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Inside the Tigers’ Den - Nine Leicester Tigers make the World Cup cut

By Rob Byrne

Ben Youngs crosses the try line on his best performance in an England shirt. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire EMN-150323-164017001
Ben Youngs crosses the try line on his best performance in an England shirt. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire EMN-150323-164017001

Leicester Tigers will have nine representatives at the Rugby World Cup when it kicks off at Twickenham on September 18, in just over two weeks time.

That’s fewer than you would normally expect but still the third highest in the Aviva Premiership.

Saracens lead the way with an impressive 16 players involved in the tournament, with big spenders Bath not far behind with 12.

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has called upon brothers Ben and Tom Youngs and prop Dan Cole from Leicester.

All three have been named to play in England’s final warm-up game against Ireland on Saturday, it is what looks to be close to Lancaster’s first choice side for the tournament.

England’s line-out struggled against France in their last run out - with a success rate of just 69 per cent, in contrast to France’s 100 per cent, however with Dylan Hartley unavailable for selection because of another disciplinary problem - head butting Jamie George - Tom Youngs looks set to be the first choice hooker for the tournament.

Rugby league convert Sam Burgess has benefitted from Manu Tuilagi’s exclusion from the squad.

Geoff Parling, who has switched Tigers for Exeter Chiefs this summer, has also been selected for England.

Tom Croft was always a long shot to make the cut after suffering further injury problems at the end of last season. Ed Slater was also in the mix for selection but was cut from the 50 man England training squad which prepared for the tournament.

Tigers is now a very international side and there are plenty of call ups for their foreign legion.

New back row signing Opeti Fonua has been selected in Tonga’s 31-man squad for the competition and he could go head-to-head with Tigers prop Marcos Ayerza in Pool C when he turns out for Argentina.

Tonga play the Pumas just a stone’s throw from Welford Road at the King Power stadium on October 4. Winger Niki Goneva has been selected as vice -captain of Fiji who will play England in the opening game of the tournament in the dreaded ‘Pool of Death’ Pool A, which also includes Australia, Wales and Uruguay.

Logovi’i Mulipola will play for Samoa - a team always capable of an upset in the World Cup.

They play South Africa, Japan, Scotland and the USA.

The final two Tigers who will be playing at the World Cup are Italian front row duo Leonardo Ghiraldi and Michele Rizzo.

They are in Pool D where they will face France, Ireland, Canada and Romania.

For those not playing in the tournament there is a very local taste of international rugby coming to Welford Road on Saturday.

The country’s largest and best attended purpose build club rugby stadium may have been over-looked by the World Cup organisers, instead staging matches at Leicester City’s bigger King Power stadium, but it will see Argentina grace its turf.

Tigers prop Ayerza will bring his international team mates back to his club as he celebrates his testimonial year and the Pumas prepare for the World Cup where they will meet the All Blacks in the group stages.

It will be the Tigers’ first run out of the season after their fixture to play a newly formed American club team fell through. While on paper Leicester should have a startlingly strong side because of a lack of call-ups in key positions, they are likely to be rusty and well short of game sharpness.

The front row is going to a serious area of concern for Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill during the month long cross over period when league fixtures and the World Cup run at the same time, and before that during the Kings of the North warm-up tournament with Newcastle and Sale.

With Cole, Ayerza, Mulipola, Rizzo, Tom Youngs and Ghiraldi all missing with their respective counties Cockerill finds himself fielding his third choice front row, with his fourth choice on the bench. A position of great strength for the club will, at least for the next couple of months, be an area of weakness.

But with new coach Aaron Mauger (46 All Black caps) coming in and new defence coach Scott Hansen.

Joining Cockerill (27 England caps) and Geordan Murphy (74 Ireland and British Lions caps) hopefully the brains trust, with 147 caps between them will be able to come up with a game plan and style of playing to combat the problem. Tigers are very much in need of a plan B it they can’t win an arm wrestle or out-kick their opponents having won countless scrum penalties.

Leicester have plenty of flair players in their back line, with Freddie Burns and Owen Williams competing for the ten shirt and pace to burn out wide in the form of Mat Tait, Miles Benjamin and Gonzalo Camancho who is expected to make his first appearance for Leicester against his international colleagues Argentina.

Leicester have still not made a marquee signing despite Cockerill stating the club were after a big signing at either centre or full back.

It turns out the club were on the verge of penning a deal with South Africa captain Jean de Villiers. However the 34-year-old has opted to stay in South Africa.


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