At first it comes as a surprise, but everything about Leicester Tigers current run of form feels oddly familiar. Travelling to The Stoop this afternoon, Leicester have picked up five try bonus point victories in their last five matches, a 20 point surge that has seen them hunt down today’s opponents Harlequins at the top of the table.
Look back to September and the Tigers horrendous start to the season due to injuries and players at the Rugby World Cup left them 11th in the table, with only one win from their first six league games. Fielding unfamiliar names such as Michael Holford and Niall Morris, the 50 point hammering received by champions Saracens at Welford Road felt oddly symbolic. Few gave the Tigers fans any sympathy for their plight, not that they asked for it.
Fast forward to the back end of April and Leicester produced one of the wins of the season against Northampton. Franklin’s Gardens had been far from a happy hunting ground for Richard Cockerill’s side, with no away success there before last weekend since 2006. But not only was their win a Premiership record for consecutive try bonus points; it was ferociously one-sided. Northampton, at least the Northampton we watched dominate the European scene last season, are never subdued at the Gardens like that. Ever.
A large part of this has been down to the resurgence of Toby Flood. Whilst some will argue that Flood was simply poorly handled by England during the Six Nations, Cockerill has been adamant that for the Tigers, no one else could do a better job. “He’s different. He likes to attack the line and play with ball in hand. Does he kick as well as his England rivals? Probably not. But he gets the line going very successfully for us.” When your side has run in over 20 tries in their last five matches, you wouldn’t want anyone else.
Flood will be there once more this afternoon when the Tigers go for the jugular against Harlequins, with a win enough to lift them into second place above Saracens and in position for a home semi-final in the playoffs, bar a disaster against Bath in Round 22. In what could be a potential appetiser for the Premiership final at the end of next month, Leicester look odds on to make a second big statement in as many weeks. At the back end of a Premiership season, who else would you expect to be the form side in the league?
by Ben Coles