Alex Goode (Saracens)
  • Try: Jack Yeandle's for Exeter
  • Coach: Rob Baxter (Exeter)
  • Quote: Clearly, Greg Garner thinks it's alright to punch someone in the face and it's just a penalty - Richard Cockerill
  • Special Mention: It has been a hard week at Franklin's Gardens following the tragic death of Luis Ghaut. From looking at social media it is clear he had a huge impact on the Saints and no more so than on Alex Corbisiero. He deserves huge credit for the way he played on Saturday in what must have been an emotionally draining situation.

When Wasps were fighting to avoid falling over the precipice of relegation in 2012, it was an experience which made Joe Launchbury and Christian Wade. The same could end up materialising for the Tom Bristows and Fraser Balmains of this world.

When is a punch, not a punch?

While Richard Cockerill praised his team's attitude in the wake of their defeat to Irish, he did take aim at referee Greg Garner and you can feel some sympathy for Cockerill. In the first half, for all the world it looked like Blair Cowan had landed a neat hook on Jamie Gibson. Garner checked with the TMO yet refrained from penalising Cowan. It was a bizarre decision and Cockerill was right to feel aggrieved.

"Clearly, Greg Garner thinks it's alright to punch someone in the face and it's just a penalty," said Cockerill. "Next week, if one of our players punches someone in the face, is that a penalty and we walk away? I don't want any sympathy, I just want referees to referee properly."

Cueto's try-scoring record under threat

While the Tigers are floundering, one of their former number is flourishing. Tom Varndell is now just seven tries away from equalling Mark Cueto's record of 86 Premiership scores following his double at the weekend. Varndell never quite made the impact he would have wanted on the Test stage but his legacy as one of English rugby's deadliest finishers is not in question.

The Championship gulf

Four games in and things are looking bleak for London Welsh. They are the first team to have conceded 40 points or more in four games on the trot: a grim record. There seems to be a growing gulf between the Championship and the Premiership. London Welsh's recruitment policy at the end of last season seemed scattergun at best and while they do have some talent in their ranks - Olly Barkley is key to them staying up - they simply have not hit the ground running.

Pre-season Justin Burnell told ESPN: "The first batch of six games, we have to pick up a minimum of two games out of there." Four games down and they are yet to get close to a win. Up next for the Exiles? Wounded Harlequins and fellow relegation scrappers Newcastle Falcons.

Superb Geraghty flying under the radar

George Ford is the current top points-scorer in the Premiership with 66 but hot on his heels with 54 is Shane Geraghty. Such has been Geraghty's lengthy exile from the England team, the last time he ran out in a Test match he replaced Ayoola Erinle at inside centre. It is seven years since his debut against France where he made that wonderful break and offload for Mike Tindall's try and at that point he looked to be the man to offer a second playmaking option at 12 for England. It never materialised but having another passing option at 12 is the in-vogue option under Stuart Lancaster at present and while Billy Twelvetrees and Henry Slade are higher in the pecking order, Geraghty is doing his England claims no harm with a storming start to the season.

Exeter, an apology

Harlequins have just two non-England qualified players in their squad, an impressive tally. Exeter are also built around their academy. At the start of the season when we sat down at ESPNscrum towers and made our predictions about how various teams would do this season, we thought it might be a campaign too soon for Exeter's young guns. How wrong we were.

Titles, play-offs and relegation are not decided after four rounds of action but you do get a good indication of how teams will fare throughout the season. After witnessing their dismantling of Harlequins, they look every bit the top-six side. Henry Slade should get his chance with England in the autumn internationals one way or another while Sam Hill and Dave Ewers are doing their Test chances no harm.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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