The Leicester Tigers squad will return to Oval Park next week as the 2020/21 pre-season programme gets underway just four and a half weeks out from kick off in the new campaign on November 21 at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
And, ahead of welcoming back the playing group on Monday morning, Director of Rugby Geordan Murphy sits down to discuss the trending topics for Tigers fans.
REPLACING BORIS STANKOVICH
Tigers Director of Rugby Geordan Murphy said the process to replace Stankovich was ongoing and would not be rushed.
“We are in the process of finding a replacement for Boris and doing the hard work to ensure we find the very best candidate,” said Murphy.
“It is not something we will rush, as it’s vital we find somebody who is qualified and experienced, as well as the right fit for Leicester Tigers and understands what we are building at the club.
“In the meantime, we are very fortunate to have someone of Steve’s experience in the tight five and the experienced players we have in those areas who are leaders and understand the expectation on them now to play a bigger part.”
Among the returning squad members will be one new face in Argentine international Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, who has completed his quarantine period after arriving from South America in early October.
The Los Pumas fly-half will join his new team-mates from day one of the pre-season programme and Murphy is excited for what ‘Tito’ will bring to the Tigers squad.
“We are looking forward to what Tito will add to this group,” Murphy said.
“It has been a lot of discussion so far and, thankfully, now he’s out of quarantine and training commences again next week, it’s exciting that we will see him out on the pitch and contributing.
“He is an international No.10 and, with it likely that George [Ford] will be away with England throughout the autumn, we are lucky to have his experience, his class and the added depth in a key position like fly-half alongside Zack Henry and Johnny McPhillips.”
The squad is expected to be without several members of the playing group, away on international duty, until December and Murphy admits it will test the depth of the side.
“Of course it presents a further challenge, it always does in any international window when you have players away,” admitted Murphy.
“It is something we have known would be coming, it’s not a surprise to us and we will adapt.
“There is quality across the entire playing group and we have recruited in areas we felt necessary, like Tito Bonilla, to ensure we have cover throughout the international window.”
Alongside England representatives, the Leicester squad will be without Fiji pair Nemani Nadolo and Kini Murimurivalu, as well as Georgian hooker Shalva Mamukashvili during the Autumn Nations Cup.
In addition to any challenges presented by the unavailable players, Murphy believes opportunities are also there for other members of the squad to stake a claim for the place in the side.
“As I say, it’s about adapting to what is in front of you and that is the same for players who are not away on international duty,” added Murphy.
“The expectation of every player is to contribute, every week, to what we are doing in preparing for a game and this period will be no different, whether you are part of the matchday squad or not.
“And, like it always is in international windows, there are opportunities for younger and non-international lads to show what they are made of and, ultimately, make our squad stronger for the exposure at the top level and added experience.
“We are confident in this group to do the job they are asked and I am confident in the coaching team to get the most out of every player at Leicester Tigers.”
STILL TO COME
Outside-back Matias Moroni and back-rower Jasper Wiese are still to arrive in Leicester ahead of kicking off their careers in Tigers colours.
Moroni will link up with the squad during the opening weeks of next season after a knee injury ruled out the Los Pumas outside-back out of the revised Rugby Championship in Australia.
Wiese, who will complete his time with the Cheetahs in the coming weeks, is expected to arrive in Leicester ahead of the opening round of the 2020/21 season and the Tigers Director of Rugby is confident the duo will be quality additions to the Leicester club.
“Matias and Jasper are high-quality players and equally high-quality individuals who we cannot wait to get into the environment and on the ground,” said Murphy.
“They are two fantastic additions to this squad, for what they will bring Leicester Tigers on and off the pitch, and it’s exciting that they will soon arrive and add to this quality squad.”
As well as Moroni, fellow Argentina international Tomas Lavanini and back-rower Jordan Taufua will be unavailable for the start of the 2020/21 campaign through injury.
No timeframe has been placed on Moroni’s availability and the outside-back has begun the rehabilitation on his injured knee in Argentina. He is expected to arrive in the East Midlands in December.
Lavanini and Taufua have continued their rehabilitation following surgery in the final weeks of the 2019/20 season and Murphy does not believe they will be available until towards the end of the calendar year.
“It’s unlikely we will see Jordan or Tomas until December,” said Murphy.
“They haven’t had the break that their team-mates have in recent weeks, to work with the medical team, and are both progressing well towards a return to full training.
“Neither of them will be rushed, that’s not how we do things, and given the time they need to get back to full fitness and available for selection.”
South African back-rower Cyle Brink, who joined the club from the Lions during the postponement period of the 2019/20 season, is “raring to go” according to Murphy.
“Cyle has worked very, very hard with our medical team since his first day in Leicester and is fit and, understandably, raring to go,” said the Director of Rugby.
“Tigers fans should be excited about what he will bring to our team and I am excited for him to make his much-anticipated debut for our club in the opening rounds of next season.”
Guy Porter, who missed the final weeks of last season with a hamstring complaint, is expected to be available for the start of next season, while young forward George Martin remains out until 2021 with a knee injury.
After finishing in 11th place for a second successive season, Tigers fans are “justified” in hoping for bigger and better things from their side next season according to Murphy.
“We have said throughout this challenging time for us on the pitch that it is not good enough and every Tigers fan has been justified in wanting better, much better, from us,” he said.
“What we are doing is rebuilding, that’s where we are at and the job is not done yet.”
The Director of Rugby went on to reiterate that the “journey” for players, coaches, staff and fans continues but believes the work done so far will pay dividends.
“It has been said over and over, by almost everybody at every level of the club, that this is a journey and – like it or not – it is just that,” added Murphy.
“There are some very strong, positive foundations in place that everybody has worked hard to build since this group commenced this journey on July 1st.
“We are clear in where we want to get, we know there is a lot of hard work still to be done and the commitment to this journey, together, is on show from every player, coach and staff member … this is an exciting time.
“Yes, results must improve, of course they must, and every day, every game, we are working tirelessly to get Leicester Tigers back to competing for trophies and back to being a team, a club that our supporters are proud of.”
All players returning on Monday have returned negative COVID-19 tests in the past 48 hours and will commence the pre-season programme, one day shy of four weeks out from Round 1 of the 2020/21 Gallagher Premiership season which kicks off against Gloucester Rugby at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on Saturday, November 21.
Tigers travel south to take on London Irish in Round 2 on Sunday, November 29 before welcoming Exeter Chiefs to Leicester in Round 3 on Saturday, December 5 and then enter next season’s European Challenge Cup competition.