Leicester have more important things to think about than the news that Wasps are setting up camp in the Midlands with a view to stealing some of their local thunder: namely, the fact they are slumming it near the foot of the Premiership table while trying to deal with the injury list from hell on the one hand and a threat to Richard Cockerill’s position as rugby director on the other.
If ever there was a must-win game for the Tigers, it is against Harlequins at Welford Road on Friday.
Cockerill has been a paragon of dignity and integrity – no mean feat for a no-nonsense hooker of the old school – since the humiliating 45-0 towelling at Bath last month, a record loss that led directly to defeats by London Irish and Gloucester, neither of whom would have expected to finish within 15 points of a Leicester side in decent nick. But the boss has received precious little credit for his calm handling of this alarming slump in fortunes. Instead, he has been cast in the “dead man walking” role.
He has also received a “vote of confidence” from the club’s executive chairman, Peter Tom, which may or may not be good news, and has openly admitted that without an upturn in results he will be the proud, if reluctant, owner of a “very tidy back garden” by the season’s end. “The bottom line,” Cockerill said this week, “is that we need a win.”
That win is more likely this evening than it would have been a few days ago, thanks to the return of Manu Tuilagi at outside centre. The human bowling ball has shaken off the groin problem that prevented him playing in any of Tigers’ three recent defeats and will be joined in a revamped midfield by Freddie Burns and Owen Williams. Remarkably, the full-back Mathew Tait also features on the team sheet, having recovered from a neck injury that originally seemed likely to incapacitate him for some considerable time. So much for Tait being “the slowest healer in rugby”, as Cockerill once famously characterised him.
Quins, no great shakes themselves right now, travel with Will Collier at tight-head prop in place of Kyle Sinckler, whose rapid progress up the England ladder has slowed almost to a halt.
Sinckler has been taught some hard lessons this term and it is no great surprise to see him relegated to the bench – especially as Leicester have the world’s best loose-head specialist, Marcos Ayerza, back on their roster. Ayerza has just returned to Welford Road after a magnificent international stint with Argentina in the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship.
Meanwhile, Wasps’ imminent move from London to Coventry was still a matter for feverish debate, two days after a £20m buy-out of the Ricoh Arena was ratified by local councillors. Lawrence Dallaglio, easily the most celebrated player ever to represent the club, weighed in behind the decision to up sticks, thereby setting himself against those long-standing supporters who see the initiative as a rank betrayal.
“I was a board director when we nearly went bust two years ago,” said the World Cup-winning forward. “We were one tackle from being relegated and I’m not sure if we would ever have got back up, because there was no infrastructure.
“Wasps are a nomadic club: they’re not a Bath, a Gloucester or a Leicester. To have a place to call home, a home you actually own, is a massive step forward. Something radical had to happen because the reverse of that was going under.”Reuse content