Inside the Tigers’ Den - England win without help from Leicester

Tom Croft on the attack for Leicester Tigers - Rugby Union Aviva Premiership play-off - Leicester Tigers vs Harlequins. Toger Images EMN-141103-115702001
Tom Croft on the attack for Leicester Tigers - Rugby Union Aviva Premiership play-off - Leicester Tigers vs Harlequins. Toger Images EMN-141103-115702001
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So England recorded one of their best wins of the last two years on Sunday when they comfortably beat Wales 29-18 in the Six Nations.

However, the national team had a very unusual look to it from a Leicester Tigers perspective as there was just one player from the defending league champions in the match day squad.

Leicester Tigers lock Geoff Parling. Tiger Images EMN-141103-115724001

Leicester Tigers lock Geoff Parling. Tiger Images EMN-141103-115724001

Leicester’s hooker Tom Youngs was the only player to make it onto the Twickenham pitch at the weekend, putting in a 22-minute shift from the replacements bench.

So with the World Cup just 18 months away, should Leicester fans be concerned about the lack of players in the national team?

Does it suggest a pivotal shift in power towards their rivals Northampton who had five players in the match day 23 and Saracens with 3?

In short, no. In fact, with many fearing a Lions burn-out come the end of the season, the fact that Leicester’s key players have not had to endure the rigours of international rugby over the last two months could give them a key advantage coming into the business end of the season.

Of that crop of six British and Irish Lions who defeated Australia last year, just the Youngs brothers have been uninjured this season.

Manu Tuilagi made his return to the Tigers side last weekend, playing 70 minutes of their win over Newcastle.

It was just his second appearance for Leicester after missing the majority of the season with a pectoral muscle injury.

While he looked slightly rusty in his return to action there were also flashes of the daunting power and destruction which only he brings to the pitch.

Despite Northampton Saint Luther Burrell’s great form for England, it is hard not to see Tuilagi walking straight back into the England set-up, as signified by the fact he joined up to train with the England squad ahead of the Wales game.

Also absent through injury but on the comeback trail are 2013 Lions Tom Croft and Geoff Parling.

Croft is targeting a return next month after suffering damage to his anterior cruciate ligament against Worcester in September and Parling could also feature before the close of the season if his rehab from surgery on his shoulder continues to go well.

The two men have 38 and 19 caps respectively and offer athleticism and brains to add something to the mix for England.

When the World Cup kicks off in 2015, if everyone is fit, make no mistakes about it, there will be a 
strong representation of Tigers players.

Croft, Cole, Parling, both Ben and Tom Youngs and Manu Tuilagi are all likely to be in the mix.

Ben Youngs could even be back for the last game of the Six Nations after a vastly improved performance for Leicester against Newcastle.

Like his forward team mates, Cole is out of action through injury. The prop will miss the rest of the season with a bulging disc in his neck, having anchored the England scrum in the first two games of the Six Nations.

Ed Slater, who has been simply outstanding this season and has recently skippered the Tigers, is an outside chance to make the squad along with clubmates Mat Tait and Miles Benjamin who must dislodge strong opposition to claim a place in the squad.

Tait already has 38 England caps to his name but has not worn the Red Rose since 2010. However, the fullback has been in resplendent form for Leicester and has been one of the great counter-attacking full backs in European rugby in the last 12 months.

He faces stiff competition from Harlequin’s Mike Brown who has been the standout player of England in the Six Nations.

Benjamin has also seen his career put on hold because of injury, breaking his neck shortly after coming to the club and recently having to pull out of the England Saxons squad because of a knee injury.

However, when in action, he has looked like a potential world-beater and his performances have earned him a nomination on the European player of the year longlist.

It is not like Leicester are short of foreign international talent either with Argentineans Marcos Ayerza, Pablo Matera and the soon to return Gonzalo Camancho back training for the first time since joining the club in the summer.

Camancho, who joined from Exeter, has yet to play for Tigers after badly dislocating his shoulder playing for the Pumas against the All Blacks in The Rugby Championship.

He will be competing to claim a wing spot from either Saxon Adam Thompston, Benjamin or Fijian international Niki Goneva, who has been Tigers’ player of the season in the backs.

Goneva joined the club from Tarbes in 2012 and has had an offer to move back to France from Top 14 side Castres but has yet to decide his future.

In Tongan back row Steve Mafi, Samoan prop Logo’vi Munipola and American full back Blaine Scully, there will be a lot of Leicester players gracing world rugby’s premier contest.

One for the future is young Leicester hooker Harry Thacker who scored two tries in the England U20s’ 67-7 demolition of Wales on Friday night.

The Tigers Academy player scored his first from close range after Gus Jones had made a dart for the line, and his second before half-time as England led 38-0.