Saturday 7 December 2019

Soccer values creep into oval-ball game

Former Leicester Tigers Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
Former Leicester Tigers Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

Mick Cleary

At Leicester City, winning the title became global news. At Leicester Tigers, it was an expectation. That the respective fortunes of the two managers should be cast in such sharp contrast at the start of a new year is a reflection on how rugby has come to adopt football's traits.

Claudio Ranieri is in office, Richard Cockerill is not.

The sacking of Cockerill will not have been a knee-jerk reaction. The directors will have been mulling it over for some time, probably from that calamitous opening-night defeat in Europe against Glasgow (42-13), a humiliating setback that was compounded by the rout in Munster (38-0) last month.

Even so, it is saddening that a man with such fire in his soul, shrewdness in his mind, mischief in his temperament, and passion (that occasionally spilt over into frothy anger) in his veins should have been deemed surplus to requirements.

So much for Cockerill's values. Leicester know all about them. They did a global search for a director of rugby in 2010 following the short-lived term of former Springboks coach Heyneke Meyer, and decided on the bloke on their own doorstep.

Cockerill's achievements rank with any in recent times. He has had two stints as interim head coach, bailing out the club from difficulties before being appointed director of rugby in 2010. Take your pick from impressive statistics to wonder just what Leicester's plight actually is.

It is 13 years since they failed to make the Premiership play-offs. Cockerill won the title in the year that he was to be appointed and again three years later, having been beaten in the final in the intervening years.

So much for the track record. So much, too, for factoring in other caveats, such as miserable luck with injuries, the splendid Wallaby playmaker Matt Toomua barely breaking sweat in a Leicester jersey before being crocked, while the woes of Manu Tuilagi continue.

Whatever the mitigation might be, something had changed in the Leicester air as a result of those Champions Cup hammerings.

Unlike their footballing neighbours, the Tigers do not aspire to be only occasional champions. They see themselves, and rightly so, as one of the European powerhouses. They had lost faith in Cockerill's ability to deliver on that pledge.

Change does not always yield success. It has with England. The Leicester board have a similar duty to ensure that Cockerill's successor does what Eddie Jones has done. The parting backhanded compliment is that Cockerill has left big shoes to fill. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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