This morning, Leicester Tigers announced that they had parted ways with Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill, who leaves with immediate effect after 13 years on the coaching team of the Premiership Club. Leicester’s affairs will be handled for now by Aaron Mauger who will take ‘interim charge’.
Official Club Statement
In a statement released by the club, Cockerill said: “It is with great sadness and regret that I leave my position as director of rugby with immediate effect. I still believe that I am the right person to lead the team at this present time but respect the Board’s decision to make change as they see fit in the best interests of the club.”
Cockerill’s sacking comes as a shock to the rugby world, as the longest serving coach of the professional era leaves with a record of 178 wins in 276 games and 4 trophies, and many have spoken out against the decision, including Nick Mullins and Will Greenwood.
I promise, if you’ve never met him, Richard Cockerill is the best of men & the best of company who loves this game & his club. Sad day.
— Nick Mullins (@andNickMullins) January 2, 2017
Sorry to hear that Richard Cockerill has lost his job @LeicesterTigers – never did anything but his best.
— Will Greenwood (@WillGreenwood) January 2, 2017
Whether or not Simon Cohen, Peter Tom and the rest of the Leicester Board of Directors made the right decision for Leicester is under debate by the fans, especially considering the slim 16 – 12 defeat to Saracens on New Year’s Day which proved to be the final straw was actually a promising performance against the European Champions.
The biggest worry for many though, is the ever increasing stream of sackings in the rugby world since the start of the 2016 – 17 season. With fellow Leicester defence coach Scott Hansen sacked just five games into their Premiership challenge, Northampton coach Alex King let go back in October and Bristol Director of Rugby Andy Robinson released in November, there is increasing talk of rugby adopting a football-style “hiring and firing approach”, which Cockerill himself spoke out to the Telegraph about last week.
A Statement of Intent
Whatever your take on that argument, however, I have to see this as a statement of intent from Leicester. Sacking the Director of Rugby twelve games into a season where they still sit at fifth in the table is a bold move, and a move that says they want more.
For Leicester, the ten time English Champions and two time European Champions, not challenging the title contenders was seemingly not an option any more. In a climate where Saracens have achieved both home and international dominance, and Wasps are back to their historic best, the Tigers’ board were no longer impressed with mediocrity.
This is a challenge from Leicester. A warning that they want to contend and want to be at the top of their game. This is Leicester wanting to return to their heyday. It’s bold, it’s controversial and it’s brave, and it should be something that clubs take notice of.
The rest of the Premiership
Compare the Leicester approach to the situation at Harlequins, for example. Newly appointed Director of Rugby John Kingston was not the most popular replacement for club favourite Conor O’Shea after his decision to leave Quins to take on the Italy coaching job. Quins’ season hasn’t had much to celebrate, with a dismal away record in the Premiership and the first points away from home only recorded in December. But there is no talk of movement in the Quins coaching setup and no suggestion that Kingston is not achieving. With Quins sitting in 7th in the table; a position they have often occupied in recent years, is their acceptance of Kingston a sign that 7th is all they expect? Are Quins only aiming for a mid-table finish and a slight chance at European representation? Are the Premiership winning days of the 2011 – 12 season long forgotten?
In fact, you could say that of many a Premiership Club. With Sale losing at home to Bristol on Saturday in only their second win since promotion to the top division of English rugby, questions have been asked of the set-up there. Gloucester too, are underperforming, and the fans are vocal about their views. Criticism has been flying around Director of Rugby David Humphreys, who will no doubt be nervous about this mid-season decision. For the rest of the Premiership, is Cockerill’s sacking a chance to re-evaluate where they too want to be? Is this a time for re-consideration of club goals and potential? Should the rest of the Premiership continue to be satisfied when they under-perform?
Whatever your views on Cockerill, therefore, it’s not all bad. Personally, I can’t say that I agree with the sacking, and it’s a sad way to see Cockerill’s career end after twenty five years since he first joined the club as a player in 1992. I’d hate to see rugby adopt the football model and dispose of their coaches as soon as things hit a tough patch. But, I have to respect the courage of such a decision and the statement of intent from Leicester that fifth place is not enough. For any sake, as a neutral, a more competitive Premiership at the top end can only be a good thing. And, who knows, this could be the rebirth of the old Leicester. Only time will tell.