Leicester Tigers are one of the great clubs in European rugby, the Tigers have won 10 English Premiership titles, 2 European cups and 9 Anglo-Welsh trophies. Leicester reached 9 consecutive Premiership finals from 2005 to 2013 and have never been relegated. The club has a rich history filled with success and many iconic players have worn the red, green and white of Leicester Tigers.
In the 2013 Premiership Final Leicester defeated Northampton Saints 37-17 to win their 10th league title, since then the club has struggled. The Tigers have reached 4 consecutive Premiership semi-finals and lost every one of them. The club has seemed to have lost its way and results on the field reflect this, mid-way through the 2016/17 season Richard Cockerill was sacked ending his 8-year reign as head coach. The 2017/18 season saw Leicester finish 5th in the Premiership and subsequently missed the play-offs for the first time in 14 years.
Cockerill had a deep connection with Leicester Tigers which spanned over 3 decades, he joined the club as a player in 1992 and went on to make 250 appearances in his first stint. He left Tigers at the end of 2001/02 season and spent 2 seasons with Montferrand in France. In 2004 he returned to the Tigers once more and saw out his playing career with the club. He was appointed as forwards coach in 2005 and spent 1 season in the role, after multiple stints as acting head coach Cockerill was appointed as Tigers Permanent head coach in 2009. He won 4 Premiership titles and 1 Anglo-Welsh cup.
Leicester Tigers built their successful game around the set-piece with the line-out and scrum being their areas of expertise. The club were masters of grinding out results and never worried about playing flashy rugby. The Tigers played direct and physical with the intention of dominating the opposition. Over the years players like Martin Castrogiovanni, Dorian West, Graham Rowntree, Martin Johnson, Ben Kay, Neil Back and Lewis Moody performed the ugly work which set the platform for the Tigers to play. The Tigers were an intimidating side to face and were horrendous to play against, Leicester Tigers had a unique aura which followed them around like a shadow. They were winners.
The club signed players who would add to the jersey –
Alesana Tuilagi (Left-wing) – the mighty Samoan played for 8 seasons with the Tigers and made 162 appearances.
*Toby Flood (Fly Half) – the Englishman joined from Newcastle Falcons in 2008 and made 121 appearances in a successful 6 year stint with Leicester Tigers.
*Marcos Ayerza (Loosehead prop) – the Argentine joined in 2006 and spent 11 years at Leicester Tigers. He made 246 appearances for the club.
*Martin Castrogiovanni (Tighthead prop) – the hairy Italian spent 7 years at the club from 2006 to 2013 making 145 appearances in that period.
*Jordan Crane (Number 8) – the burly Crane joined Leicester Tigers in 2006 and was at the club for over 10 years making 226 appearances.
Leicester Tigers also had an excellent academy which churned out quality players on a frequent basis, players like –
*Andy Goode (Fly Half) – Goode played 199 times for the Tigers in two spells with the club.
*Austin Healy (Scrum-Half) – the minuscule Healy represented Tigers 237 times in a 10 stint.
* Ben Kay (Lock) – Kay made 281 appearances in a trophy laden career with the Tigers.
*Dan Cole (Loosehead prop) – Cole has represented the Tigers 196 times and is still a loyal servant to the club.
*Martin Johnson (Lock) – World cup winning captain Martin Johnson played 361 times for Leicester and is a legend at the Tigers.
However in recent seasons Leicester’s recruitment hasn’t been as good and the amount of talent being produced by their academy has dried up, this has led to their decline on the field. Recent signings such as Christian Loamanu, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Peter Betham, Sebastien de Chaves, Robert Barbieri, Jean de Villiers, Jono Kitto, Ryan Lamb and Nick Malouf have failed to make a lasting impact at Leicester Tigers and have since left the club. Academy graduates such as Alex Lewington, Kieran Brookes and Jamie Gibson struggled for game-time and academy prospects like Paolo Odogwu, Sam Yawayawa and Jacob Umaga have been released by the club without making an appearance.
The Tigers have also struggled to adapt to the faster style of modern rugby, Leicester flourished in an era where bulk was king but since then the game has changed. Rugby has evolved into a more expansive game where the ball moves quicker and players are more fitter. Leicester are stuck playing an outdated style of rugby and seem unable to add creativity into their game. George Ford and Matt Toomua were signed to boaster Leicester’s attack but this hasn’t worked and the Tigers have no recognised attack coach to speak of.
Leicester Tigers have also had to contend with the changing landscape of European rugby and the increased financial power of their rivals. Winning is a lot harder nowadays with Saracens and Exeter emerging as kings of the Premiership. Leicester have also slipped down the pecking order in Europe, the two-time winners have failed to progress from group stages in the competition for the previous 2 seasons. Embarrassing results like the 43-0 loss at Welford Road to Glasgow Warriors or the 39-0 drubbing away against Castres act as clear examples of their struggles. It will be a huge challenge for the Tigers to reach the pinnacle of European Rugby once more.
This season Leicester Tigers will be determined to make amends, missing out on the play-offs last season was an embarrassment for the club. Leicester will aim for a top 4 finish but anything more than that is unlikely, the Tigers have to rebuild their squad and adapt their game if they want major trophies to return to Welford Road. With the sheer amount of quality and competition found in European rugby these days it will be a huge task.
I would like to credit Rugby Pass, Leicester Mercury and the Premiership Rugby YouTube channel for the articles and videos provided in this blog. The relevant links are found below.