Inside the Tigers’ Den - Goneva provides cutting edge

Niki Goneva scoring for Leicester Tigers. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-140909-092557001
Niki Goneva scoring for Leicester Tigers. Photo: Tiger Images EMN-140909-092557001

The opening weekend of the Aviva Premiership was rather surprisingly one of hat-tricks.

First George North touched down three times for Northampton in a scarily impressive 53-6 demolition of Gloucester and then forgotten England winger Andrew Strettle dotted down three, the final score a controversial match winning effort for Saracens who got out of jail against Wasps.

The third triple of the weekend was perhaps the most fortuitous; Leicester Tigers’ Niki Goneva came up big to save his side’s blushes.

If it is possible to score four tries and win 36-17 without ever looking better than average this was it.

A bonus point win is par for the course for a Tigers team with ambitions to scale the top of the table come May - however there is plenty of room for improvement before next weekend on the basis of their performance against Newcastle Falcons on Saturday.

Ben Youngs led the side in the league for the first time and had a decent game, giving good ball to new fly-half Freddie Burns to work with. However Newcastle, who are coached by former Tigers legend Dean Richards, and contain a couple of former Leicester men in their ranks, most notably Alesana Tuilagi, had obviously come to Welford Road with a game plan.

Burns loves to play on the front foot but the rush defence employed by the Falcons shut down any room he had to operate, and only once was there a quick flash of his running game.

There was however a hearts in mouth moment when one of his first clearing kicks was charged down however it seems luck was on his side.

It was not a performance that deserved great praise, but it was not one to be scorned either. He like this tea is still a work in progress.

Sadly for the more than 22,000 in the Stadium there were no head on head Tuilagi encounters as the elder looked a little off the pace having only just joined up with the Newcastle squad following via complications.

Leicester are still scoring tries but in the early stages of the season seem to be missing the spark which was there under Matt O’Connor, now the Leinster headcoach, two years ago.

Geordan Murphy, one of the most gifted attackers of his generation, is in charge of re -igniting that spark but that too it seems is a work in progress.

However Tigers are kings of the bonus point and make no doubt about it this one could mean everything at the end of the season. However it came as much by luck as design. Goneva’s opening try was a bizarre score. Manu Tuilagi, heading out of bounds thrust the ball back only to see it hit the opposition and go forward. The alert Goneva was first to pounce and thanks to the video referee the score was given.

His third was an interception score from 80 metres out. It was finished well but not a product of Leicester’s making.

David Mele scored Leicester’s fourth try - dabbing down after his pack had rumbled over from a five metre scrum, with new number eight signing Robert Barbieri hilariously, but effectively bunny hoping the ball to the line.

Meanwhile next week’s opponents Exeter put 52 points on new boys London Welsh who are still learning each others names after letting more than 20 players go having got promotion. But with a trip to Sandy Park long and always difficult Leicester will need to be better in both attack in defence if they want to keep that winning feeling.

Leicester have been hit with some bad news - club captain Ed Slater will be out for months after having surgery on a knee injury sustained with England.