It’s still early days under the Aaron Mauger regime at Leicester Tigers but the club’s player of the month, Matt Smith, readily admits the former New Zealand centre has breathed new life into his game.
Mauger was drafted in as head coach to aid director of rugby Richard Cockerill at Tigers over summer and it’s of no coincidence that the East Midlanders have sharpened up their attack.
After four Aviva Premiership Rugby wins from five, the tries haven’t flowed quite yet – they have crossed over just six times – but smart wins over Stade Francais and Benetton Treviso in Europe suggests things are ticking over nicely with Mauger.
Smith is one of the few players remaining at Leicester who lined up alongside Mauger during his time on the playing staff between 2007 and 2010.
The 30-year-old had lost his way slightly over the last two years after fitness problems affected his form – and you will not find a bigger admirer of Mauger’s work so far at Welford Road.
The centre has appeared four times in Aviva Premiership Rugby this year, which is nearly half the league appearances he made in the entirety of last season, and he has been recognised for his efforts.
“It’s a great honour (player of the month), though you don’t really play to get those awards it gives you a nice boost,” said Smith. “I think it reflects on how well some of the players around me have played too, it’s the team rather than talking about individuals.
“Aaron Mauger is been a massive help, I’ve been playing at No.12 and he has such a wealth of experience in that position.
“I’ve played alongside him in the centres a bit before and he’s brought some of the confidence back into my game, it’s helped that we’ve had that relationship before.
“He obviously didn’t tell me that I’d be starting every week, but we had a good chat about where I was physically and mentally and reminded me that I could play rugby. In the last couple of years I’ve struggled for a bit of form and Aaron’s helped to get me going again.
“With Aaron we’ve really been starting from scratch again, it’s been back to basics and we’re building from the ground up.
“A lot of it is a change of mindset, previously we had been a bit wary of playing from within our own 22 and Aaron has given us confidence and talks about getting our eyes up if the space is there and backing ourselves.
“Some things don’t come off, but we’re not being given a rollicking for trying it and I’m also lucky that I’ve got some dangerous runners to my outside.”
Leicester gritted their teeth to emerge 21-11 winners over Bath Rugby on Sunday amid torrential conditions at Welford Road, with new signing Telusa Veainu scoring a crucial intercept try.
And according to Smith, Mauger believes second-placed Leicester are not even close to firing on all cylinders yet.
“It’s been a breath of fresh air this year with the new signings,” Smith added. “It’s given the lads already here a lift and a little kick up the backside. Peter (Betham) and Telusa (Veainu) are great ball runners and it makes it easier for me – I’ve just got to give them the ball!
“Aaron talks about that we are only up to 60 per cent of our capacity at the moment, so if we keep better it will be a very strong place to be.
“I think games like the one on Sunday we would have come unstuck in last year, we’re playing for each other more than ever.”
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