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All ready for kick-off

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As defending champions, Tigers are there to be shot at when the Guinness Premiership season kicks-off this week. But head coach Richard Cockerill says expectation is always high at the club.

“I have been around the club for 15 years and the expectation is always there, not just when you start the season as champions,” says Cockerill as he prepares to send out the team at Sale Sharks on Friday evening.

“There is expectation from the outside, but there is also expectation inside. It makes us work that bit harder and it drives us on every season.

“The reason we got to two finals last season is that the players did so well, they put in all the hard work, they deserved all the credit. Now we start again and we have to look forward rather than back.

“All the pre-season work is done, the new guys have settled in well and now we are raring to go. This is what it is all about, we want to get out and play our game.

“Everyone wants to get off to a good start, everyone wants to win that first game because it boosts confidence going back into training next week. Sale will be just as determined as us and we know we have to take our best game there.”

Cockerill gives debuts to summer signings Anthony Allen and Jeremy Staunton at Edgeley Park, and new club captain Geordan Murphy will have the honour of leading out the team for the opening encounter of the season.

Murphy is in his 13th season as a Tigers player, and the Irishman knows what makes the dressing room tick.

“We are very passionate about our rugby here,” he says. “It means a lot to the players and the fans. There is always an excellent team spirit and that is very important.”

Cockerill was impressed by Murphy’s leadership in the second half of last season, including in the finals of the Guinness Premiership and Heineken Cup, and was delighted to give him the club captaincy following the retirement of Martin Corry.

“Geordan is a world-class player with a world-class rugby brain and he talks a lot of sense,” says Cockerill.

“We have a lot of leaders in the forwards with experienced guys like Louis Deacon and Ben Kay, and Geordan is an experienced guy in the backline. He leads by example and I’m very happy to have him as skipper.”

After away trips to Sale and Harlequins in the opening two weeks of the new season, Tigers return to a new-look Welford Road on September 19 when Newcastle Falcons are the visitors. The new Caterpillar Stand will be open for that game, taking capacity to 24,000. Tickets are on sale now, but book early to guarantee the best available seats. Call the ticket office now on 0844 856 1880 or book online.