‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it’
Ahead of what has to be considered the biggest game that Leicester Tigers’ first ever women’s team have faced thus far, that mantra has been echoing throughout every team meeting, training session and shirt presentation.
The culmination of an undefeated season, the crescendo to an opera that has spanned the breadth of the country and sees its final note played out in its capital, London, and its grandest stage, Twickenham. A sense of occasion such as this can lead decision makers into realms of unpredictability, but the team selection demonstrates a commitment to what has worked, seeing few changes from the semi-final victory.
This week’s training session, conducted on the lights at Mattioli Woods saw the side go through their sessions as normal; an extensive warm up routine, lead by strength & conditioning lead Lewis Knight, then ‘Prem standard touch’ before a forwards and backs split. The intensity was high, but you could also see the positivity across the squad, everyone buzzing ahead of the occasion.
The side selected for Sunday’s final is one that will be looking to bring intense physicality to proceedings. In conversations with the coaches prior to the fixture, that impact in the contact zone was stressed frequently, with the bench also carefully selected to maximise energy and impact coming onto the field. The set-piece, such a potent weapon in the semi-final, the side will again look to maximise, in true Leicester Tigers fashion. The difficulty will come when Sunday arrives and, with it, the opposition, the reigning champions of the Championship play-offs.
Cheltenham Tigers have had an exceptional season of their own. They’ve only lost twice this season, once in a historic game at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, the first time the team had played at home as they rose to the occasion and won by 36-0. But the challenge ahead will be a very different one to the side that journeyed to the East-Midlands that day, with only six of the starting XV from that game also starting this Sunday’s final at Twickenham.
The second encounter the two had, on a snow covered field in deep, dark December was a much closer affair, a late double from Morgan Richardson the difference-maker as Tigers battled to a 19-26 win.
The Gloucestershire side have, otherwise, dominated their remaining contests. They secured try bonus’ in 11 of 17 games, scoring 533 points and conceding just 167. Their side have featured dual-trainers from Premier 15s side Gloucester-Hartpury as well as International 7s stars.
In their semi-final, they went away to Championship South 1 champions Bath Rugby Ladies and put in an utterly destructive display, winning by a score of 22 – 47, after racing into a hefty lead before the home side got a late couple of tries.
Coach, and former Tiger, Tom Hudson has helped to build an exceptional side that attack strongly and with purpose and have a determined doggedness in defence. They have pedigree in this competition, having brutalised last year’s finalists Thurrock Ladies with a massive 47-10 score line over the representatives from the south. They will not be in any mood to allow their title to be taken from them without a fight.