Monday 22 January 2018

No room for sympathy as eager Munster seek to poach endangered Tigers

The relationship between Richard Cockerill and his chief assistant Aaron Mauger has “broken down”. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
The relationship between Richard Cockerill and his chief assistant Aaron Mauger has “broken down”. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leicester didn't fire a shot amidst humbling, humiliating defeat in Limerick last weekend.

Leicester may fire their coach if they stage a repeat before their passionate, expectant Welford Road crowd this afternoon.

A rivalry that has been founded upon revenge is now awash with an air of resignation as the vultures circle around the head of the embattled Richard Cockerill.

Cockerill was brutually honest about last week's submission. "We had our arses spanked." Soon, he could be out on his.

Despite sitting in the Premiership play-off positions, where they usually reside in May, and aside from last season's European semi-finals, there is an edginess in the English midlands and machinations, it appears, aplenty behind the scenes.

Defence coach Scott Hansen has already left, an unplugged hole that, along with a host of missed tackles, Munster took supreme advantage of in last weekend's 38-0 win.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Cockerill and his chief assistant, former All Black and Tiger, Aaron Mauger has, in the shady, shadowy source-speak that usually accompanies these matters, "broken down".

Seems set fair for another pitiful mugging, then?

Munster will tread warily around that particular thesis, instead seeking to trample the Tigers into the dust, completing a double that was so embarrassingly inflicted upon them by their familiar foes 12 months ago.

Munster must turn the tables on a year ago and they won't care if it means a more significant re-arrangement of the furniture at Welford Road.

A year has made much difference; Munster announced extra seats for their festive derby with Leinster; last year they struggled to fill more than half the ones they already have.

Injuries mocked their challenge then, too but now Munster have all their biggest guns firing as they go hunting game once more.

After Keith Earls passed a late fitness test on a nagging groin issue that flared up in the aftermath of last week's win, this will the third successive game in which they are unchanged in the Champions Cup.

We knew Leicester would have to make an enforced change, with Freddie Burns ruled out with a head injury, while Dan Cole and Marcos Ayerza remain absent from a thoroughly neutered scrum.

In all, they have made three: Jack Roberts, who made his European debut as a replacement last weekend, comes into the team at centre as a consequence of Owen Williams' predictable shift to ten.

South Africa international Pay Cilliers replaces Jack Bateman at tighthead, while Luke Hamilton edges out Mike Fitzgerald in the back row alongside Brendon O'Connor and Lachlan McCaffrey.

Simon Zebo truly propelled himself on to the global stage with a hat-trick down the road in Northampton almost five years ago but he warns that the Tigers may roar defiantly today.

"Welford Road will be hostile enough," he affirms. "The fans are quite close to the pitch and if you make a mistake you know all about it. Leicester will bounce back.

"It's a tough place to go. We have bad memories from there last year. But we're on the back of a good win.

"We want to take that momentum through and not fear the challenge ahead and attack it like we've been attacking it in our last seven or eight games."

Verdict: Munster

Munster - S Zebo; D Sweetnam, J Taute, R Scannell, K Earls; T Bleyendaal, C Murray; D Kilcoyne, N Scannell, J Ryan, D Ryan, B Holland, P O'Mahony (c), T O'Donnell, R Copeland. Reps: R Marshall, J Cronin, S Archer, J Kleyn, J O'Donoghue, D Williams, I Keatley, A Conway .

Leicester Tigers - G Worth; A Thompstone, J Roberts, M Tuilagi, P Betham; O Williams, B Youngs; E Genge, T Youngs (c), P Cilliers, E Slater, G Kitchener, L Hamilton, B O'Connor, L McCaffrey. Reps: H Thacker, L Mulipola, G Bateman, M Fitzgerald, M Williams, W Evans, S Harrison,T Brady.

Ref - P Gauzere (FFR)

Munster v Leicester Tigers,

Live, BT Sport 2, 3.15

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