Inside the Tigers’ Den - Veainu writes himself into Leicester folklore

Leicester Tigers' Ed Slater and Munster's Mark Chisholm and Dave O'Callaghan during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. EMN-151221-095501001
Leicester Tigers' Ed Slater and Munster's Mark Chisholm and Dave O'Callaghan during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. EMN-151221-095501001

Sometimes a try saving tackle is worth more than a try.

Both deliver five points for your side in one way or another but a tackle can change the whole momentum of a match, it can bring a stadium of 20,000 to their feet in joyous delirium. So it was on Sunday night when Telusa Veainu, Adam Thompstone and Lachlan McCaffrey got back to stop Munster from scoring what could have proved a pivotal try in Tigers’ 17-6 victory at Welford Road.

Leicester Tigers' Adam Thompstone and Munster's Simon Zebo (11) during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: PA Wire/Mike Egerton EMN-151221-094439001

Leicester Tigers' Adam Thompstone and Munster's Simon Zebo (11) during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: PA Wire/Mike Egerton EMN-151221-094439001

It was a team effort to keep Munster out but in that key moment the star was once again Veainu.

For once the Tongan star was shackled in attack, well if you consider four defenders beaten and the most metres made of any Tiger on the pitch shackled, but his unbelievable show of pace to get back and stop Francais Saili, after he made a clean break from a bouncing ball, was incredible to witness. Not one person in red or green in the ground thought the Munster centre was going to be caught, including the commentator who can be heard saying “No one’s going to catch him.” Well everyone was wrong.

What’s even better, Veainu appears to have the nature of a proper Leicester player - his comments after the game about the super human effort were understated and workman-like. So very Leicester Tigers.

He said: “Everyone else would have done that. But no I had no lungs after that. I’m committed to this team and so is everyone else, making their tackles every time. I was just doing my job.”

Leicester Tigers' Mike Fitzgerald  and Munster's Dave O'Callaghan  during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. EMN-151221-095450001

Leicester Tigers' Mike Fitzgerald and Munster's Dave O'Callaghan during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. EMN-151221-095450001

Someone at the club needs to ensure that he has a job with the Tigers for years to come as he initially only signed on a one year deal.

Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill was equally pleased with his charges. He said: “It is good to see the guys that like scoring tries willing to get back and save them as well.

“The chase back from guys like Telusa Veainu, Adam Thompstone and Peter Betham, to get back was immense and that got the stadium to its feet. From a defensive point of view, I’d never seen Welford Road like it.

“Some of our defence was heroic. The attitude was outstanding. Scott Hansen is working hard on defence and effort and attitude, and that got us there tonight.”

Leicester Tigers' Freddie Burns kicks a conversion during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. EMN-151221-095440001

Leicester Tigers' Freddie Burns kicks a conversion during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. EMN-151221-095440001

“It is a great four points for us. We’re a bit disappointed with the performance, but we showed guts to defend and chase back and deal with issues in the game, and that got us the win.”

While Cockerill was disappointed with the performance his side scored two cracking, and contrasting, tries to none.

The first came from captain Ed Slater, playing at blindside, after 23 minutes. Playing in front of new England coach Eddie Jones he did his international chances no harm. In the end the try was simple, barging over from close range. Simple that is if you have the power to bounce off the attention of two giant Munster forwards.

The second try, 14 minutes from full time, was all about the backs. Australian Peter Betham had two much guile and pace for the two forwards he saw in front of him in the defensive line and with a real elegance he glided through an almost invisible gap. Brought down by the full back Andrew Conway he off-loaded to the seemingly casual running Niki Goneva to score.

Tempers are lost  between Leicester Tigers' and  Munster's players  during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. EMN-151221-095429001

Tempers are lost between Leicester Tigers' and Munster's players during the European Champions Cup, pool four match at Welford Road, Leicester. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire. EMN-151221-095429001

It was a monumental win for Leicester who remain unbeaten in Europe and one more win at home against Treviso in January should secure the desired home semi-final.

However Cockerill is not getting carried away. He added: “If you look at the detail of the game and not just the result, I thought they were very good and probably unfortunate not to get more from it.

“We were a bit loose with the ball at times and our discipline was poor in the first half. We gave them too many penalties and too many opportunities to exit when they were under pressure.

“But I’m delighted with the win. We’re in a decent position in the pool and qualification is in our own hands which is where we wanted to be when we started.”

So many Leicester players who have been recovering from injury are working their way back into contention at the moment which was demonstrated by the A-league team Tigers named against Northampton on Monday. It had multiple internationals in it including Gonzalo Camacho and Jordan Crane - who can’t get a game with the form of McCaffrey. However that did not stop the Development side losing 38-13 to Saints on Monday.

Even better player news is Jean de Villers was seen in the stands on Sunday and could well make his debut in the next couple of weeks.

In other news this week Cockerill has dismissed claims that Dylan Hartley should be the New England captain, who is rumoured to be Jones’ preference.

Cockerill says his hooker Tom Youngs is a better player who deserves to start and would make an equally good captain.

It’s hard to disagree and a strange choice for Jones to make if he does give the Northampton Saint the nod. Even putting aside his abysmal disciplinary record, hooker is rarely a position where a player plays a full 80 minutes, meaning Hartley will likely be off the pitch late in the game when a decision needs to made about what to do if England face another decision like they had against Wales, points or corner.

Secondly, as Cockerill says, Hartley might not even be the best player in his position so suddenly England are selecting a player, again, just for his leadership and not on playing form. It’s a debate which will rage on until an announcement is made.