Three defeats and two shaky victories over Exeter and Newcastle leaves the Tigers lying in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of 10th in the Aviva Premiership. Leicester is a club who has so very proudly held a ‘no excuses’ mentality in the past but now find themselves hiding behind an injury list to explain recent inexcusable performances. Richard Cockerill has come out to the media and denied that this is a valid excuse, and fair play to him, but deep down I am sure he does take some comfort in the fact a few key faces are missing. Anthony Allen, Manu Tuilagi, Ed Slater, Geoff Parling, Marcos Ayerza, Dan Cole and Tom Youngs to name but a few of the key personal out injured at the moment. Nevertheless the Tigers have arguably the largest and most talented squad in the premiership at the moment. A side boasting Matthew Tait, Freddie Burns, Nicki Goneva and Ben Youngs in the backline and Julien Salvi, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Brad Thon and Graham Kitchener in the forward pack should not be going down 45-0 to Bath and losing to London Irish at home. So why exactly is a side boasting so much international pedigree getting dominated in the premiership? And where should the fingers be pointed?
First and foremost the players must look at themselves for recent performances, there is no hiding from the fact they are not playing well as individuals, however the coaches must also reassess what they are doing. Richard Cockerill took charge initially as interim coach in 2007 and has continued the clubs rich tradition of success, winning the Premiership in 2009, 2010 and 2013. He is supported by three former Tigers in Paul Burke, Geordan Murphy and Richard Blaze. Leicester is a club very proud of its tradition but when does tradition become ignorance and is the club stuck in their ways? Having an entire coaching staff coming from within where is the external influence to add something different? Murphy, Burke and Blaze are all recent additions and Matt O’Connors experience has not been replaced since he left to take the top job at Leinster. The backline is not working and Murphy must take responsibility for this, to get nilled at the rec is simply unforgiveable for Leicester fans. Ben Youngs and Freddie Burns (an England international pairing) created nothing all game, some supporters may say that was because the forward pack underperformed but again there are no excuses with personnel there. If I was a member on the board at Leicester I would be looking to bring in an outside influence, someone like Gary Gold who coached Bath and South Africa to oversee things or even a Brian Ashton type figure who could help Geordan Murphy develop as a coach. A certain Jake White has also just become available since his departure from the Sharks in Durban but that may be long shot.
Lack of Leadership
On the field there appears to be a lack of leadership, this could be explained by the injury list, with players such as Dan Cole, Anthony Allen, Manu Tuilagi and captain Ed Slater all missing. However players such as Ben Youngs, Matthew Tait and Graham Kitchener are no longer new boys on the block and must show some leadership on the field. Experienced men like Jordan Crane and new-comer Leonardo Ghiraldini must also set an example on the field and show their obvious leadership credentials. Ghiraldini has the excuse that he is new to the club, however he has captained his country in the absence of Sergio Parisse and with over 60 test caps more should be expected from the Italian. The side on the whole is not inexperienced, in their recent defeat to Gloucester tighhead Fraser Balmain was the only truly inexperienced player in the starting XV. The rest of the side boasted 9 internationals starting with Jordan Crane on the bench, experience is not an issue but leaders need to step up.
Too many new faces
The recruitment over the summer has been as busy as ever at Leicester Tigers, who have opened their chequebook once again and signed some of the world’s best players. Ten new players have joined the squad (including the recent arrival of Tommy Bell), while 14 Tigers have walked out the door. Any transition at a club takes time for players to become accustomed to each other’s styles of play and the systems the club has in place. After a trophy-less and disappointing 2013/14 season by Leicester’s standards change was needed and re-enforcements were brought in, it will take time for these players of various nationalities to settle in.
A Lack of identity
From what I have seen of Leicester this season there has been a distinct lack of identity from what they are trying to achieve on the pitch. What exactly is their style? Traditionally a large dominant forward pack with a scavenger at seven (Neil Back, Lewis Moody and now Julien Salvi) with a backline capable of destroying any opposing defence. However this year the forwards have not got on top and the half-backs look lost. Freddie Burns had a torrid time last season behind a weak Gloucester pack and one of his reasons to move to Welford Road would be to play behind that colossal Leicester pack to push his England credentials. Obviously when Ayerza and Cole return things will likely change but for now Leicester need something to hang their hat on and say ‘this is what we are about’. Saracens have their defence, Bath have a fluid running backline and Harlequins boast an impressive offloading game but the Tigers need to develop something in their armoury that they can call their own. I haven’t seen anything so far this season that Leicester can be proud of either in attack or defence and this could come back to my earlier point about the quality of coaching that these players are receiving.
Brad Thorn has come out and said “I have never seen this scale of injury”, if a man as well travelled as Brad Thorn says it’s bad it must be serious. However the class acts the club can still put out on the pitch should do better and whether it is the coaching, lack of leadership or identity or simply that there are too many new faces trying to gel, I am sure the Tigers will do what Tigers always do and regroup and make a late charge for the top four. Nonetheless if Leicester do the unthinkable and don’t make the top four, which is tougher than ever this season with Baths emergence, then injuries can not be wholly to blame.