Lee Calvert previews the biggest teams ahead of the Aviva Premiership season. First: Leicester Tigers.
For a long time Leicester Tigers were a virtually unstoppable force in English rugby, a relentless red-and-green hooped nightmare mauling to death the hopes and dreams of those in their way. The East Midlands outfit only missed two Premiership finals between 1999 and 2013, and lifted the trophy eight times during that period. Since 2013 they have finished third, third and fourth, which in isolation looks a decent effort, but Leicester fans expect more and they will hope to claw back to their perch this season.
At their peak the Tigers pack was like a Panzer tank on speed, rolling over or blasting everything in its path and allowing gloriously chubby enigma Andy Goode to orchestrate patterned attacks from the armchair they afforded him. More recently their forwards have become more like a septic tank on wheels – pushover tries against them were not uncommon last year – meaning that the talented Freddie Burns and Owen Williams at 10 struggled.
This season coach Richard Cockerill has boosted his front and back row with Pat Cilliers, George McGuigan, Ellis Genge and Luke Hamilton, and will look to these players bolstering the already impressive international personnel up front. There is still some concern that they will remain fragile at set piece.
Early in the season all eyes will be on new recruit Matt Toomua and his dance-and-biff centre combination with Manu Tuilagi. The current Wallaby and former Brumbies star is a cut above in class from anyone Leicester has had in midfield for some time, and fans will have high hopes after a disappointing return from Jean De Villiers last season.
Toomua will bring speed and guile to the backline and his ability to unleash the lightning bolt Telusa Veainu and the world-class JP Pietersen will have a big bearing on the Tigers season. Perhaps more importantly his presence in the squad should relieve some pressure from Freddie Burns and help in the ongoing development of Manu Tuilagi. The England centre remains limited but is still young enough to attempt some Nonu-esque development. Young centres Matt Smith and George Catchpole should also benefit. With the gameplan constantly being tinkered with by Aaron Mauger we should see some eye catching stuff this season.
To go one better than 2015-16 Leicester need to get the forwards somewhere near the standards of their glory days, because they have the class behind them to beat anyone.
Last Year: 4th, lost in Play-offs Semi-Final
Prediction: An improvement on last season, but the forward pack will still not quite be where it needs to be. 3rd on the table; semi-finalists.
Head Coach: Richard Cockerill
Ins: Matt Toomua (from Brumbies), JP Pietersen (from Sharks), Tom Brady (from Sale Sharks), George McGuigan (from Newcastle Falcons), Pat Cilliers (from Montpellier), Luke Hamilton (from Agen), Ellis Genge (from Bristol).
Outs: Leonardo Ghiraldini (to Toulouse), Tommy Bell (to London Irish), Laurence Pearce (to Sale Sharks), Vereniki Goneva (to Newcastle Falcons), Miles Benjamin (retired), Seremaia Bai (retired), Sebastian De Chaves (to London Irish), Michael van Vuuren (to Bath), Jean de Villiers (retired/released), George Tresidder (to Rotherham Titans), Jordan Crane (to Bristol), Tiziano Pasquali (to Benetton Treviso), Matías Agüero (to Provence), Christian Loamanu (to Provence), Niall Morris (to Leinster), Sam Yawayawa (to Nottingham).
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