Ben Youngs has dismissed the most humiliating Aviva Premiership experience in Leicester’s illustrious history as “irrelevant” ahead of their return to Bath for a play-off showdown.
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The Tigers will reappear at the Recreation Ground this Saturday, eight months after Youngs and company were demolished 45-0 by a Bath side whose star-studded back division ran riot.
At stake this time is a place in the Premiership final at Twickenham on May 30, a domestic showpiece Leicester have graced on nine previous occasions, but one that Bath last savoured 11 years ago.
Saints’ semi-final against Saracens will take place at 2pm next Saturday. Bath v Leicester is at 5pm on the same day.
— Tom Vickers (@WheresTommyV) May 16, 2015
“I am really excited at the prospect of going back to the Rec. It is all about getting a result there,” said Leicester skipper Youngs, following a 22-14 victory over Northampton that confirmed a third-place Premiership finish behind Saints and Bath.
“We lost 45-0 there in September, and it was not the first time we had been well-beaten there. We are the underdogs, but it is a one-off game. A game a few months ago is irrelevant.”
Successive victories over Wasps and Northampton suggest that Leicester have reached the playoffs in decent shape, and even though they now have to travel, their Premiership pedigree means that another march on Twickenham cannot be ruled out.
“People have had a go at us this season, but we came third in the table and won 15 matches to Northampton’s 16,” Youngs added.
”The pressure on this club is high, but no higher than what the players put on themselves. We are not going there to make up the numbers, and we all want to be part of another winning team. We are an experienced side that boasts players who have played in crucial matches for the Lions, country and club.”
Leicester, meanwhile, appear likely to put an emphasis on rehabilitation – rather than any severe punishment – for their disgraced England centre Manu Tuilagi.
Tigers star Tuilagi pleaded guilty to assaulting two female police officers when he appeared before magistrates in Leicester three days ago following an incident last month.
Manu Tuilagi grabbed a taxi driver by the throat, kicked his wing mirror, and then pushed two female police officers hard in the chest.
— Daniel Sandford (@BBCDanielS) May 15, 2015
He pleaded guilty to one count of assault by beating, one count of criminal damage and two counts of assaulting a police officer. He was fined £5,500 and ordered to pay £705 in costs.
England head coach Stuart Lancaster responded by announcing that Tuilagi will not be considered for selection for the national elite playing squads until January 2016, meaning he will miss the autumn World Cup.
Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill has given his support to Lancaster’s stance, but also stressed the importance of club and country helping Tuilagi.
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A last-gasp try from Elia Green's helped Australia secure a 20-17 win over Canada in the final of the London World Rugby Women's Sevens Series at Twickenham.
Northampton director of rugby, Jim Mallinder, has risked the ire of Exeter Chiefs and Saracens fans by making wholesale changes for Saints’ trip to Leicester today.
There is little riding on the derby game for Mallinder’s side, who have already sewn up top spot in the Aviva Premiership and, alongside Bath, a home play-off semi-final.
However, the outcome at Welford Road will be key to the fight to join them in the top four as the Tigers begin the day third, one point ahead of both Exeter and
In all Mallinder has made 12 changes to the side that beat London Welsh 46-0 last weekend, with the likes of Courtney Lawes, Luther Burrell, Stephen Myler, Tom Wood and Samu Manoa excused from duty, and captain Dylan Hartley starting on the bench.
— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) May 15, 2015
Saints are well within their rights to rest players, but it undoubtedly gives Leicester a boost as the Tigers know victory over their arch-rivals will guarantee them a play-off spot.
With Saracens expected to win convincingly at London Welsh it means the pressure is on the Chiefs to beat a Sale side who could still finish in the top six with a win.
However, Exeter head coach Rob Baxter has urged his players not to become preoccupied with events elsewhere as they look to nail down a first-ever top-four finish.
“It’s all to play for, but the most important thing is we focus on our job, which is to make sure we play very well here against Sale,” he said.
“What we have to do is avoid getting distracted about what’s happening between Leicester and Northampton and what London Welsh and Saracens are doing, let them get distracted by one another.
“Instead, let’s make sure we get the one thing we can control, which is a good performance here.”
Leicester begin the day with 14 wins to Exeter’s and Saracens’ 13, giving them the edge were the three teams to end level on points.
Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill has been able to give club captain Ed Slater his first start of the season, while also bringing in centre Christian Loamanu for the suspended Seremaia Bai.
Saracens, meanwhile, welcome England fly-half Owen Farrell, hooker Schalk Brits and captain Alistair Hargreaves back into their starting XV as they head to Oxford to face relegated Welsh.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) May 16, 2015
Although the north London club begin the day outside of the play-off places, they will fancy their chances of racking up a big win, knowing a bonus point could prove pivotal in their quest for the top four.
Elsewhere, Wasps travel to London Irish needing a win to make sure of their place in the top six, and next season’s European Champions Cup.
Their vastly superior points difference compared to Sale means a point would likely be enough, but director of rugby Dai Young does not want to risk anything.
“It couldn’t be teed up any better,” he said. “Whether our season has been a success or not boils down to one game now. It’s a proper cup final for us.”