Inside the Tigers’ Den - Returning stars can give Leicester a winning edge

Manu Tuilagi is back for Leicester Tigers. Tiger Images EMN-140317-164356001

Manu Tuilagi is back for Leicester Tigers. Tiger Images EMN-140317-164356001

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Manu Tuilagi was back with a bang for England on Saturday to score in the side’s 52-11 demolition of Italy in Rome.

The Samoan-born centre shrugged off three tackles on his way to scoring for England having come off the bench in the 54th minute.

Leicester Tigers club captain Toby Flood. Tiger Images EMN-140317-164334001

Leicester Tigers club captain Toby Flood. Tiger Images EMN-140317-164334001

While the Tiger looked slightly heavy-legged at times, his incredible power was there for all to see.

It was surprising to see the 22-year-old rushed back into action quite so quickly but it speaks volumes of his importance to the side.

Despite the fantastic form of Northampton’s Luther Burrell, Tuilagi has the ability to break a tackle unlike anyone currently playing at the top of the world game.

His impact over the next couple of months could be invaluable to Leicester, who are hunting for trophies on two fronts but have big tasks ahead of them in both the league and Europe.

However, as well as having his game winner back in the ranks, Leicester’s director of rugby is also about to have a host of international class players to select from.

British Lions second row Geoff Parling, Argentina international Gonzalo Camacho, Saxons winger Miles Benjamin and Irish Wolfhounds back Niall Morris could all be back before the end of the month.

Anthony Allen, who is the heart and soul of the Tigers back line, will also be back and fighting fit in time for Exeter Chiefs at the weekend and, most importantly, for the Northampton Saints at Franklins Gardens on March 29.

Leicester, who are very accustomed to adding to their incredibly impressive cabinet trophy, will want to add another to their collection to bid farewell to club captain Toby Flood who has finally officially announced that he will be joining the four-time European champions Toulouse next season.

The move to the Top 14 side and European giants has been one of the worst-kept secrets in rugby but last week Flood explained his reasons for joining the club in what is bound to be a big money move.

Flood told the Toulouse club website: “The club symbolises French rugby. There is such a history in this club which is respected in the rugby world. I have found many similarities between the history in Toulouse and Leicester, which is one of the reasons that made me want to join this club.

“I hope to live the same great adventure in Toulouse that I’ve lived in England. I have the opportunity to see the differences there may be between what I’m used to and how everything is done in France, particularly in terms of training and preparation.”

Flood, 28, joined Tigers in 2008 and has made 113 appearances for the club, scoring 1,299 points.

Flood’s replacement at Welford Road is yet to be announced although it is widely expected to be Gloucester and England’s Freddie Burns.

However, with Burns’ form in the doldrums, he will have to fight for his starting place with the young Owen Williams who has showed outstanding form when deputising for Flood.

The Welshman, who joined from the Scarlets in the summer, has even ousted Flood from the number 10 jersey in recent weeks. However, come crunch time, when Leicester are in a hard place in a game in front a thousands of baying Frenchmen, Cockerill will turn to his trusted Englishman.

Flood’s career has been a strange one. Despite his impressive 60 international caps, he will forever be a nearly man. Of his cap haul, 28 of them were from off the replacements bench.

He has won league titles and cups with Leicester but rarely has he been at the forefront of the winning effort. Think back to last year’s Aviva Premiership Grand Final win when he left the field in a daze in the first half after two thunderous hits by Courtney Lawes.

That day, the conductor to Leicester’s powerful symphony was young George Ford who has now kicked on to fulfil his potential at Bath.

In 2012 Leicester won the LV= Cup but kept true to their youth policy and the seasoned international did not come off the bench that day.

Perhaps Flood’s biggest contribution to winning a final came in 2010 when he kicked 18 points to help 
beat Saracens in the Premiership final.

In his first season at the club, he featured in Leicester’s run to the Premiership final win over London Irish and Heineken Cup final loss to Leinster but did not feature in either match, with Sam Vesty filling the fly-half role.

Perhaps he will have more success at Toulouse who are in a season of transition and have fallen away as the top contenders in France.

Perhaps the best rugby news of the weekend was not England’s huge win in the Six Nations, nor the fitting end to Brian O’Discoll’s legendary career, winning the Six Nations in his final international game.

The best news is that an agreement has been made for the future of the European club game and the parties are on the verge of signing a contract which will see the best in Europe fighting it out.

So while Flood is waving goodbye to Welford Road this summer, he could well be back in the black and red of Toulouse next season.