Inside the Tigers’ Den - Youngs snubbed, Manu excels and Leicester secure home quarter-final
There was shock and disappointment when new England head coach Eddie Jones named his first squad last week without Leicester hooker Tom Youngs.
British and Irish Lion Youngs was England’s first choice during the World Cup but now Jones, who was a hooker himself in his playing days, has named three players ahead of him; Northampton Saints’ Dylan Hartley, Saracens’ Jamie George and Exeter Chiefs’ Luke Cowan-Dickie.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill said he was “gobsmacked, amazed and stunned” that Youngs was not in the 33-man squad.
He added: “It’s disappointing because we all know here at Leicester just how well Tom has been playing. If it is form you are considering, then Tom is right up there alongside the other hooker named, Jamie George of Saracens.
“Tom encapsulates what Leicester is all about – his attitude, his work ethic, in training, on the field, around the club. He gives 100 per cent, all of time and has a big influence on the group. His moral compass is very finely-tuned, he knows what is right and what is wrong.”
In the opening fixture of the Six Nations Tigers will lose just scrum half Ben Youngs and prop Dan Cole.
Manu Tuilagi, who made his first start and second appearance after 15 months of injury hell on Saturday, has been named in the England elite player squad but is being given some more time to get up to match sharpness for his club.
The shining silver lining is Leicester Tigers are going to be staggeringly strong during the Six Nations this season.
With the Aviva Premiership starting later than normal this season because of the World Cup, there is no LV= Cup during the Six Nations meaning each weekend will double up with league games.
When England play Scotland on February 8, Tigers will play Sale; the two days before England play Italy Leicester travel to Newcastle; when the national side welcome Ireland to Twickenham Tigers will take on London Irish.
In between the Six Nations weekends Tigers travel to Harlequins and welcome Exeter Chiefs, two sides who currently occupy the top four with Leicester and will lose more players, or certainly more key players to their side.
The final two weekends of the Six Nations see England play Wales and France, while Leicester will play Wasps and Saracens in two of their most difficult games of the season.
A cleans sweep of victories would put Tigers in the driving seat for a home semi-final in the play-offs come May.
Back on the pitch Leicester Tigers secured a home quarter-final in the Champions Cup with a 47-7 victory over poor Treviso on Saturday.
The Italians have not won a game this season, and with Leicester unbeaten at Welford Road this season, it was always going to be more about whether Tigers could secure the bonus point. In the end they had the bonus point wrapped up in the 36th minute, and went on to score another three ties to make it seven at Welford Road on the night.
And thanks to Munster suddenly waking up and beating Stade Francais 26-13, Leicester have won the group to guarantee a home game in the next round.
It will be interesting now to see whether Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill picks a full strength side to take to Paris for the final group game against Stade Francais who could still qualify with a win.
It’s a question of how much the club want to maintain their unbeaten record in Europe.
It didn’t take long for Leicester to get off the mark on Saturday, just two minutes in fact.
Leicester shipped the ball wide and Tuilagi worked overlap, with the excellent blindside flanker Mike Fitzgerald touching down.
It took 18 minutes to score again, this time by way of a penalty try after the Treviso scrum crumbled under intense pressure.
Freddie Burns had an impressive night all round with his excellent kicking game causing havoc. It set up two tries and was very close to scoring a least one more. One such kick bounced straight into the hands of Niki Goneva in the 29th minute, and in the second half he kicked and gathered to touch down himself.
Adam Thompstone battered his way over four minutes before the break, having conceded a soft score off the back of a line out move when Jordan Crane was caught out of position in the defensive line - the result was Andrea Pratichetti crossing the line.
Ben Youngs’ breaks were dangerous all night, he looked sharp and eager to find holes in the defence with quick taps.
He kicked off the second half with a try from a quick Tommy Bell line out, the 80 yard score epitomised Youngs’ energetic performance, as he has just got better and better with each game since Christmas.
Tuilagi lasted 52 minutes, he set-up the first try and made several strong carriers, his last his best of the night as he broke the first tackle to get Leicester over the gain line.
Perhaps most pleasing was Tuilagi’s distribution, with a series of good passes putting players into space, playing in his less accustomed position of inside centre.
The final try in a second half which saw Leicester lose some shape, resulted in Laurence Pearce crossing from a nice off-loading move which had all the back row involved.
Cockerill said: “When you’re expected to win there is a danger of being a bit sloppy, but we got the job done and managed that very well.
“Treviso are physical, if you get into an arm wrestle they will compete and occasionally we let that happen. Seven tries and five points is a good return.”