It’s early days in the 2016/17 rugby season but Leicester Tigers are going into what could be a make of break period for them.
The European Champions Cup opens on Friday night when Tigers travel to Scotstoun Stadium to take on Glasgow Warriors.
Former Leicester great Andy Goode wrote in his column in The Rugby Paper this week that he believes Tigers will struggle to get out of the very difficult group, which also includes last year’s beaten finalists Racing 92 and Munster.
Yes it’s a hard group, perhaps the toughest in the competition, but failure to get out of the group stages would signal a real backward step for the club, who were knocked out in the semi-finals by Racing last season.
In many ways Glasgow have had a similar start to the season as Leicester, sitting in fourth place in the Guinness Pro-12 table just as Tigers sit in fourth in the Aviva Premiership.
An away victory on Friday, and then home triumph against Racing would go a long way to silencing any doubters and set them on their way to securing a place in the knock-out stages.
It’s perhaps a good time to face Racing, who are in 8th place in the French Top 14 having lost four of their eight games this season and are under investigation at the moments as three of their most prominent players: Dan Carter, Joe Rokocoko and Juan Imhoff, were found to have steroids in their systems after the French league final last season, which they won. Racing insist the drugs found in their bodies were legally administered by medical staff at the club but the matter is still being looked into by the French Federation.
Back at home Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill labelled his side’s 34-13 victory over Worcester Warriors on Saturday as “workmen-like.”
However it was the second time Tigers have recorded a bonus point for scoring four tries this season and one of those scores, from Telusa Veainu, might just be the try of the season.
The Tongan full back beat half the Worcester team with a stunning stepping effort, which included bouncing off the thunderous hit of Alafoti Fa’osiliva. Tom Brady scored his first Tigers try on his first start at Welford Road while Logovi’i Mulipola and Graham Kitchener used their power to smash through the Warriors’ defence and over the line.
There was as much attention on Leicester’s defence following the departure of defence coach Scott Hansen last week, as there was on their attack and on Saturday, and it shipped just one try from Jaba Bregvadze off the back of a rolling maul.
Cockerill said: “The players needed to front up and they did that. But I thought that, at times, we still struggled defensively.
“With respect to Worcester, against better sides we would have been punished. It’s certainly not all fixed.
“We need to keep working hard and improve. I am always a big believer that if players want to tackle they will, if they don’t they won’t.
“It’s job done. Worcester are not a poor side, they have given other sides a lot of trouble.
“We rested a couple of guys, we have got a few missing, but you take the five points. It wasn’t spectacular but it was a good win.”
Talking about Hansen’s departure Cockerill said: “The sun comes up the next day and we just get on with what we need to get on with.
“That’s just how we have approached it. It’s disappointing but sometimes you have to make decisions that are tough and we have done that and we have got to move on now and improve as a team.
“Our defence hasn’t been as good as we would have liked. We have been too easy to play against and that is everybody’s responsibilty but ultimately the one thing you can’t do is nothing. You can’t keep doing the same things and hoping for a different result so we have made a change.
“That’s tough, because it’s not all Scott’s fault but in any coaching environment that’s going to be the same and we have to make those tough calls and we have done that, I’ve done that. And now we need to man up and crack on and go into Europe and a big couple of weeks.”
Cockerill and head coach Aaron Mauger will take on the responsibility of marshalling the defence for the rest of the season, something they have both done before, Cockerill at Tigers and Mauger at Canterbury.
Owen Williams scored 14 points on Saturday which took him past a historic mark in Tigers club history.
Welsman Williams, 24, became the 26th player in Leicester history to score 500 points for the club, in just his 70th appearance for the club making him the sixth quickest to do so behind Joel Stransky (35), Toby Flood (41), John Liley (43), Dusty Hare (53) and Tim Stimpson (54).
Williams has scored two tries, kicked 73 conversions, 117 penalties and one drop goal to pass the landmark.
Williams has got some way to surpass leading points scorer Hare on a stunning 4507 points especially as he hasn’t nailed down the starting fly-half spot ahead of Freddie Burns and new arrival Matt Toomua.
Tigers v Glasgow will be live on BT Sport.