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Season Review: Leicester Tigers

Season Review: Leicester Tigers

Leicester Tigers chief Geordan Murphy will be glad to see the back of 2018-19 after his side endured arguably the toughest season in their professional history.

The 10-time English champions flirted with relegation throughout the campaign, and ultimately finished one spot ahead of the drop in 11th.

The Welford Road faithful will be hoping for a return to winning ways next season.

As the dust settles on the Gallagher Premiership Rugby season, we take a look at some of Leicester’s club’s high and lows. 

Season summary

The season got off to the worst possible start as a 40-6 reverse at eventual league-topping Exeter Chiefs led to head coach Matt O’Connor being dismissed after just one match.

Having missed out on the Gallagher Premiership Rugby semi-finals for the first time in 14 years the season before, fans were hoping for a return to the elite this time around.

But, the tone was set for a challenging campaign from the first weekend.

Club legend Murphy was put in interim charge, and immediately guided the Tigers to an entertaining 49-33 victory over Newcastle – but it was far from plain sailing from there on in.

The former Ireland full-back was appointed head coach on a permanent basis in December, despite a run of eight straight defeats across all competitions which had left the side virtually out of Europe and only three points above the drop in the league.

Leicester’s battle with relegation went all the way to the start of May, when Newcastle had no answer to Tigers’ bonus point earned in a 23-19 defeat at Harlequins.

Ill discipline is among the issues that need to be addressed this summer.

The Tigers picked up four of the seven red cards issued in Gallagher Premiership Rugby across the season, while seven yellow cards were also awarded to those in green and white.

Former fortress Welford Road is no longer feared by rival teams as it once was, with 10 defeats out of 15 home fixtures in all competitions a concern. 

Welford Road

Star moments

However, Leicester’s season was littered with good results which managed to put a smile on supporters’ faces from time to time.

A derby day win against eventual semi-finalists Northampton Saints was one such highlight as the Tigers claimed a 23-15 victory at Twickenham in October.

Scoring 17 unanswered first-half points and 13 from the boot of George Ford proved the difference in front of a crowd of over 40,000.

Former Gloucester winger Jonny May scored two tries as Leicester secured a 34-16 win over the Cherry and Whites, who went on to finish third in the table.

The victory was the Tigers’ second at home on the trot and temporarily lifted them into the top six.

The most significant moment of the year, however, must be April’s 27-22 win at relegation rivals Newcastle, which all but confirmed Leicester’s Gallagher Premiership Rugby status.

The Tigers fended off late Falcons pressure after two tries from Guy Thompson and a Jonny May score, to secure their first away win of the season away from neutral ground and end a three-match losing run.

The result pushed Murphy’s men up to ninth, and crucially, eight points above Newcastle at the bottom with only three games to go. 

Main men

England fly-half George Ford was handed the club’s players’ player of the year award and it would be hard to argue the league’s highest points scorer wasn’t the side’s shining light.

Ford amassed 221 points in just 16 games and achieved an impressive 84 per cent kicking success rate, to help guide the Tigers to safety.

International teammate Jonny May also deserves a mention, with the winger scoring 11 tries from just 15 appearances, including two in that impressive victory over Gloucester.

Elsewhere, Will Spencer was rewarded for a strong finish to the campaign with a call-up to the England squad that faced the Barbarians at the start of June.

A red card in just his second Leicester game, and a knee injury sustained over Christmas contributed to a slow start to life at Welford Road for Spencer, but he went on to form a solid partnership with Graham Kitchener and his link-up with Tomas Lavanini is something to keep an eye on next year. 

Breakthrough heroes

Scrum-half Ben White was another to be picked up by England at the end of a terrific season for the Tigers youngster.

The 21-year-old, who captained the England’s Under-20s side during the season, made more than 20 first-team appearances for Leicester and was rewarded with the club’s young player of the year award.

Hooker Jake Kerr also surpassed pre-season expectations and the Scotland international will be hoping to further challenge Tom Youngs and Tatafu Polota-Nau for the No.2 shrit next season.

Joe Heyes and Jordan Olowofela also enjoyed more playing time than expected throughout the season and will be itching for further involvement next time out. 

Who’s in for 2019-20?

A string of new recruits have arrived at Welford Road ahead of the new season, with Murphy determined to get the side back on track.

Argentina international Tomas Lavanini has arrived from Jaguares, and he is joined by fellow second row Calum Green who has left relegated Newcastle.

New Zealander Jordan Taufua will strengthen the back-row, while fly-half Noel Reid will provide competition for the No.10 spot following his arrival from Leinster.

Elsewhere, former South Africa international Jaco Taute (Munster), prop Nephi Leatigaga (Biarritz) and hooker Charlie Clare (Bedford) all come in to the Leicester fold. 

Who’s out for 2019-20?

A total of 21 players have left the club, with club legends Matt Smith and Matthew Tait hanging up their boots after stellar careers.

Matt Toomua has gone back to Australia in the hope of receiving an international recall ahead of this autumn’s World Cup, while Mike Fitzgerald has left for Japanese club Kamaishi Seawaves and Tom Varndell has switched to the South China Tigers.

Graham Kitchener (Worcester Warriors), Mike Williams (Bath) and Will Evans (Harlequins) will all remain in the Premiership after leaving Welford Road.

James Voss and Gareth Owen have left to join Championship clubs Coventry and Newcastle, respectively, while Clayton Blommetjies returns to Scarlets after a short spell on loan.

David Feao, Joe Ford, Campese Ma’afu, Harry Mahoney, Valentino Mapapalangi, Ross McMillan, Brendan O’Connor, Leonardo Sarto, Fred Tuilagi and Charlie Thacker have all been released.

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