Tigers out to quell calls for change
Moody backs former team to put woes behind them and thrive on big occasion today, writes Gavin Mairs
These are tough times for Leicester Tigers. The club’s Champions Cup hopes are already hanging by a thread after heavy defeats on the road at Glasgow and Munster, and now their Aviva Premiership campaign is coming under fierce scrutiny.
Last weekend’s defeat at the hands of Exeter Chiefs sent Richard Cockerill’s side falling out of the Premiership top four and there appears to be no let-up in sight.
Today, champions Saracens visit Welford Road, then next Sunday Cockerill’s side travel to Wasps, who went top of the Premiership table following their bonus-point win at Newcastle on Friday night.
Inevitably for the most successful club in the English game, there has been some disquiet among their supporters, although a crowd of more than 24,000 is still expected at Welford Road today.
Cockerill, who recently denied that he was facing an ultimatum from his board to improve results, last week called on the game to resist the socialmedia clamour for football-type sackings in the Premiership and urged a more measured reaction to shortterm results.
The former England hooker is one of the longest serving and most successful coaches in the Premiership, having joined the Tigers coaching team in 2005 before leading the club to league titles in 2009, his first season as director of rugby, and 2013, the club’s 10th title overall.
He accepts that the silverware-laden history of the club means that he is judged to a higher standard.
“Harlequins haven’t been in Europe for a while, but nobody’s asked for anyone’s head on a plate,” Cockerill said earlier in the week. “We’ve never not qualified. Can you imagine not qualifying for Europe? They want me sacked if we lose a game in Europe. That’s just the nature of it.”
Leicester already moved to address perceived problems in defence during October when defence coach Scott Hansen left the club, but Cockerill knows that ultimately it is how the club respond to setbacks that will define this season and most likely his future.
Lewis Moody, the former England captain who played more than 220 times for Leicester, winning seven Premiership titles and back-to-back Heineken Cups, believes the fightback can start today. “Leicester teams of old thrived on these big-game occasions,” he said. “It was when they came to life, when they were tested or when they felt like people had written them off.
“At home Leicester still have that fortress mentality and it will be a tough place for Saracens to come and win, but if the Tigers really want to push on for a place in the top four, this is a game they must win.”
Cockerill’s options have not been helped by Leicester’s latest injury blow, with Springboks wing J P Pietersen ruled out for six to eight weeks after requiring surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. He joins an injury list containing Mathew Tait, Telusa Veainu and Matt Toomua.
Still Moody feels there is enough leadership in the group to draw a line in the sand. Significantly, Cockerill has restored club captain Tom Youngs to hooker, as well as England prop Dan Cole and scrum-half Ben Youngs to the starting XV.
“When you are on a losing streak and you have turmoil in the background it is really difficult,” Moody added. “What pulls you through is the players knuckling down. The guys have to have the desire to play for each other. Bath is a great example of how important that is. Last season they should have gone on to dominate but because of an unhappy camp, it completely fell apart.”
Mike Williams, the Leicester flanker who was yesterday recalled to England’s training squad after recovering from a third arm fracture in 12 months, is ready to lead the charge.
“We are a team that can beat anyone on the day, and we just need to understand that and believe that we can do it,” said Williams. These are tough times, but the Tigers are determined to come out fighting.
Under pressure: Richard Cockerill will hope restoring England’s Tom Youngs, Dan Cole and Ben Youngs to the starting XV can boost Leicester’s ailing form