Shaky Tigers feel foundations of their past success crumbling beneath them
Tom Cary looks at what has gone wrong at Leicester, who face Racing 92 today after six successive defeats
Any club who have had four leaders in less than two years are necessarily going to have less-than-stable foundations. Richard Cockerill was sacked as director of rugby on Jan 2, 2017, and since then Aaron Mauger, Matt O’Connor and now Geordan Murphy have all taken charge of the first team.
Murphy, for whom this is a first experience of being head coach, only has the job on an interim basis, and there are whispers that senior players would like to see the Irishman add to his coaching team. Jonny May told The Telegraph this week he did not believe coaching was the issue, standing by Murphy – and his team of Mark Bakewell, Brett Deacon and Boris Stankovich – although he hinted that view was not necessarily shared by all of his team-mates.
“I 100 per cent think Geordie’s the man for the job,” May said. “This is new for him. He’s come in and probably inherited a team that wasn’t good enough last year. I personally think the coaches provide us with brilliant messages and everything we need. Maybe some players don’t.”
Whether they do or do not, defence is clearly a major area of concern. Leicester have lost nine of their 13 fixtures since Murphy took over and have conceded a whopping 39 tries already this season. “It’s certainly not the quality of personnel, is it?” May said when asked where Leicester were going wrong. “We’re conceding too many points in defence, aren’t we?”
Bristol found it far too easy to pick them off last week, and while that was partly because they had an extra man, there were also positional lapses, with Leicester’s entire front row defending together in the midfield at one point. Even May was skinned on the outside, by Luke Morahan. “It wasn’t a fine moment for me,” he conceded.
Former Great Britain rugby league player Denis Betts and Ospreys defence guru Brad Davis have both been mentioned as possible recruitments, with Murphy saying he has carte blanche from the board to add to his staff.
Not everyone believes defence is the problem. Matt Toomua, the Australia international who joined the club in
LIGHTWEIGHT UP FRONT?
May denied personnel was the issue. And with 284 England caps in their starting XV last weekend, it is tempting to agree with him. But on closer inspection, that statistic is misleading. Leicester’s back line – Ben Youngs, George Ford, Toomua, Eastmond, Manu Tuilagi, May, Jonah Holmes etc – certainly has plenty of X factor. Indeed, it is arguably the best in the Premiership. But they need some ball to play with.
Tigers’ once-fearsome pack no longer has the same bite it did when it was led by Martin Johnson. Dan Cole and Tom Youngs account for more than 100 of those aforementioned England caps but both have been dropped by their country.
In fact, there are not many firstchoice internationals up front. Ellis Genge returned last weekend after undergoing knee surgery in the summer and the return of “the Baby Rhino” could help to get Leicester’s pack back on the front foot.
The review process following the Bristol defeat was painful, with everyone having their say. The
Benchmark: Manu Tuilagi, George Ford and Ben Youngs suffer on the sidelines as Leicester are put to the sword at Bristol last Saturday, suffering a sixth defeat in a row in all competitions under interim coach Geordan Murphy (left)