The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Mauger in the driving seat now he’s got Tigers dismissal out of his system
ONCE Aaron Mauger had cleared his desk in Leicester, he flew to America, picked out a hire car and cruised down the Pacific Coast Highway.
It was the perfect place to reflect on his recent sacking — and provide a smooth connection to New Zealand, where he will soon take up a new job with the Highlanders, who play the Lions on Tuesday.
‘There was a lot to think about,’ said Mauger, speaking exclusively to The
Mail on Sunday in his first interview since leaving the Tigers. ‘A lot of factors came into play during my time there. There are pretty fine margins at the top. We had a lot of injured players — Manu Tuilagi, Matt Toomua — and there are things we could have managed better.
‘It wasn’t all doom and gloom. We just didn’t nail things when we needed to.’
Mauger ended his tenure with an Anglo-Welsh Cup. The celebratory hangovers had barely kicked in by the time he was informed on Monday morning that his contract would be terminated.
He became the third coaching casualty of the season, including Tigers stalwart Richard Cockerill, but is left with no hard feelings.
How did he reflect on his relationship with Cockerill? ‘We had a lot of differences but we had a lot of similarities,’ said Mauger.
‘We weren’t always on the same page but we weren’t that far off. A lot was made about our relationship but he’s a good guy and a good coach. We’ve spoken over the last couple of months about our learnings.
‘We always got along really well off the field. Some of those differences around the rugby are actually quite good things because it keeps your mind open.
‘You never know what might happen. Maybe we’ll be back. There are a lot of good people there and the door’s always open.’
Cockerill and Mauger are cut from different cloth. One is a niggly, Coventryborn scrum-loving hooker and the other is an All Blacks midfielder, brought up on chancing his arm in attack.
Their contrast in styles is reflected by the playing styles of the Lions and the All Blacks — with Mauger due to face his home country on Friday in a temporary coaching role with Samoa.
‘There’s definitely a bit more of an emphasis on the set-piece in the northern hemisphere,’ continued the 36-year-old.
‘The weather dictates that you need a few more set-piece plays.
‘It’s more of a territory and pressure game, while down here teams are prepared to throw the ball around a bit more and attack from deeper.
‘It has consequences if you don’t get it right but it also opens up massive opportunities. You’ve got to have confidence in your skills and back yourself to get out of a hole.
‘It’s tough to find to many chinks in the All Blacks armour, so the Lions will have to control the tempo.
‘How will they do that? They’ll try to get a little bit of dominance at the set-piece.
‘I don’t think they will be high-scoring games. They’ll have to take their opportunities and take the All Blacks on. They’ve got the players to do that.’