An ideal start to the season achieving three wins from three, Leicester Tigers are riding high in the Premiership at this early stage. However, in the words of Richard Cockerill, they are happy to “keep knocking out wins” and ” fly under the radar” whilst other teams’ results catch the headlines. Speaking to various players, it is clear to see how the influence that new coaches Aaron Mauger and Scott Hansen have had on the squad. Traditional values have been embellished with new strategies and formats for the game that have succeeded to date; so far, so good.
But with a trip to Sandy Park looming this weekend, how are Tigers preparing for the strong Exeter Chiefs side that fields plenty of familiar names?
Tigers Prepare for Physical Game Against Familiar Faces
Coming into the media room on Tuesday, Director of Rugby Cockerill seemed jovial about his team’s derby win against Wasps on Sunday. Latest signing Telusa Veainu made a perfect debut with his second-half try to compliment Goneva’s fifth minute score, both World Cup participants receiving high praise from the man in charge. The 24-16 victory at Welford Road was described by Cockerill as “a much better performance after Quins.”
“I think I read somewhere that it was the best start since 2008… We’ve got a really big game at the weekend and then heading into Europe. It’s going to be the theme of the season isn’t it? There are no down weeks, there are no easy weeks so we just need to make sure we regroup in the short turnaround.”
Cockerill also paid compliments to Dom Barrow, who came off the bench against Wasps to feature for the first time at Welford Road in a Tigers shirt. Having previously played there for Newcastle Falcons, in which the second rower said was like “entering the lions den”, he enjoyed having the 20,000 Leicester crowd cheering him on.
“Having that support behind you was nice and running out onto the pitch to that roar was incredible.” His inclusion in the match day squad came earlier than expected as he recovered from a knee injury quicker than first anticipated. His ball carrying skills and big hits contributed to Leicester’s win on Sunday, which the lock described as “exciting” because “we still don’t feel like we’ve reached our potential, even though we’ve got three from three”. Which, of course, is great for Tigers fans to hear.
Goldsmiths Player of the Month, Fraser Balmain, knows all too well about preparing well for big matches against strong teams, having featured heavily in the Tigers front row since his Premiership debut in 2012, which coincidently was against the Chiefs (a game in which Tigers won). Having been joint-top appearance maker alongside Jordan Crane in the 2014/15 season, the prop’s experience will be useful in the, as predicted, challenging game at Sandy Park this Saturday.
“They’ve had a good start and they have made good signings – it’ll be nice to see a few of them again. We know what they can bring and they’ve been attacking very well, so we’ll have to step up to that.”
In recent years Exeter have recruited well from the Tigers talented pack, having secured Thomas Waldrom two years ago and Julian Salvi and England international Geoff Parling over the summer. Knowing their style of play and mind-set during a game must be somewhat of an advantage when it comes to competing against them on the field: “Hopefully. With Tommy [Waldrom] and Salvs [Salvi], we know what they bring to the game.”
Leicester’s Jordan Crane joined in praising flanker Salvi in saying he was “top quality” and that “everyone recognises that”.
“We recognise that as players. Everybody loved playing with him because of how competitive he is at the breakdown and by what he offers you.
“On the flipside, he does like to go to every single breakdown so that could create space in the defensive line. He’s going to be a massive target for us, we’ve got to move him because on his day he’s world class.” The number eight then revealed he is staying with his former team mate after the game at the weekend, explaining how they are still good friends. “I’m still looking to smash him though.”
Turning his thoughts to Tigers’ form so far and their track record of travelling to Exeter, Crane hopes that Tigers can maintain their winning streak:
“We’ve done quite alright down there in the past, so just more of the same really; be physical, get in their faces and see where we end up.
“Four from four would be the dream start, especially going into Europe… If we can keep winning whilst we’re transitioning it’s going to be big for us.”
On paper, it looks to be a physical and forceful game of rugby, delivering a high standard of Premiership action to determine which side will dominate the table so far. Having both finished well last season, it is expected to be Leicester’s first real challenge away from home so far this year.
The match kicks off at 5.30pm on Saturday 7th November 2015.