It’s the first date in the diary for many Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints fans alike, and this weekend will see the first of this season’s big derby clashes between the two Midland’s giants. Always a momentous occasion, Welford Road will be the focal point on Saturday as both teams face each other in a battle for pride and points in the Premiership.
Tigers, currently sitting fourth in the table, will be looking to use the atmosphere at their home ground to enhance their performance and ultimately send their visitors home with nothing. Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill described the fixture as “historical” and despite Northampton’s lack of form of late, warned that his squad’s counterparts could still prove to be difficult opponents.
“This is a one off game. I think it means a huge amount to both clubs, I think it means a huge amount to Leicester in particular and the community and all the things that that entails and that’s important. Rivalry… British sport, that’s what it’s about. We’re not franchises, we’re two clubs, two cities that are close to each other and have a long history of rivalry. And that’s great, isn’t it.
“I’m sure it’ll be a feisty encounter.”
Northampton, who sit four points behind Leicester, will be hoping the likes of Dylan Hartley will remain on the pitch for as long as possible as, when tensions have previously run high in this fixture, Hartley has usually turned from a Saint into a sinner. When asked if he is hoping to use the intensity and passion to get under the skin of certain players, Cockerill admitted
“They’ll choose how they behave. In recent games it’s not our players that have been sent from the field. Barnes is a good referee and he deals with that really well.
“We’ll be at the line and we’ll try not to overstep it.”
The build up to this game was feared to be overshadowed by Tigers’ loss last weekend to league leaders Saracens, who capitalised on Leicester’s discipline issues and lack of stability in the front row. The first to admit the problems that occurred against the current Champions, Cockerill said the team will learn from their mistakes and develop their mind set before hosting the big game this Saturday, especially the younger players who battled against Mark McCall’s side.
“We know selection wise we chose to test some of our younger members of the squad and they’ll learn from that experience. It’s not always positive experiences that you learn from. You’ve got to learn that sometimes that’s what it’s about. I wasn’t quite expecting them to be as tough as that from their [Saracens] point of view but that’s life and we’ll revisit some of the things we need to revisit this week. We’ve done that yesterday and this morning and we will do this afternoon.
“95% of the forward play is attitude and mentality and clearly we weren’t quite on it as much as we should have been. I’m not withstanding that Saracens played very well, I’m not taking anything away from them, but for ourselves, by our standards, that was beneath us in the Premiership.”
Despite the defeat, somebody who will treasure last weekend’s game is Gonzalo Camacho, who started his first competitive match for Leicester despite being signed to the club since 2013. A string of injury’s and subsequent operations prolonged the winger’s debut for the club. Making his first senior squad appearance three weeks ago (when he came off the bench against Munster at Thomond Park), it’s difficult not to see how thrilled the Argentinan is to be running out in the Tigers strip.
“It’s amazing. After all the patience that everyone has had over here, not only the coaches, but the fans and supporters as well, that’s really good for me. To give them back something of what they gave me this year has been amazing really. Trying to get that position in the team is hard because the other guys are playing very well, they’re winning. So I keep on training and it keeps me on my toes.”
A superb try-saving tackle during his eleven minute run-out in Ireland was one of many reasons why he earned himself a starting spot against Sarries ahead of Adam Thompstone.
“Competitiveness is very good, you have to be clear about that because it’s something we have here in a big amount. There are 47 players I think in the squad, and only 15 get the chance to get in, and we have quite a lot of players that are fit, unlike other seasons where there were a lot of injuries around. You obviously have to raise your focus and the attention that you put into your skills and the role that you have inside the team.”
Looking to have more opportunities in the near future, Camacho hopes his name is on the team sheet for the big match that has hailed a big build up. With the new stand at Welford Road being completed in time for this game, this will be the first time this season a ‘sell-out’ crowd could be reached.
“I’m always looking to play. I’m always looking to fight for a position and be there. The last game I was there so we’ll see.
“It’s good to see the tickets are selling out very fast and you can see that grows the atmosphere and that’s another challenge because as everything grows, so does the pressure… It’ll be fun to be there.”
Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints
Saturday 9th January 2016