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Rugby News

Wigglesworth previews Premiership semi-final

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Richard Wigglesworth knows all too well the pride in the north that this weekend's opponents, Sale Sharks, have ahead of the semi-final at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Previewing Sunday's knockout fixture, the Leicester Tigers Interim Head Coach admits a challenge awaits him and his players up against the team he believes have set the "benchmark" during the 2022/23 competition.

Tigers have won just once in their last nine games against Sale, including three successive defeats this season, and not come away with a victory from the AJ Bell in more than five years.

"Their home record is impressive; it has been a big talking point out of the club all season, what they want to do in the north for the game and to have only lost a couple of games in all competitions at the AJ Bell is something that they take great pride in," responded Wigglesworth.

"It hasn't been a happy hunting ground for us for a long time, having not won there in more than five years, and coming away from Sale without a win this season in two games.

"That's a challenge we know we have to face, being the away side in a semi-final is tough enough but it's a challenge we are looking forward to taking on."

On the Sharks boss, he added: "Alex is a brilliant coach and great leader."

"I know him well and have had a lot to do with him over the years, I understand why he has had the success he has had this season. It isn't a surprise to me that Sale is doing great under Alex Sanderson.

"They and Saracens have been the pack leaders since Round 1, the benchmark for the rest of the competition and they have earned a home sem-final and the favourites tag for Sunday."

Speaking about the mood at Oval Park now the knockout stages has arrived, he said he expected an extra "buzz" within his group.

"It is only the first day of the week, so not too much is different in terms of how it feels around the club but knockout rugby always adds a bit of a buzz," Wigglesworth said.

"Luckily, we have got players throughout this squad that have experienced semi-finals before and understand it presents a different challenge than the usual, week-to-week grind of the league.

"On the flip side, there are still a lot of guys in our group that the experience of Premiership semi-finals is only last season's game. That's what coaching is, managing an entire group who all come into challenges together with very different understandings of them."

Sale come into the fixture on the back of a 42-point, 54-12, win over Newcastle Falcons at home, while Wigglesworth's Tigers went down to Harlequins 17-20 at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

On last weekend's result and the prospect of a second successive Gallagher Premiership Final, Wigglesworth said: "What we have always done in my time at Tigers is look at what's in front us and not beyond it, nor what is behind us."

"The only game that matters is your next one. Our next game is Sale Sharks away and so it's all we will be focused on.

"Anything we have done already this season is behind us, the way we prepare this week doesn't change in terms of how we try and work hard every day to be the best prepared we can be for the next opposition we face."

Leicester played in front of a sell-out crowd in the final home game of the season and have enjoyed another campaign of huge support, home and away, throughout this year's league and Cup competitions, which the Head Coach says "means the world" to him and his players.

"You saw what Leicester Tigers fans are about on Saturday at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, with a sell-out crowd and the atmosphere they created from kick-off through until after the final whistle," said the Tigers boss.

"I have no doubt, as we get with every away trip in the league or throughout Europe, that there will be plenty of green, red and white in the stands on Sunday and will have their voices heard.

"This club's support is unrivalled and, for this group, it means the world to us."