Last Year: Losing Semi Finalists (3rd in Prem, 74 points), Quarter Finals in Heineken Cup, Group Stage in Anglo-Welsh
Europe: Champions Cup
Director of Rugby: Richard Cockerill
In: Freddie Burns (Gloucester), Laurence Pearce (Rotherham), Michele Rizzo (Treviso), Leonardo Ghiraldini (Treviso), Robert Barbieri (Treviso), Christian Loamanu (Treviso), Seremaia Bai (Castres), Aniseko Sio (Vaimoso), Brad Thorn (Otago Highlanders)
Out: Toby Flood (Toulouse), Thomas Waldrom (Exeter), Steve Mafi (Western Force), Dan Bowden (Yamaha Jubilo then Auckland Blues), Boris Stankovich (Newport), Rob Hawkins (Newcastle), George Chuter (Retirement), Ryan Bower (Worcester), Scott Steele (London Irish), Joe Cain (Retirement), Michael Noone (Jersey), Jerome Schuster (Tarbes), Pasqualle Dunn (Doncaster RL), Lucas Guillaume (Unknown), Henry Purdy (Gloucester), Harry Rudkin (Loughborough Students)
Louis Deacon has already heralded this as the best Tigers squad he’s ever been a part of, and if we ever see the fully fit squad it will truly make the mouth water.
Last season Tigers missed the Premiership Final for the first time since 2005, suffering an agonising defeat at Northampton. They went there because we missed the early season moves by Saracens and Northampton who failed to drift back to the pack as previous front runners have. With the quality in those squads high another tight finish and record score needed for a home semi final is easily foreseeable.
For Tigers to beat one of them, or any other pretender, to a home semi final they will need to be more consistent before Christmas. Our early season injuries will not help with that. Benjamin is out by injury dispensation rules for a further 4 weeks; Camacho is still yet to make his debut a year after his signing; Adam Thompstone is out for 2 months with a hand injury; Pablo Matera has dislocated his shoulder in the Rugby Championship; Dan Cole is out until at least November with his new bionic neck; Michele Rizzo missed preseason with a knee injury and is not expected back for a few weeks; none of Tom Youngs, Louis Deacon or Christian Loamanu have featured in preseason but no injury news has been reported.
Phew. Just as well we have such a large squad.
Tigers have boosted the squad with a whopping 8 internationals over the summer. Italian duo Leo Ghiraldini and Bob Barbieri have caught the eye in pre-season whilst Seremai Bai and Brad Thorn have made all the right noises about becoming part of the squad.
Freddie Burns arrival will make the 10 shirt hotly contested and the uncertainty around the position could easily cause distractions and cost us games. So far it seems like it will be the more free spirited risk taking rugby of Burns against the better kicking game and size of Williams, though it is unfair to stereotype either completely. Burns can kick and Williams is more than capable of igniting the backline.
Over the course of the season this has all the hallmarks of a Goode v Humphreys or an Allen v Twelvetrees type selection debate that will run and run.
The first 6 league games will be crucial; a home semi final with require no more than 5 losses in the whole season and we face tricky trips to Exeter, Bath and Gloucester before our bogey fixture of Quins at home.
In December Tigers’ resources will be stretched to the limit as we face Toulon back to back just a week after England’s gluttonous 4 money spinning international friendly games before having to travel to Northampton for the final game before Christmas.
The tricky spell then sees us travel to Sale and Harlequins with a home game against Bath in between before we face the final two rounds of Europe and a potentially campaign defining trip to Ravenhill.
The international periods have arguably fallen in our favour with winnable away trips to Welsh, Irish and Newcastle as well as 4 home games across the Autumn Internationals and 6 Nations.
The final stretch of the season sees us face Exeter at home, a trip to Saracens, London Welsh at home, a trip to Wycombe or possibly Coventry to face Wasps before an East Midlands derby to finish the season off.
The matches with Saracens and Northampton will either be full bloodied battle to gain a home semi final or damp squibs as the sides shadow box, desperate not to give away tactics for the play offs.
Potentially disrupting the end of the season will be Europe. The new schedule is hardly fan friendly with the semi final just a fortnight after the quarters and the final just a fortnight after that. Fantasising for a moment it is the London Welsh game sandwiched between Champions Cup semi and final.
I think that can best be described as a problem I would like to have.
Tigers First XV: Tait; Morris, Tuilagi, Allen, Goneva; Williams, B.Youngs; Ayerza, T.Youngs, Cole; Slater, Parling; Croft, Crane, Salvi.
2nd XV: Scully; Loamanu, Smith, Bai, Benjamin; Burns, Mele; Rizzo, Ghiraldini, Mulipola; Thorn, Kitchener; Gibson, Barbieri, Matera.
3rd XV: Hamilton; Camacho, Catchpole, Hepetema, Thompstone; Bryant, Harrison; Bristow, Briggs, Balmain; Deacon, De Chaves; Milne, Pearce , Owen.