Leicester Tigers got back to winning way on Saturday afternoon at Welford Road with a win over bottom of the league Sale Sharks.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill called Leicester’s 48-10 victory their most complete of the season which is a remarkable feat considering Tigers are missing more than half a dozen first team players on international duty over the Six Nations period, including likely British and Irish Lions to be Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi and Dan Cole.
Leicester outclassed their opponents in almost every area of the game, crossing the line six times, with Matthew Tait claiming his first Premiership try for Tigers against his old club, a penalty try, two scores from Ed Slater and two tries from former Oakham School boy Matt Smith who once again showed what an excellent and versatile club man he is.
Second row Ed Slater showed more of the powerful form which should see him kick on from his England Saxons appearances to greater honours this summer when a depleted England side will tour Argentina at the same times as the British and Lions tour of Australia.
Another man expected to make the plane to South America will be 19 year-old fly half George Ford who showed the exciting promise he offers.
His elegant passing was too much for Sale’s defence and for once Ford’s kicking of the tee was as sublime as his kicking out of hand, finishing the weekend with a 100 per cent success rate when going for the posts.
Ford’s sterling performance on Saturday will be viewed with mixed feeling by the Tigers faithful as the former IRB Junior World Player of the Year has one foot out the door of Welford Road with a starting spot at The Rec for Bath his destination.
The man who will attempt to fill the void left by Ford is Northampton Saints’ Ryan Lamb who will play England international Toby Flood’s understudy.
Saturday was a big day for one man who is playing like he has not given up on his chances of a second tour with the British and Irish Lions.
Tigers blindside flanker Tom Croft, who played in two tests for the Lions against South Africa in 2009, has put a year of injury nightmare behind him with a commanding display in his 100th start for the Leicester.
Croft has been absent from the team for the best part of year. While playing Harlequins in April, 2012, a poor tackle resulted in Croft’s neck being forced down into his own chest, causing him to suffer a triple fracture of his C6 vertebra.
Despite an eight month layoff former Oakham School boy Croft showed on Saturday that he is right back to his best. His impressive all round display this weekend, dominating the line out, carrying well and doggedly competing at the rucks led to Cockerill exclaiming his flanker is ready for a return to the test arena immediately.
Croft’s most eye catching moments came in reclaiming Ford’s excellent restarts on more than one occasion, rising above the likes of Scottish international Richie Gray to send out a message to the England head coach Stuart Lancaster and Lions head coach Warren Gatlin.
While it seems unlikely that Croft, who captained the side against Sale, can force his way into the 38-man Lions touring party with back row such an area of strength, his return will be a huge boost to Leicester in the run in to the Premiership final, especially having come up just short against Saracens and Harlequins in successive weeks previous to the blow out win against the bottom of the table club.
In other others last week Leicester agreed deals to sign London Irish flanker Jamie Gibson, 22, and London Welsh hooker Neil Briggs, 27.
Gibson, who has been involved for England Saxons this year against Scotland and Ireland, has been on Tigers’ radar for a number of months.
The 6 ft 5 in forward can play across the back row and is another player on the cusp of the England senior team, playing in the mid-week games of England’s tour of South Africa last summer.
The signing of Biggs, who has spent most of his career at Sale, looks to spell the end of veteran George Chuter’s time at Welford Road. The 36 year-old hooker, who won 24 caps for England, is out of contract at the end of the season after a distinguished career.
Biggs will fight it out for a starting spot with current England hooker Tom Youngs and Rob Hawkins who are both under contract next season.
Leicester, who sit third in the Aviva Premiership, will get a rare a break next weekend when the LV= Cup semi-finals are being competed between Harlequins and Bath on Saturday and Sale against Saracens on Sunday, to decide who will fight it out at Sixways on March 17 for the title Tigers claimed against Northampton last season.