Although Saracens have replaced the Leicester Tigers as the Premiership’s dominant side, make no mistake about it, my old team remain box office and will maintain their place among England’s elite clubs in the future.
Richard Cockerill has assembled a squad filled with attacking intent, and with Aaron Mauger now calling the shots as head coach, the Tigers are playing a different brand of rugby to what supporters traditionally came to expect.
Bringing in Mauger was a masterstroke in my opinion, not only had he served his coaching apprenticeship with the Crusaders in New Zealand, but he understands the Tigers’ mindset from playing at Welford Road between 2007 and 2010.
That isn’t to say that Cockerill and the Tigers are not under pressure. Following their dominance during the last decade, it was almost assumed that Leicester would maintain an iron grip over the Premiership, but then Saracens came along, and now Wasps are pushing to become England’s leading team.
It’s the lack of trophies that has brought pressure on Leicester, not their lack of consistency. Very few clubs from around the world can claim to have reached the play-offs during the last 12 successive seasons. The problem is that Leicester have only lifted the title once in the last six years.
This season though could prove fruitful. The Tigers though have invested intelligently in their squad over the summer, bringing in Matt Toomua and JP Pietersen.
Toomua in particular will bring another dimension to their backline. Against England in June, he opened up Paul Gustard’s defence out of nothing.
Toomua is an archetypal Australian second receiver who can put players in space, and when you select him in a backline alongside Ben Youngs, Freddie Burns, Manu Tuilagi, Peter Betham, JP Pietersen and Telusa Veainu, that’s world class.
Although Eddie Jones sees Manu as a 12, Toomua will come and play at inside centre as a second ball distributor. Some might see this as potential area of conflict between Jones and Cockerill, but in the modern game, your 12 and 13 are interchangeable.
Saying that, Manu didn’t play particularly well against Gloucester last weekend, he attempted a few Hollywood hits which didn’t come off, and ended up being substituted after suffering from cramp. Make no mistake about it though, he remains world class, but he needs to find some consistency after spending so much time out with injury.
Leicester will have to bring in a number eight during the coming weeks however. The very fact that they let Opeti Fonua go in August suggests to me that they have somebody lined up.
A monster ball carrier would bring balance to a backrow that can also include Lachlan McCaffrey and Brendon O’Connor, enabling the Tigers to get over the gain line and create space for Toomua to release the danger men out wide.
A club like Leicester don’t wait for things to happen by chance, so I think they have someone lined up and ready to come in over the coming weeks.
Watch this space.
Andy Goode, Pundit Arena