Inside the Tigers’ Den - New look Leicester ready to excite
Aaron Mauger could soon be a very popular man in Leicester.
The former All Black is already well loved at the club after a successful spell playing in the centres between 2007 and 2010 before he was forced to retire early from the game.
But now, as head coach of the team, he looks to have brought in a mouth watering style of play which is getting the best out of Leicester’s attacking talents.
Tigers wrapped up their pre-season with an impressive 35-17 victory over Sale Sharks in the final Kings of the North game, giving a glimpse of what might be to come.
It wasn’t enough to wrestle the title away from Sale, but it was enough to give fans plenty to be excited about heading into the opening game of the Aviva Premiership season, away at London Irish on Sunday.
Peter Betham has been the star of pre-season and he scored the opening try at Welford Road on Saturday in the first half .
After the break a fit again Tom Croft, Tommy Bell and academy winger Paolo Odogwu crossed for Tigers.
Freddie Burns, who seems to be relishing the more attacking style of play, landed three penalties and three conversions.
Gone is Leicester’s laboured, predictable, hit it up and hope attack.
Now players one to 15 are running clever, intelligent lines with dummy runners around them making the defence panic.
Leicester skipper Ed Slater said: “It’s a brand new way of playing the game with Aaron, a different game-plan. It’s something he’s brought with him from New Zealand and we all know how good the Kiwis are and how intelligent they are with rugby. Aaron’s no different to that.”
Samoan prop rop Logovi’i Mulipola was back for Leicester on Saturday having not feature in the World Cup after picking up a knee injury before the tournament began.
Mulipola was quickly back to his rampaging best, bouncing tacklers as he charged down-field and is just one of a host of stars who will be eased back into the mix over the coming weeks.
Tongan back rower Opeti Fonua made his Tigers debut on Saturday with some powerful runs in a brief cameo.
England trio Dan Cole, Ben Youngs and Tom Youngs, plus Fijian centre Vereniki Goneva and Italy hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini will all report back to the club now their respective counties have exited the World Cup.
In transfer news Tigers look to be winning the tug of war for Manu Tuilagi’s future.
The England centre is wanted by Saracens and Toulouse and those are just the big name clubs who have made their approaches public.
Aviva Premiership rivals Saracens are reported to be will ingto pay Tuilagi £450,000 a season, making him one of the highest paid stars in the game, but it seems like the in demand centre will now extend his time at Welford Road, having come through the academy system at the club.
You can understand why he is in demand - the 17st 4lb wrecking ball of a centre is a world beater at his best. It’s fair to say England might still be in the Rugby World Cup had he been fit and eligible for selection.
Eligible because England head coach Stuart Lancaster has ruled him out of the running for an England recall until January after he was arrested and charged earlier this year. But who knows, maybe Lancaster won’t be there in January anyway as his future is now in doubt despite a 60-3 victory over Uruguay on Saturday.
However whichever way you look at it Manu was undeniably missed by England. In the games that counted, Wales and particularly Australia, England’s midfield were found wanting.
The jury is out on Sam Burgess, but his future looks to be in the forwards, at blindside flanker where Bath have been playing him, and he can use his prodigious work rate as an advantage.
Brad Barritt is an excellent defender, one of the best in the world, but he is completely anonymous in attack. He isn’t big enough to be a good big ball carrier, he isn’t fast enough or have good enough feet to get through a hole and his passing and vision is average at best.
His footballing game is almost nonexistent. At 29 he will be lucky to make the next world cup in Japan and England need to be looking for his longtime replacement now. Tuilagi, if he can stay fit, should be that man, with either Henry Slade playing either inside him or Jonathan Joseph outside him. However anyone hoping to see Tuilagi in action in the coming weeks will be disappointed as Richard Cockerill revealed this week he is not expected to be available until the new year as he continues to return from a groin injury.
Cockerill said: “He wants to stay and we want to keep him, those two ingredients are essential. We want him here for the long term. He is still 23, there’s a lot of rugby ahead of him. He can play for the next 10 years. We are determined to look after him, as we have done with his injury.
“We are hoping by early new year that he will be playing again for us and that he gets back into the England squad.”
Ben Youngs is another key Tiger who is out of contract at the end of the season however The Rugby Paper is reporting the England scrum half, who captained Leicester for much of last season, will also extend his time at the club, despite reported interest from the likes of Bath.
The club are expected to announce additional signings in the next few weeks, with some tantalising rumours circulating about a potential marquee signing.
The concern for Tigers now is to get as many of their star players back on the pitch as soon as possible and to avoid the injury crisis which plagued them for the last couple of seasons.
There are some concerns over Ben Youngs, who took a knock to the leg playing for England against Wales, however he then played a week later against Australia. He was left out against Uruguay with Danny Care starting.
One international who has returned crocked in prop Michele Rizzo who has damaged his anterior cruciate ligament playing for Italy and is out for the season.