Stadium: Welford Road
Injuries. And then a few more. The Tigers used 40 different starting players in the Premiership. At one time – they were missing an entire matchday squad from injuries, with key players like Anthony Allen, Dan Cole, Ed Slater, Owen Williams and Geoff Parling – all leaders of the team out. Constantly having to shuffle and rearrange the group – lots of youngsters were being blooded and new partnerships being formed across the team. Brad Thorn said when talking about the injury crisis:
“I have never known anything like it with that many out. It’s ridiculous… I have never seen this scale of injury.”
When world traveled veteran Brad Thorn says its bad, it’s bad folks!
But in spite of this they ended 3rd, making the playoffs for the 11th year running. Very Tigers-esque. They were also the only team to beat Toulon in the European Champions Cup this season.
However, that’s only one side of the story. They were exposed defensively against the bigger teams, and their attack looked blunt, scoring the 2nd lowest number of tries last season. They went out at the group stage of Europe (admittedly a tough group, with Toulon, Ulster and Scarlets) and got beaten heavily by Bath in the Premiership semi-finals. As previously mentioned though, a lot of this can be attributed to their injury problems.
Leicester made the decision bring in Aaron Mauger back in October, however as he was contracted to the Crusaders wasn’t able to join initially the Super Rugby campaign was over. This also led to Paul Burke, the backs coach being sacked in October, which all in all meant that the season was very disjointed, with little continuity with the coaching.
Step in Aaron Mauger. The former All-Black and fan favourite at Welford Road left his role as Crusaders assistant coach and has been made the Head Coach for Leicester this season. He’s also brought along Scott Hansen from Canterbury as a defense coach; positive signs so far.
Mauger wants the team to be “full of aggression” without the ball, the current squad is good enough to be “lifting trophies” this year. A positive outlook from Mauger of things to come, especially with many fans viewing this season as a transitional one, with so many changes to coaching and staff.
But so far it’s just talk. Whilst the right things are being said – we won’t be able to see the benefits till the season starts. With the World Cup players absent from the start of the season as well, it may take the team slightly longer to gel.
Add to the fact that numerous key players for the Tigers, such as Parling, Salvi, Gibson and Allen are off or have since retired, it is hard to look away from it being a season of rebuilding at Welford Road. However with the new signings and players such as Slater, Williams, Camacho and Croft returning from long-term injuries, they will feel almost feel like new signings for Leicester.
In their European Champions Cup Group they’ve been drawn with Treviso, Stade Français and Munster. Whilst it’s definitely not the easiest group there, having the Italian team usually means that a best runners up spot is up for grabs. The Tigers should be looking to make it out of this group, especially if they win their home games and pick up bonus point wins against Treviso.
In the Premiership, I’m predicting a 5th place finish for the Tigers. But this is subject to change – if they can sign a top class centre, if they do, I’m predicting a 4th placed finish. After losing Allen, the Tigers only have these players left as recognised centres:
- Matthew Tait
- George Catchpole – 9 appearances
- Jack Roberts – 7 appearances
- Manu Tuilagi, if fit
- Christian Loamanu – 2 league starts
- 36 year old Seremaia Bai
It doesn’t really instil you with much confidence. Having said that, Tigers backline is full of utility players, and whilst the likes of Goneva, Smith and Williams are able to fill the centre spots, their best positions are elsewhere, and placing them in the centres will leave them weaker elsewhere.
Richard Cockerill has said that recruitment is not quite finished, so hopefully they can continue adding to their squad.
Once the season is up and running, and barring a disastrous injury-crisis like last year, I can see Leicester’s result improving towards the end of the season, and making a last minute charge for the playoffs.
It will take time for the coaching to gel and for the changes to take place, but once they do, Leicester Tigers will be a force to be reckoned with.
- Front Row – Marcos Ayerza, Dan Cole and Tom Youngs. All current internationals and some of them it could be argued are some of the world’s best in their positions. Serious firepower up front and keeping these 3 fit will be key to Leicester’s season.
- Strength in Depth – The fact that an injury-plagued squad was able to finish 3rd last season tells its own story. Tigers strength in depth is something to admire and could be a huge factor towards the end of the season.
- Lack of Quality at 12 – With goings out and players retiring, Tigers have been left with a big gap to fill at 12. Hopefully before the season starts Leicester will have someone to partner Tuilagi in the centres.
- Players away on International Duty – As with a lot of teams in the Premiership, international call-ups will have a big impact on their squad this year. Whilst Tigers squad is one of their strengths, 11 of their players are in the wider world cup training squads, and would be detrimental to any Premiership team.
- The tighthead prop has firmly established himself as a starter for both club and country. Known for his scrimmaging ability and work at the breakdown, will be a welcome return to Leicester’s team after England’s world cup campaign has ended.
- The scrumhalf was made captain of Leicester last year, and he seemed to thrive on the responsibility. His performances for both England and Leicester picked up and his dip in form during 2013/14 seems long behind him. Youngs has been playing for England since he was 20, which tells you all you need to know about his quality. Here’s a try he scored against Australia back in 2010, in his breakthrough season:
The Leicester players’ player of the year in 2014. Has bags of pace, strength and style to boot, which is all nicely summed up in this clip! (1st try)
The Fijian flyer can play at wing or centre, and Leicester have relied heavily on his versatility since signing for them in 2012.
|Greg Bateman||Hooker||Exeter Chiefs|
|Dominic Barrow||Lock||Newcastle Falcons|
|Opeti Fonua||Flanker||London Welsh|
|Jono Kitto||Scrum Half||Chiefs|
|Neil Briggs||Hooker||Sale Sharks|
|Geoff Parling||Lock||Exeter Chiefs|
|Greg Peterson||Lock||Glasgow Warriors|
|Jack Whetton||Lock||US Nevers|
|Jamie Gibson||Flanker||Northampton Saints|
|Julian Salvi||Flanker||Exeter Chiefs|
|David Mele||Scrum Half||Toulouse|
|Javiah Pohe||Centre||US Carcassonne|
|Terrence Hepetema||Centre||Bay of Plenty|
|Blaine Scully||Winger||Cardiff Blue|
Leicester will be looking to put last season behind them, and move back to the heights they are more than capable of. Aaron Mauger and co. have been saying the right things to impress fans, and if he can turn that into improved performances and results then Tigers will be near the top of the table come the end of the season.