For years Leicester Tigers have epitomised English rugby.
A heavy, gritty forward pack that can subdue any opposition and a backline that can carry hard over the advantage line when the forwards get tired. A top goal kicker who can win you games on penalties and drop goals alone certainly doesn’t go amiss either with this style of play.
This tried and tested English format of rugby has brought the country and many of its teams much success over the years, and Leicester have perhaps been the club team to capitalise most. Eight English Premiership championships and two European cup trophies since the professional era started in 1996-97 pay homage to this.
However, since the years following the 2011 World Cup, when a class New Zealand team won on home soil, there has been a push in the northern hemisphere to play with far more width and to put less emphasis on forward dominance. This point was further emphasised at last year’s Rugby World Cup when the southern hemisphere dominated and we were treated to a New Zealand-Australia final that brought with it tries, a terrifically quick intensity and an abundance of positive attacking rugby.
For a time English teams resisted the move but with the Top 14 and its enormous wealth bringing in an influx of southern hemisphere talent to European competition, they have eventually had to take note and learn as the likes of Toulon began to play with gay abandon.
Saracens, domestic and European champions last season, have epitomised this change in mind set with a move away from a territory-orientated style to one that has caught the eye and brought with them great success. Wasps and Exeter, two of last season’s most entertaining teams, seem to have received the message too, whilst others like Bath and Harlequins have had times where beautiful rugby has flowed also.
Leicester, for a while, did seem stuck in a time warp. Seemingly refusing to allow their backs the creative freedom of other teams, the turning point could have been an embarrassing loss away at Bath in the 2014/15 Aviva Premiership semi-final, in which a young Bath backline put seven tries past the Tigers to leave them on the wrong end of a 47-10 scoreline.
Since then, helped by some excellent recruitment, the Tigers have begun developing a far more exciting brand of rugby for the Welford road faithful to spectate. The introduction of Aaron Mauger as Head Coach since that defeat has no doubt helped to transition the style into a more viewer-friendly one and after a season or so in charge expect him to have got his even better bearings with a Leicester backline that has recruited well this summer.
The terrific piece of business that brought a top second distributor in Matt Toomua will considerably help the two backline marshals of Freddie Burns and Owen Williams. Another top finisher in JP Pieterson won’t hurt either when combined with the strike force of Manu Tuilagi, Peter Betham and Telusa Veainu.
With a potential starting backline like the one included below and the consistent might of their pack, don’t be surprised if Leicester begin to light up the Aviva Premiership in the same exciting way as Wasps, Exeter and Saracens did last season.
Potential Starting Backline 2016/17
- Ben Youngs
- Freddie Burns
- Peter Betham
- Matt Toomua
- Manu Tuilagi
- JP Pieterson
- Telusa Veainu
Hamish Milner, Pundit Arena