It has already been quite the rollercoaster of a season for the Leicester Tigers. Fan favourite Geordan Murphy was recently handed the permanent Head Coach role, despite an indifferent set of results. Murphy has become the fourth boss in two years; hardly the model of consistency and long term thinking the Tigers used to represent.
One reason for Tigers’ decline is the loss of talent to rivals. Leicester used to be the pinnacle of English club rugby; where every player would want to play. Whilst still a major draw, Welford Road is not the place to be any more.
Last Word on Rugby has put together a Leicester Tigers lost XV: an entire team of former players who have moved elsewhere in the Premiership.
Leicester Tigers lost XV
15 – Freddie Burns
Burns made the switch to Welford Road from Gloucester in 2014 as a replacement for Toby Flood. He spent most of his Leicester career in a battle with Owen Williams for the number ten shirt. Just as he was making himself a fan favourite, he was sacrificed in a swap deal for George Ford. This saw him return to his hometown club Bath.
As a non-international Burns would be a very useful back up 10 to Ford, or a 15 to Telusa Veianu.
14 – Vereniki Goneva
Plucked from the French Pro D2 side Tarbes in 2012, Goneva rapidly established himself as a leading try scorer in the Premiership and Europe. However in 2016 he was lured away by Dean Richards to join Newcastle Falcons whilst still the Leicester talisman.
Whilst Jonny May has come in to score the tries, Goneva has become a real Geordie favourite, helping to knock his old club out of the top four. To top it off Goneva was named the 2017/18 player of the season.
13 – Will Hurrell
The first of a number of Leicester academy cast-offs, Will Hurrell played a handful of games for the Tigers before carving out a career in the Championship. He almost managed to prevent Bristol’s promotion with Doncaster Knights in 2015/16, before joining them for their Premiership return.
Hurrell has been a strong ball carrier as well as a turnover threat in his time at Ashton Gate, establishing himself in midfield. Leicester could certainly have used these skills during Manu Tuilagi’s long absences.
🏉 | There's a storm coming. 🌪️
Conv added by @Sheedy95.
— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) September 29, 2018
12 – Billy Twelvetrees
One side to particularly profit from the Leicester clearouts has been Gloucester. Billy Twelvetrees has in fact left Leicester twice. After leaving to the academy to join Bedford Blues, he rejoined and burst onto the scene in the Heineken Cup against the Ospreys. Almost 50 appearances followed before he signed for Gloucester. Since leaving, he had been Cherry and Whites Captain, a British and Irish Lion and earned 19 England caps.
11 – Alex Lewington
A real gem that has been lost. Originally, Lewington pursued a career in football but ended up in the Tigers academy. After a handful of Cup appearances Lewington joined London Irish in 2013. He shone even in the Exiles’ relegation season, scoring 12 tries. Now at Saracens, Lewington is demonstrating pace and finishing that could have formed a lethal wing partnership Jonny May at Leicester.
10 – Owen Williams
As mentioned earlier, Williams fought strongly with Freddie Burns for the ten shirt whilst at Leicester. Taking the jersey from Toby Flood, Williams proved dependable with the boot; as any fly half behind a big Tigers pack must be. His form earned him a call up to the Wales team and in 2017 persuaded Gloucester to shell out big to bring Williams to Kingsholm.
Since then, Williams simply hasn’t been able to string a meaningful run of games together in cherry and white. However a short glimpse of a Cipriani-Williams midfield axis suggested his fortunes could turn.
9 – Michael Young
One of many former Falcons to move south, Young accepted the challenge of trying to dislodge Ben Youngs at scrum half. He was part of the Premiership-winning squad in 2012/13 but was unable to push on from England Saxons appearances to challenge Youngs at international level. A return to Newcastle via Bath saw Young play a key part in the Falcons’ run to the play-offs in 2017/18.
8 – Jordan Crane
The man who may be remembered for his Heineken Cup penalty shootout winner against Cardiff Blues, Crane was a mainstay in the Tigers pack since joining from Leeds. After a long tussle with Thomas Waldrom for the number eight shirt, Crane left for Bristol in 2016 having racked up 223 appearances.
7 – Julian Salvi
Although not a current player, Salvi only retired in summer 2018 and became fowards coach for Exeter, the side he joined in 2015. He was shortlisted for the Premiership player of the season award twice but left for Sandy Park in 2015. His breakdown work was notorious during his time in England, that spanned spells at Bath, Leicester and Exeter.
6 – Jamie Gibson
Despite Gibson committing the greatest sin by joining Northampton, Tigers fans must surely wish he was still in their pack. A standout player for the Saints last season in a very disappointing campaign, Gibson has racked up 100 appearances at the Gardens, impressing with physicality in the lineout and mauls in particular.
5 – Calum Green
Part of Leicester’s pack problems has been lack of grunt in the second row. A homegrown, reliable lineout threat would have been a useful squad member then. Calum Green burst onto the scene as a 19 year old but limited opportunities saw him eventually move to Yorkshire Carnegie in the Championship. He showed enough form in his two seasons there to earn a move back to the Premiership with Newcastle. Since 2014 he has made over 100 appearances and led the lineout takes and steals charts in 2017/18.
4 – Ed Slater
When Jonny May sensationally left Gloucester on the eve of the 2017/18, Ed Slater was sent the other way. A former Tigers captain, Slater has embedded himself in a resurgent Gloucester pack. He brings an abrasiveness and physicality that Leicester have been missing in the last couple of seasons.
3 – Fraser Balmain
A traditional Tigers prop in terms of size and aggression, Balmain joined Leicester in 2010 after leaving his native Newcastle Falcons. With Dan Cole the number one tighthead throughout his time at Welford Road, Balmain moved to Gloucester in 2017. Since John Afoa left in 2018, he has firmly nailed down the number three shirt and proved very durable in the midst of a prop injury crisis.
2 – Harry Thacker
The player that has most obviously made Leicester rue their decision this season. Thacker came through the Tigers academy, to be followed by brother Charlie. Competing variously with stalwart Tom Youngs, Tatafu Polota-Nau and George McGuigan, Thacker still made 70 appearances in five years. Thacker joined Bristol in summer 2018 and slotted well into their high tempo, running rugby style. He has scored six tries season, including two against Leicester.
Caught up with Harry Thacker. Interesting on how the Bristol gameplan gets more out of him than Leicester’s did: “[At Leicester] it was about running over people…I’m more likely to run under people.” https://t.co/i6fLq19P5o
— Charlie Morgan (@CharlieFelix) December 29, 2018
1 – Kieran Brookes
Normally a tighthead, Brookes fills in at loosehead for our Leicester Tigers lost XV here. Whilst Brookes never fulfilled his potential at Welford Road, making only a handful of appearances before returning to Newcastle Falcons, he eventually proved his worth for rivals Northampton. In three years at Franklins Gardens his big carrying and scrummaging skills earned him international caps with England.
Now at Wasps, Brookes is still battling to hit the peak that could see him return in an England shirt, perhaps in time for a seat on the plane to Japan.
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images