Leicester Tigers have brought in some more much need front row enforcements ahead of the new season.
When many think of Leicester they think of their own aching scrums moving backwards under the tortuous pressure being applied on them.
As Saracen’s cheekily implied earlier in the season the club’s top try scorer last year was penalty try; awarded after the opposition were unable to compete with the Tigers scrummaging superiority.
But a number of injuries, international call-ups and departures has left the club well short of its normal strength.
In light of that Leicester have signed two international prop forwards as they face a shortfall at the start of the season.
The new arrivals at Welford Road are Italian loosehead Michele Rizzo and Samoan front-rower Aniseko Sio.
Rizzo, 31, is the fourth Benetton Treviso player to make the switch to Tigers this spring.
He will join Italian international clubmates Robert Barbieri and Leonardo Ghiraldini in making the switch along with former Japanese international Christian Loamanu.
Rizzo, who weighs in at 17 stone and is 6ft 2in tall has won 15 caps for the Azzurri including a notorious appearance against France in the Six Nations this year when he was shown red after starting a skirmish with a headbutt.
The Italian prop sent five years at Treviso gaining valuable experience in the Heineken Cup, including both matches against Leicester last season. Before that he was the captain of Padova.
At just 21 Samoan loosehead Sio is on the opposite end of the experience level but is a rising star of the game. The 21-year-old comes from the Vaimoso club in Samoa and has come through the under-20s and ‘A’ team levels to start the Test against Japan this month.
However the Samoan scrum did suffer against a brilliantly technical and powerful Japanese front row.
He will join Leicester’s only true first team prop, countryman Logovi’i Mulipola, at Leicester next season.
Leicester have been left short by departures and injury. England international Dan Cole is out until November having had surgery on his neck and Argentina international Marcos Ayerza will miss the opening third of the season while on duty with the Pumas in The Rugby Championship.
The conflict of fixtures has made Leicester wary of signing Argentine players but despite that the club has agreed a deal to keep one of the games legitimate new backrow talents Pablo Matera at the club.
But while the internationals ply their trade for their countries Leicester will be left with just Fraser Balmain and Tom Bristow, who both have limited first-team rugby experience, and academy graduates Tiziano Pasquali and Riccardo Brugnara.
Balmain, who played for an England XV in the uncapped match against the Barbarians this month, could see a lot of playing time this season especially during the Autumn internationals.
In the off-season Boris Stankovich left the club for Newport Gwent Dragons and French prop Jerome Schuster departed for Worcester.
Kieran Brookes, who has earned 2 international caps with England in New Zealand this summer, left the club in 2013 to join Newcastle in search of more first team opportunities.
He played just four games for Leicester but has really developed into an Aviva Premiership standard prop since making the move north.
There were mixed fortunes for Tigers playing for their countries around the world. The best performer of the weekend was winger Blaine Scully who scored twice in the USA’s 38-35 comeback win over Canada.
The Californian is proving to be a gem of a signing, looking a legitimate world class winger in 2014. He also scored a hat-trick of tries in last week’s defeat by Japan in the Pacific Nations Cup.
It was also a historic day for Mulipola and Samoa who celebrated a 18-13 victory over Fiji in Suva.
Elsewhere new signing Robert Barbieri scored a late try for Italy but could not prevent a 26-23 defeat by Japan in Tokyo.
It was also bad news for Leicester’s England contingent, losing the third Test to New Zealand by the biggest margin of the series, 36-13.
Ben Youngs and Manu Tuilagi showed glimpses of what they can do when they set up Marland Yarde’s try but for the most part poor tackling and bad skills let England down.
Sadly Tigers’ new summer signing Freddie Burns was amongst those who did themselves more harm than good on Saturday. The former Gloucester man started at fly-half and set the tone for the day by starting the game with a errant kick which did not go 10.
All the composure of the first match which was lauded by the game’s talking heads was missing in the third test and while he was not the worst culprit mistakes were costly.
England missed Geoff Parling dearly on Saturday. The second row had been named in the starting line-up for the third successive match but was forced to withdraw with a hamstring injury before kick off.
His clubmate Ed Slater carried on with his superb captaining record by leading England’s midweek team to the only win of the series, a 38-7 victory over Super 15 side the Canterbury Crusaders.