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Toughest test of mental and physical durability

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For anyone of a nervous disposition, if you do not wish to know the physical outcome of the next eight Leicester Tigers fixtures, then look away now and log back in during the second half of January.

On Saturday, Welford Road braces itself for the opening Tigers-Saints derby of the season at the start of a run of fixtures over two months which is as testing as any The Tig can remember, perhaps going back as far as the final months of 2006/07 season when it seemed like quarter-final, semi-final and final appeared on the fixture list on what seemed like a weekly basis after eight months of immense toil.
This weekend is also the final weekend of the autumn internationals, meaning both sides will be without some senior faces, including the captain of England and the nation’s first-choice tighthead prop and scrum-half.
It also means that some players will have four consecutive Test weeks under their belts by the time they come back into Oval Park next week. Their first games back will be Munster away, followed by Munster at home.
That’s three massively physical games in a row for the Tigers, and there is no let-up with an Exeter Chiefs beefy pack away – Merry Christmas! – then double champions Saracens at home on New Year’s Day and the not inconsiderable matter of Wasps away to follow.
Without even time for a pause for breath, it’s then back into Europe, hopefully with all to play for in a tight pool, and a trip to French champions Racing 92 in Paris before the Pool 1 closer against Glasgow Warriors at Welford Road.
Taken in isolation, any one of those eight fixtures would be enough to test the physical and mental resolve of a team. To play all eight over successive weekends is going to demand super-human powers of resolve and recovery.
The modern game does not provide much in terms of breathing space and the emphasis on rest and recuperation is greater than it has ever been during those peak weeks. Cockers and Co will have to manage the squad through treacherous waters while also remaining fully competitive.
As the Tigers boss says, you never feel tired when you’re winning. Let’s hope he’s right, and let’s hope we’re all still full of vim and vigour until, let’s say, the end of May.