As rugby fans saw the New Year in with a spot of Aviva Premiership rugby on Sunday, there was disappointment for Leicester Tigers fans who watched their team struggle to a close defeat against reigning Champions of Europe, Saracens. However things went from bad to worse for the club, who announced less than 24 hours later that Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill was to leave the club with immediate effect.
Where Did It Go Wrong?
The team has failed to maintain it’s intimidating persona over the past few years, and the ten-time English Champions have struggled to make the top ranks in both the domestic and European leagues. It seems as if the Board have decided the crucial factor in the performance demise is Richard Cockerill. But where did it all go wrong?
Dare to look back to the season of 2014/15, when cracks began to slowly but surely develop. After being crowned Premiership Champions in the 2012/13 season, the following year saw them crash out in an agonising one point defeat to bitter rivals Northampton Saints. Whilst they periodically showed signs of strength during the 14/15 year, there was a distinct lack of confidence coming from the Tigers squad. This led to some catastrophic losses – who can forget that 45-0 defeat at The Rec to Bath? The season ended in under a dark cloud losing 47-10 in the semi-final as Bath, again, proved to be the banana skin in Cockerill’s plan to make it to Twickenham. Even back then, there were whispers that Cockerill may have become too complacent.
Fast forward to the August of 2015 and there were two new prominent faces in the coaching set up in Leicester – Aaron Mauger and Scott Hansen. Both Southern Hemisphere characters had been drafted in to revitalize a team that had frankly been through the mill. As Head Coach, Mauger would partner up with Cockerill, and together they would take on the privately invested, recruitment-heavy teams throughout the Premiership and Europe with more strategy and fresh ideas. The ‘Tigers of old’ was to evolve with the changing face of the game, developing a more southern style of football rugby.
Players Encouraged to Form Strong Bonds
Players spoke of their happiness both on and off the field, as Mauger encouraged the players to bond and get to know each other outside of their day jobs. It slowly seemed to be working and, after the usual ambiguous start to the season, they edged towards the top four of the Premiership thanks to sure-fire home victories, and a gallant win at Franklin’s Gardens.
In Europe, Tigers topped their group in the Champions Cup and promised a semi-final showdown against French top-dogs Racing 92. With the boot of Dan Carter, Racing had the edge and took a three point victory to make it into the final, leaving Leicester fans heartbroken. Cockerill praised his team at how they put their bodies on the line and “gave it everything”, and attentions turned back to the Premiership. Leicester yet again battled to make the semi-final. This time they faced Saracens, who chewed up Cockerill’s side and spit them back out in a 44-17 victory at Allianz Park.
The season was over. The players were wounded. And that injury list was long. Cockerill had all summer to organize an almighty comeback and reignite the ferocity within the Welford Road camp. When the 2016/17 season began, the promised arrival of superstars JP Pietersen and Matt Toomua lent itself to the feeling that the backline at Leicester was merging more into a Southerm Hemisphere style of speed and skill. It would be an environment in which players Adam Thompstone and Mathew Tait would in-fact flourish in.
However Cockerill has always been a forward dominant coach – he had previously held that job title at Tigers before becoming Director of Rugby. A part of the infamous ‘ABC club’ there was no doubt this is where his heart lay. Whilst it seemed the attention was nailed on the back line, perhaps Cockerill’s tendencies to focus on the forward pack got overlooked?
Or could it be that his and Mauger’s ideas for the squad seemed to differ, and became more like splitting hairs? Despite their varying coaching techniques, it was always thought that the two former Internationals could each bring something different to the table. They appeared to work well together, and only spoke highly of each other – well to this reporter anyway.
The only tangible reason that may give itself to how Mauger could have ‘influenced’ the fall of Cockerill is that with fresh blood comes fresh ideas. These ideas could easily conflict those that Cockerill has had in place for his seven years as DOR. Having a figure like Mauger come in and inflict so many new styles must have been a drastic change for everyone at the club; Cockerill included.
Whilst one doesn’t like to call it complacency, having a single figure in charge for so long during so many background changes somewhat reflects in their lack of dominance in the rugby world. In all disregard to the reason as to why Richard Cockerill has left Tigers – and the true reason may never be discovered – it was a huge blow for the East Midlands side and for those who have supported the club through thick and thin. Quite poignantly, last week he also admitted amongst rumours of his demise that;
“There may be ups and downs on the way, but we will be around in 100 years, doing what we do. Whether I am here or not is irrelevant.”
Cockerill Leaves Director of Rugby Role with Leicester Tigers
And as loyal as the fans were to Cockerill himself; who’s passion for the club emanated in every word he ever spoke about it and it’s players, one would understand the fans dismay. The direction the club takes now; with Mauger now the DOR, will determine how the club and region adapt to the loss of such a forceful man, like Cockerill.
Speaking about his dismissal, Richard Cockerill revealed “the Tigers have made me the person and the coach I am today”.
“Main Photo Credit”