On 2 January 2017, Leicester Tigers sacked director of rugby Richard Cockerill ending his long and successful tenure with the East Midlands club. It had been a turbulent time for Leicester who, coming into the final third of the season, were in fifth place and outside of the playoff positions. However, the Tigers had not been where they wanted to be for almost five seasons, missing out on the final the previous four seasons.
The Tigers have a proud history with ten league titles and two European titles to their name. They are the most successful team in Britain since the establishment of the professional era and they were in the final a record nine times consecutively between 2004 and 2013, with 2013 being the last time they were crowned Premiership Champions.
In the games prior to Cockerill’s dismissal, Leicester had not been playing with the same passion and aggression they are renowned for. Many within the crowd at Welford Road demanded change, however, most believe how Cockerill was dismissed was wrong and that such a legend of the club (he had been part of the coaching staff since 2004 and was made director of rugby in 2010) should have been treated with more respect, possibly allowing him to continue to the end of the season.
Following Cockerill’s exit, head coach Aaron Mauger took over as temporary director of rugby at the club. This inspired the team, and they salvaged a semifinal place and were narrowly beaten by regular season winners Wasps in that game. Many argued that Mauger had performed a miracle at the club and therefore should be allowed to continue in his position, however, the day after winning the Anglo-Welsh Cup, and even before the regular season had ended, Matt O’Connor was announced as director of rugby with immediate effect.
Fast forward to this September and the start of a new season with rekindled hope and expectations for the Tigers. O’Connor as Director of Rugby had brought in many new faces, such as England backs George Ford and Jonny May and Australian sevens specialist Nick Malouf. With these signings adding to an already strong core, Leicester were looking for a strong start. However, this was not to be the case, with Tigers losing 23-27 to Bath and seeming to fall back into the same pattern of play as the previous season.
Next up for the Tigers was East Midlands rivals Northampton. This for the fans and the team is one of the biggest games of the season and Leicester looked to improve on their slow start to the season. However, once again, the Tigers disappointed. Poor discipline and no real aggressive attacking play saw them lose 24-11 to the Saints. This was definitely not the start that Leicester had envisaged and an improvement was definitely needed. Had Tigers made a mistake, should they have kept Mauger and allowed him to develop the squad?
This is one question asked by many fans of the club. Was the reason Tigers performed so well at the back end of the season due to the momentum off the back of Mauger or because of any new ideas brought in by O’Connor?
Well, if the last four games for the Tigers are anything to go by, it is very much the ideas of O’Connor that turned the team around. Winning four games consecutively against Gloucester (24-10), Harlequins away (28-31), champions Exeter (20-13) and London Irish away (27-28). Leicester have improved in each of those games. This was especially obvious in their match against the champions, Exeter where the passion was back. This was seen most obviously in the post-try celebrations from Jonny May, one of the newest Tigers in the squad.
So were Leicester right to make a massive overhaul last year? I would argue so. The most recent games have proven that the Tigers are well and truly back. They’re more aggressive, more passionate, and more organised than the side has been for years. They are becoming a major threat to win the Premiership, just as they have been throughout the league’s history.
Do you think the Tigers were right to make as many changes as they have in the last year? Comment below!!
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