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

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - SIR IAN MCGEECHAN -

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

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