Graham Kitchener admits Leicester Tigers will miss the influence of Geoff Parling next season but he’s vowed to end the current campaign on a high with the race for the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals hotting up.
Kitchener watched on as Parling was restored to the England starting line-up on Saturday against France – the culmination of a dramatic day of Six Nations action which saw the Red Rose narrowly miss out on the title.
It was Parling’s first England start at Twickenham for over two years – due in most part to a terrible run of injuries which includes surgery on both shoulders, a strained hamstring, concussion and damaged knee ligaments which he suffered as recently as January.
With the 31-year-old heading for Exeter Chiefs next term, his impressive performance against Les Bleus brought into focus exactly what the Tigers might be missing next season.
And with just five rounds to go in Aviva Premiership Rugby, fellow lock Kitchener says Parling is desperate to see the campaign out in style.
“He’s a great leader on and off the pitch, and he’s a player for the big occasion,” said Kitchener. “To lose someone like Geoff, a British & Irish Lion, at the end of the season will be tough, but we’ve lost good lads before and done well the following season.
“I’m sure he’ll want to end the season on a high, but so do the whole squad and we’ve got ourselves into a decent position.
“The England management showed great confidence in Geoff, putting him in there in place of Dave Attwood, but he enjoys that responsibility. He’s had a tough run of injuries, but he did great considering he could have missed the entire Six Nations.
“Geoff played well, but all the Tigers boys did well; Ben Youngs scoring twice and putting in a man-of-the-match performance and Dan Cole winning his 50th cap, it was a good day for them all.
“It was a pretty unbelievable day, but it was a great advert for rugby. It’s an example of what you can see when teams don’t play cagey, it was great to watch but it was a shame to see England fall at the last hurdle.”
Leicester welcome Exeter on Saturday just two points behind the second-placed Chiefs in what is proving to be a remarkable battle for the top-four.
Just five points separate the Exiles from sixth-placed Wasps and Kitchener admits it will go down to the wire.
“It’s a unique situation, it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen before,” added Kitchener, whose side also have to face play-off rivals Saracens, Wasps and Northampton Saints before the end of the season.
“Our run-in is harder, but for me that makes things better, the situation is in our hands with just five rounds to go and we’re carrying a bit of momentum.
“We’re playing most of the teams in and around us, they’re all going to be huge matches, they’re all must-wins from this point onwards starting with Exeter this weekend.”
Tickets to the Aviva Premiership Rugby Final are selling faster than this time last year so with just five rounds to go, now's the time to click here to book your place at the world's biggest club rugby final.