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Rugby News

Retrospective: Tigers' history with the Premiership Rugby Cup

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Leicester Tigers have enjoyed an immensely successful history across the history of domestic knockout competitions in rugby union. Tonight, Friday March 15, Tigers aim to win their first-ever Premiership Rugby Cup, as well as becoming the first team to claim victory in all three iterations of the tournament (the RFU Knockout Cup, the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the Prem Rugby Cup), a distinction they are also competing for with Gloucester Rugby.

With the team's named for the crunch clash at Kingsholm, we take a look back at Tigers' distinguished history within the biggest knockout tournament in English rugby.

The Anglo-Welsh Cup

The side's most recent triumph, coming in the 2016/17 season, was one that saw Tigers breaking a trophy drought that had lasted from 2013. With Freddie Burns scoring 11 points and a try from Tom Brady, the side, lead out by Mathew Tait, featured a host of young up and coming talent who would go onto great things, including the likes of Ellis Genge and Harry Wells.

With all of their points coming in the first half, the team held on for a hard-fought victory over Exeter Chiefs at Twickenham Stoop.

Five years prior to this, Tigers lifted their seventh trophy in the competition's history, a memorable derby defeat of East-Midlands rivals Northampton Saints in the 2011/12 season.

This side featured veteran trophy-winner Geordan Murphy captaining the side from 15, the full backs experience offsetting a youthful side that included George Ford conducting proceedings just two days after his 19th birthday. Despite his tender age, Ford was sublime in this match, kicking four penalties and two conversions with a 100% success rate to ensure his side ran out comfortable winners at Sixways Stadium.

We're then jumping back another five years to 2006/07 and the first Anglo-Welsh cup victory in the club's history. Fittingly, this was a true England vs Wales matchup as Leicester beat the Ospreys in front of 60'000 spectators at Twickenham; a matchup that saw points galore, a 41 - 35 final score reflected the stylish rugby on display, with Tigers edging the contest by five tries to four, including scores from fan favourites Tom Varndell (2), Tom Croft, Ben Kay and Alesana Tuilagi, whilst fly half Andy Goode came off the bench to kick two late penalties and secure the win.

This victory was part of a League and Cup double, with Leicester also victorious in that year's Premiership. Their opponents in the Premiership final that year were Gloucester Rugby, that occassion marking the last time the two have met in a final of any kind, prior to tonight, with Tigers running out 44 - 16 winners.

The RFU Knockouts Cup

The competition cycled through various iterations over it's 33 year lifespan, from the original RFU Knockouts Cup through to the Tetley's Bitter and finally 'Powergen Cup'. Tigers fans will likely be most familiar with the monikers 'Pilkington Cup' and 'John Player Cup', with all five of their triumphs in the competition coming when under those banners.

These include the final ever Pilkington Cup, won in the '96/97 season, with Dean Richards holding the trophy aloft after a tense battle with Sale Sharks in front of a sold-out 75'000 strong Twickenham crowd. An attritional match that saw spectators on the edge of their seats through, Tigers showed immense resiliance to triumph 9 - 3, with three penalties from Springbok World Cup winner Joel Stransky. It won't have escaped the attention of fans that this 2024 Leicester side will have their own South African World Champion in the 10 shirt in tonight's final. 

Prior to this, the '92/93 had it's own host of legends on the scoresheet. A young Martin Johnson touched down for a vintage side with the full classic ABC club (Garforth, Cockerill and Rowntree) in the front row, Richards and Neil Back in the back row and both Underwood brothers on either wing, winning an entertaining final against Harlequins by 23 - 16.

To conclude this retrospective, we look all the way back to the triumphs that started it all: the three successive John Player Cups from 1979 to 1981.

This era of Tigers history was encompassed by a host of legends,lead by head coach Herbert 'Chalkie' White and captain Peter Wheeler, both of whom were at the helm for all three victories.

This first victory not only coincided with Wheeler's ascent to the captaincy but also the signing of one Les Cusworth, who became instrumental to the side for the following decade.

Coming off a loss in the 78/79 final, the side were hungry for their first taste of silverware together and they earned that in spectacular fashion, a back and forth encounter with Moseley won through the exceptional boot of 'Dusty' Hare and a famous try from scrum half Steve Kenney

Tigers again went all the way in the cup a year later; aided by newcomer Clive Woodward, they downed the previous years finalists Moseley on their path to a final clash with London Irish in front of a then record crowd of 27'000. The side were victorious once again due to a kicking combination of Hare and Cusworth, a historical occassion not only for the trophy but also for 'Dusty' claiming the record for Leicester Tigers' highest ever points scorer with a penalty right on the stroke of half time.  

For their third and final victory, the timing could not have been more perfect: with an unprecedented treble on the horizon (two previous clubs had won the tournament in back-to-back years) the club celebrated their centenerary year in the 1980/81 season. It seemed it was written in the stars for the side to complete the three-peat.

This season saw 'Dusty', having broken the Tigers points record the year before, shatter the World Record for most points scored by an individual in Rugby Union, before the final at Twickenham. With Kenney on the scoresheet once again, Hare starred with multiple kicks and try of his own to seal the match and bring the trophy back to Leicester.

It was Wheeler's last match as captain, as well as the final Tigers appearances for Gary Adey and Robin Cowling, the match a fitting send off for three distinguished careers. John Player had offered to award the trophy itself to a permenant home if any team were able to win it three times in a row and, with Leicester victorious, the official trophy remains at the club to this day.

The question now is will it be joined by the 2024 Premiership Rugby Cup?