Inside the Tigers’ Den - All Blacks await Leicester foursome

Leicester Tigers lock Geoff Parling. Tiger Images EMN-140206-160649001
Leicester Tigers lock Geoff Parling. Tiger Images EMN-140206-160649001

So the domestic season is over, Northampton are Aviva Premiership champions and winners of the Amlin Cup, Saracens have nothing to show for a wonderful year and two rugby greats finished their careers with league titles.

Many a Leicester fan found themselves at a loose end on Saturday, so used to making the yearly pilgrimage to Twickenham. But those who flicked on the tv to watch Jonny Wilkinson and the star-studded Toulon side win the French Top 14 and Brian O’Driscoll claim a final Pro 12 title with Leinster will not have been disappointed.

Both men have been involved in memorable matches against Leicester over the last decade and few would deny them their glorious finishes.

But with club rugby on holiday for a couple of months attention turns to the international game.

England face the ultimate rugby Test this summer - a three game series against the reigning World Champions the might All Blacks, deep in their heartland the Home of the Long White Cloud.

Amongst the many tourists are a handful of Tigers who look to be a prominent part of Stuart Lancaster’s plans, particularly with the players from Saturday’s Aviva Premiership final unavailable for the first Test because of a lack of preparation and recovery time.

Leicester captain Ed Slater has been selected for his first England tour and with Courtney Lawes unavailable he has every chance of starting against New Zealand on Saturday.

He will be joined by Tigers team-mates Geoff Parling, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs in the party for the tour.

All three players were British and Irish Lions this time last year and played pivotal roles in winning the series with Australia 2-1. Injury has somewhat hampered their seasons for club and country but it may just work out for England who are getting three fresh and hungry world-class players back.

Leicester’s latest signing Freddie Burns, who joined Tigers from Gloucester Rugby after much speculation, has also been named in the touring party and with former Leicester fly-half George Ford pulling out of the tour with a shoulder injury, the latest Tiger looks likely to add to his caps; most likely off the bench behind a resurrected Danny Cipriani.

New Zealand have named an imposingly experienced and strong training squad ahead of the first Test and will likely be at near full-strength for the opening encounter at Eden Park on Saturday which will be shown live on Sky Sports at 8.35am.

Three Leicester players have already pulled on the England jersey since the rest of the squad jetted off for their holidays.

On Sunday Graham Kitchener captained England against the Barbarians in what turned out to be a hugely entertaining but sadly losing effort, finishing on the wrong side of a 29-39 scoreline.

He was joined by teammate Jamie Gibson who started on the flank and prop Fraser Balmain was amongst the replacements.

An inexperienced England side lost to a Barbarians team which played with real intensity and even grit at times, echoing the words of manager Dean Ryan who was keen to restore the reputation of the invitational side after some recent blow-outs.

It was a huge honour for Kitchener to skipper the side, the first time he has captain a team since he led Worcester in a pre-season friendly four years ago.

Few involved at Twickenham on Sunday will join the England tour this summer but it was a fantastic opportunity to give players on the verge of making an international break-though a taste of the game.

At times England were ripped apart by a fluent Baabaas team - perhaps they could have done with the services of Leicester’s new defence coach Phil Blake who will join Tigers in time for the new season.

Blake is currently the coach of Australian side Manly who are on a 10-game undefeated run in the Shute Shield and he has experience coaching in both league and union including a stint as assistant coach of the Wallabies.

Blake played 272 first grade rugby league games in the 1980s and 90s for Manly-Warringah, Souths, St George and New Zealand Warriors.

Director of rugby Cockerill said: “I’m delighted that Phil has agreed to join us in the role of defence coach. He is very well thought of in the game and very experienced, and has worked in a number of different environments, including Super Rugby and at Test level in Australia.

“He joins a very strong group of coaches at this club and we look forward to working with Phil in his new role.”