Inside the Tigers’ Den - England turn to Tigers trio World Cup opener
It’s finally here. After months of build up the Rugby World Cup kicks off tomorrow when England open the tournament against Fiji at Twickenham.
Leicester Tigers scrum half Ben Youngs will win his 50th cap in the match where he starts alongside his brother and clubmate Tom.
Tom Youngs has seen off the competition for his hooker shirt to start in a front row which also includes Leicester prop Dan Cole.
Youngs is the second most capped player in the England matchday squad behind team mate Dan Cole who has played in 52 internationals.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster said: “The squad is massively excited to start the World Cup. Everyone has worked incredibly hard over the last three months and we are ready.
“Friday will be a great occasion for the whole squad and for the country. We are in a unique position to be playing in a World Cup on home soil and to have the support of a nation behind the team. That support will be a massive factor and we don’t underestimate its importance.
“I’d like to congratulate Ben Youngs on his achievement. To win 50 caps for your country in such a relatively short period of time is testament to Ben’s dedication and commitment.”
Lining up against England will be Tigers’ back Niki Goneva, who was named as vice-captain of the Fiji squad.
Sadly one South Sea islander from the club who will not play a part in the tournament is Leicester fan favourite Logovi’i Mulipola, who has withdrawn from the Samoa squad with injury.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said: “Logo is recovering well but he is not ready to play at the start of the World Cup and obviously Samoa need players that are ready.”
Looking at England’s squad for the opening match of the season there is a pang of wondering at what could have been for Leicester Tigers.
In the last couple of years Leicester have let good players, who have gone on to be even better players, leave the club.
While Leicester have three players starting in the England XV there are a further two former Tigers in the lineup in George Ford at fly- half, now of Bath, and Geoff Parling at lock, now of Exeter Chiefs.
Another former Tiger sits on the bench in the former of prop Kieran Brookes, who recently moved to Northampton from Newcastle where he went after failing to get any game time for Leicester.
How much stronger would Leicester be if they still had the services of those three men? Brookes and Parling would have stiff competition for their places in Leicester’s current best side but Ford is the great talent who got away.
Whether he would have been able to grow into the exciting, expansive player he now is, at Tigers is another question altogether in Leicester’s more rigid structure.
Meanwhile Leicester’s injured star Manu Tuilagi has been trying to clear his name after pushing two female police officers during an argument with a taxi driver, despite pleading guilty to assault in court.
Centre Tuilagi was dropped by Lancaster in May after he was charged with two counts of assaulting a police officer, assault by beating and causing criminal damage.
He was fined £6,205 by magistrates.
Tuilagi said last week “We pleaded guilty because we wanted the case done with,”
“I didn’t assault any of the police officers. It looks like I have basically beaten up the two police officers, which is not the case.”
The 24-year-old says the officers approached him from behind “so I just pulled my hands away”.
“They touched me first and I had no idea they were police officers,” He added.
He also said that despite the ban he would have missed the World Cup anyway as he has still not recovered fully from his troublesome groin injury.
With that in mind don’t expect to see him in a Tigers shirt anytime soon.
Rumouors are also circulating at the moment that he is the number one target for Aviva Premiership rivals Saracens come January when clubs can approach players in the final season of their contracts.
Leicester certainly could have done with the Samoan-born wrecking ball on Saturday when they made an inauspicious start to the Kings of the North pre-season tournament.
Tigers did not get off to the best start as the club were heavily beaten 38-5 by a much sharper looking Sale Sharks side.
Cockerill used the match as a chance to give some of his young players a run out with England U20 players Will Owen and Charlie Beckett playing in the back row alongside new signing Mike Williams and George Tresidder starting at nine,
Cockerill left out a host of senior players to protect them for the season ahead. But he may rethink that for the visit of Newcastle on Saturday as a series of poor missed tackles proved costly.
l Last week we misspelled the name of Tigers’ young academy winger Paolo Odogwu - we apologises and would like to put the record straight as it seems he will be appearing on these pages again a fair bit in future years. Odogwa was Leicester’s only try scorer against Sale with a neat finish.