Leicester Tigers’ big April commences

Leicester Tigers 'big April' commences
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We are fast approaching the business end of the season, with each week bringing a fixture of significant proportions. After enjoying a bye week last weekend, the Leicester Tigers’ big April commences this Sunday.

The Tigers travel to France to play European hotshots Clermont Auvergne in the first of their two legs of their Heineken Champions Cup last 16 draw. Big for all the right reasons for Leicester. Their month consists of five huge games across all three competitions so, how will they approach April?

Background – leading in, possible Treble on offer

Where Leicester will be tested the most is in their squad depth. They face five games in short succession as Tigers’ big April commences with their dreams of a possible treble still alive. As they are still in all three competitions they started the season in. That alone represents a huge turnaround in fortunes for a club that finished 11th in consecutive seasons, the last of which was only in October 2020, 18 months ago.

To still be able to compete in three competitions, means everyone in their squad needs to be able to step up to help the wider cause. Tigers have had a tough 6 Nations period, as they lost seven of their squad to England duty – they were the highest contributors. They also took on three sides who came off the back of a bye week- Northampton Saints, Gloucester and Saracens, whilst Tigers did not have such a luxury.

Tigers’ keep their aspirations firmly under their hats, however they will be desperate to go as far as they can across all three competitions and continue their remarkable season. Winning at least one trophy is a realistic achievement, at a club that is well-known for collecting silverware like some people collect stamps.

After Leicester Tigers’ big April European adventure continues!

The standout of Tigers’ big April has to be their return to top tier European knock out rugby. For so long Tigers have been away from being involved in this big fixtures that fans have forgotten what they look and feel like. Well that wait is now almost over, as they, as mentioned, take on Clermont Auvergne over consecutive weekends, home and away. Leicester travel in good form having beaten Exeter away in their last league outing, securing a Premiership play-off place into the bargain. They travel to France, top of the league, with 80 points, and 17 wins from their 20 fixtures. A supremely strong showing from a club that finished 11th, only two years ago.

With their domestic semi-final place secured, albeit not a home one yet, Leicester can take on Clermont with the luxury that they can go full throttle at their opponents. Debate has raged amongst the fans about what is the best option to take in terms of team selection – do you play your strongest 23 from the off, or do you hold players back for the return leg six days later at Welford Road? The Leicester Tigers big april calendar will determine what the end of their season looks like so it is important to get this right.

How to answer that is to look at the Tigers’ opponents. Clermont lie in the middle of the French Top 14, with their inconsistency being the only consistent theme they have. On paper theirs is a squad packed full of talent, yet that has not translated onto the pitch as well. Their home form is strong, with only two defeats recorded however their away form is traditional for a French team – poor. As a result, Leicester really should be looking to take away any Clermont hopes of progressing in the first leg down in Clermont. Win that, and the French side really will have mountain to climb when they visit the East Midlands.

Considering their strengths on the road, and Tigers strong home form, winning the first leg – and winning very well – would allow Leicester to make changes in the second leg if they so desired. Especially so given there are whispers that the French team themselves want to target the Top 14. If Tigers win, it is easy to see Clermont sending a scratch side to Leicester a week later as they focus elsewhere.

Prizes further on, though League priority

In addition for Tigers, the prize for winning their last 16 tie is a home quarter-final against the winners of Leinster and Connacht. Leinster at Welford Road would be a mouth-watering tie against European royalty and one of the favourites for the tournament. That would represent a real test for where Leicester are at as a team and club under the stewardship of Head Coach Steve Borthwick. Come through that and suddenly they may start believing that they can add another European trophy to their current haul of two.

Connacht would again be a stern test for Leicester, however with the greatest respect to the men from Galway, a slightly lesser one than what Leinster would pose. Leicester of course, have already played Connacht twice this season in this competition, with two wins recorded. Though it should be said that both games were a battle with Leicester made to work extremely hard on both occasions. Whilst Connacht are as far from walkover you can get, Tigers would be more confident of progressing if they played them at Welford Road rather than the men from Dublin.

Whilst Leicester Tigers’ big April commences with all their focus on Europe, domestically they still have some work to do. The good news is that they have secured their place in the top four, meaning for the first time since 2017, they will be extending their season by at least a week. To give themselves a better chance of a two week extension, they really do need a home semi-final.

Currently Tigers are a win away from doing so, however April sees them travelling to Harlequins straight after their European double-header. Then a week, they later host Bristol Bears. On top of two league games, sandwiched between is a Premiership Cup semi-final away to London Irish!

Tigers have used the Premiership Cup as a pure development competition, and there is no doubt that will continue in the Semi-Final. Already this season, 21 debuts have been handed out in the Cup, with numerous youngsters from the Academy and Development squads featuring. Where the competition has been a success has been in helping Leicester determine which youngsters are putting their hands up for future contracts, as well as giving vital minutes to experienced fringe members of their squad. This combination has worked well so far, with Leicester’s squad being in a much better place for it. As a result, the same combination will be used at London Irish, with the result almost secondary to the continued improvement in Tigers’ youngsters.

As a result, Leicester will likely target a win at Harlequins to secure a home semi-final, especially if they do have a home European Quarter-Final a week after facing Bristol. They would probably prefer to play that fixture with the luxury of a home semi-final achieved, so they can rest up some of their key players for any potential Quarter Final.

All To Play For

Tigers’ big April commences with all to play for, however, their squad will be tested now as it has never been before. A big ask for anyone, let alone such a young squad like Leicester’s that is still very early in its development. Where Leicester can succeed is, in the depth, they have now built up. With three or even four really good options available to them in each position, every player will be needed this month.

With dreams of progressing in all three competitions still a distinct possibility, April is a ‘big month’ yet it certainly will not be a dull one for Leicester!

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