Two-time British & Irish Lion Tom Croft insists Aaron Mauger’s return is propelling Leicester Tigers back to where they belong.
Fans of Aviva Premiership Rugby could have been forgiven for thinking something was missing when they tuned into the 2014 showpiece with it being the first time since 2004 that Leicester Tigers hadn’t featured.
But after nine consecutive finals, near misses came around like London buses as last season Croft and co had to watch another final go by without their involvement as Saracens beat Bath Rugby at rugby HQ.
This season has seen Mauger come back to Welford Road – having played centre for Tigers between 2007 and 2010 – as head coach. And with Leicester Tigers well poised domestically in fourth, as well as having a European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final to look forward to, back row Croft admits Mauger has everyone at Welford Road dreaming big this season.
"It’s great with Aaron Mauger being involved now, the great new signings that we’ve had this season and obviously guys that have committed to the following years means it’s an exciting time for the club," said Croft.
"There are areas that we can improve on but we’re winning games as we go along. The majority of guys are really committed to the club and excited to go forward with it.
"It’s always a work in progress; you’re never really playing your very, very best rugby until the back-end of the season.
"The club had a great bit of success in the early 2000s so we’ll obviously be looking to replicate that.
"Getting to the European final in ’09 was obviously a highlight but then falling short means that we’re looking to emulate what we did in ’01 and ’02 which is a target for a lot of us.
"Getting back to the success we had in Aviva Premiership Rugby as well is another one we’ll be targeting. We’ll look to compete – the Aviva Premiership is a very, very tough environment to be in at the moment. In terms of easy games, there are few games where you say “that’s happy days, that’ll be an easy four or five pointer."
As Leicester look to climb up the Aviva Premiership Rugby table, they will do so without Dan Cole after the prop was unsurprisingly included in Eddie Jones’ new-look England set up for the RBS 6 Nations.
Cole admits he is bristling with excitement ahead of kicking off a new era of English rugby.
"We need to buy into what Eddie Jones is doing, he’s obviously a proven international coach with lots of experience," said Cole.
"I think he’ll pick his team and obviously winning games is the main thing. I don’t know how we’ll go about doing that as such but whatever it is, I’m sure he’ll take the game plan to the English game and play to our strengths.
"Every time England have an international series you get excited. If you look at the Rugby World Cup squad, it was a young squad. There were some senior guys as well but it was a young team, and if we can keep that team together for the next four or five years, it’ll be a very good squad."
Croft and Cole were speaking at a driving awareness course where they were marked on acceleration, braking and cornering – the three aspects measured by the Aviva Drive app, designed to help drivers save money on their car insurance premium.
They were also joined by club mate Tom Youngs, with the hooker full of praise for the innovation, even if it did reveal some home truths.
"I thought that I was a good driver but all my confidence has been shattered now," said Youngs.
"I’m a terrible driver it turns out. We men always think we’re good drivers, we pride ourselves on it.
"This time of the year with the roads being icy and slippery, it is all about being sensible and staying safe on the road.
"Obviously so many people do lose their lives and people’s lives are affected by accidents, which is horrendous so I think the Aviva Drive app is great."
Aviva, proud sponsor of Premiership Rugby, put the driving skills of Leicester Tigers’ trio Dan Cole, Tom Youngs and Tom Croft to the test – watch the film on Aviva’s Facebook page. Download the Aviva Drive app to test your driving skills and see if you could save money on your car insurance. Good Thinking from Aviva.