Friday night’s game up in Newcastle is not the biggest game in Leicester’s history as some have said but if their Premiership status is on the line when they face their old rivals Bath on the final day of the season, that definitely will be.
This weekend’s match at Kingston Park is huge and the pressure on the players and coaching staff at Tigers ahead of it is enormous but even if they lose, they have home fixtures against Bristol and Bath to come so it isn’t up there with the many Premiership and European Cup finals they’ve been involved in over the past couple of decades.
The idea of Leicester Tigers being relegated from the top flight would have been unthinkable to probably everyone involved in rugby from fans to players to those running the sport until very recently but it is dangerously close to becoming a reality.
I said at the start of the season that they have a mid-table squad and other clubs have left them behind and are looking back at them in their rear-view mirror but I didn’t foresee them having to scrap this much to avoid the dreaded drop.
The fact that there were changes in the coaching setup after the start of the season and then the “interim” word was used haven’t helped but there’s no doubt that they’re in this position because of poor recruitment and bad management off the field.
I know he’s a mate of mine but I feel desperately sorry for Geordan Murphy because he’s being judged on what’s happening on the field right now when he’s had to pick up the pieces and work with the results of other people’s decisions.
Where Leicester are right now is a product of what’s gone on in boardrooms and meeting rooms for the last four or five years.
You only have to look at the job Richard Cockerill is doing at Edinburgh now for a very blatant example of one of the questionable decisions. That may be unfair because his voice might have become a bit stale after being there for so long but a lot of good people have left the club.
Saturday’s result at Welford Road was another low ebb as they conceded more points than they have in any other game for over 30 years since the 1987/88 season and the confidence does look shot but their fate is still very much in their own hands.
When you’ve won just three of your last 20 games in all competitions over a period of almost six months, it can be hard to see the wood from the trees in terms of how exactly you’re going to get out of the rut but they need to close ranks and fight for one another.
It wasn’t a very auspicious start to Mike Ford’s time there as a consultant at the weekend and the heavy defeat obviously wasn’t down to him but I’m just not sure he’s the right man to be going in there at the moment.
George Ford has been quoted as saying that his dad should bring some more clarity on how they’re going to play but as the fly half he needs to be demanding clarity from the coaches and bossing things during the week in training as well as on game day.
He’ll have the ultimate chance to show that he’s doing that at Kingston Park on Friday night but Newcastle will be equally desperate and they have the opportunity to move off the bottom and draw level on points with Leicester.
Ford may have to step up in more ways than one as well with his fellow England halfback Ben Youngs out for the season with a shoulder injury and captain Tom Youngs potentially missing through suspension as well after his red card against Exeter.
Players like Tom who care so deeply and have the club’s DNA running through their veins will be pivotal if Leicester are going to get out of the mess that they’re in and he could be a huge loss.
Northampton and Quins both thought they were too good to go down when it happened to them but the reality is that no club is too big or too good to fall from grace. I’m desperate for Leicester to stay up but they don’t have a divine right to.
If you look at the form books and take into account home advantage as well, you have to say that Newcastle are favourites to beat them this weekend so it might even get worse before it gets better.
However, I still believe they’ll stay up because having the points on the board is what you want at this stage of the season and two of their last three games are at home so their destiny is very much in their own hands.
It may well come down to that last game of the season at Welford Road against Bath and if it does, that will without a shadow of a doubt be the biggest game in the club’s history for me.
There is a massive rivalry between the pair after they dominated the English club game during the 1980s and 1990s and a lot of Bath fans would love nothing more than to send their old foe down to the Championship.
The average Leicester fan has been following them for 20 or 30 years and if they aren’t safe by that game on May 18th, there will be so much emotion involved.
The players will tell you Friday’s match isn’t the biggest in the club’s history and they’re right because they’ll have a second chance if they lose but it’s still right up there and the biggest of them all might just be on its way next month.
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