Cockerill returns to instill new ideas into Leicester's forwards

There was one surprise announcement from Leicester yesterday and it was not the fact that John Wells has been appointed head coach to succeed Dean Richards, who left the club in February after a string of defeats.

Nor was it that the former Wallaby Pat Howard had signed up as his assistant. Both appointments had been well flagged for the last few weeks.

But the return of Richard Cockerill to his old stamping ground at Welford Road will have caught out a lot of people.

It had been said in Tigers' circles during his previous 10-year incarnation with the club that hooker Cockerill, who is presently at French club Montferrand, had displayed a certain talent for coaching. Now he will have the opportunity to prove that.

While Howard, who is also at Montferrand, will be Tigers' assistant in charge of the backs, Cockerill, who won 27 caps with England, will be responsible for coaching the forwards.

The Tigers captain, Martin Johnson, welcomed the return of his former team-mates saying: "Pat brings a wealth of experience to the backs, while Cockers will have picked up a valuable insight into forward play from his time in France, which I'm sure will be useful to our pack."

The Tigers flanker, Neil Back, echoed Johnson's sentiments, while emphasising that his own role at the club remains principally as a player.

"It's great that Pat's back, as he was liked by all the fans and kept a close relationship with a lot of the guys here even after he left," Back said. "As for Cockers, he's exactly the sort of guy we need. He's experienced a different environment, and will have picked up a few things.

"I'm still around mainly as a player, but I'll continue to handle the defensive sessions, which I've been doing for a while and also used to do for England when Phil Larder was away." Cockerill will be combining his duties with a playing role, while Howard, who won 20 caps at fly-half and centre with Australia, returns purely in a coaching capacity.

Howard played 94 times for the Tigers between 1994 and 2001, his final match being the Heineken Cup final in Paris against Stade Français, during that time he scored 10 tries, as well as sharing in four successive Premiership titles.

Harlequins will have their combative hooker Tani Fuga available for the Parker Pen Challenge Cup final against Montferrand at the Madejski Stadium on 22 May. Fuga had been banned for seven weeks after being cited for stamping against Connacht in the semi-final first leg.

But yesterday an independent committee upheld the 30-year-old's appeal against the length of the sentence and reduced the ban to three weeks, to run from 21 April, which will also free him up for the Zurich Premiership Wildcard play-offs.

The Ireland captain, Brian O'Driscoll, 25, is expected to sign a new two-year contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union later this week, which will be good news for his province Leinster and end weeks of speculation linking him with big money moves to England and France.

Saracens have signed the loosehead prop Nick Lloyd, 27, from Rotherham, while Ben Broster, Morgan Williams and Paul Bailey have also signed deals that will keep them at Vicarage Road.

Philippe Saint-André, Sale's new director of rugby, is heightening his search for forwards. Saint-André is understood to have had preliminary talks with the Gloucester loosehead Trevor Woodman last weekend and the England player was believed to have travelled to Cheshire yesterday for further discussions.

Naturally Saint-André denied any contact with Woodman, who has so far been linked to Worcester and Saracens, but he did admit he is in the market for a prop or two.

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