Leicester rest could be crucial, says boss Richard Cockerill
Director of rugby Richard Cockerill has stressed the importance of fresh minds and fresh bodies ahead of Leicester's Aviva Premiership semi-final against Saracens.
With a place in the top four already assured for the 12th successive year, Cockerill rested Telusa Veainu, Niki Goneva, Marcos Ayerza, Dan Cole, Lachlan McCaffrey, Opeti Fonua and Graham Kitchener last weekend as his side lost 38-27 to Bath.
The final-day trip to the Rec was Leicester's first since their 47-10 semi-final defeat 12 months ago. The Tigers suffered two heavy defeats at the home of the west country club during the 2014-15 season, with their play-off exit coming after they were beaten 45-0 - their heaviest-ever loss in the Premiership.
Resting so many players was not an easy decision for Cockerill who admitted part of him wanted to ''send the best team to knock lumps out of them'' but he felt he had to look at the bigger picture - Saturday's clash with Saracens at Allianz Park.
"We had to make sure we rested guys and looked after guys for the semi," said Cockerill.
"We had to look after our squad and be sensible. We need to make sure we get it right for the semi and try to win the competition.
"We would have liked to win (at Bath) but it was not about egos, it was about getting out of it what we wanted and, by and large, I thought we did.
"A lot of the boys have had a rest, so they'll be fresh. All of us coaches had done our preparation by then and it is important that we are not cramming stuff in the week before the game and getting them to learn too much.
"At this late stage of the season, fresh minds and fresh legs are crucial. S ome of our lads will not have played any competitive rugby for three weeks ahead of this weekend but, in this season more than any, that is a good thing.
"They have been able to rest and regenerate their bodies. It has been a long season and the lads have played a lot of rugby and it has been tough for everyone, including the medical staff and conditioning coaches.
"Overall, we are in good shape injury-wise and there have been some tough selection choices this week. We all know we need to be at our very best to beat Saracens.
Leicester have not won at Saracens in three attempts and lost both Premiership fixtures against the Londoners this season, including a 26-6 defeat at Allianz Park in January.
Cockerill said: ''Saracens traditionally don't lose at home very often but o ne-off rugby is a different kettle of fish, with all the pressure on both sides that defeat ends your season.
''We still have an opportunity to win a competition and will do our best to do so, and we will be putting everything on the line."
England centre Manu Tuilagi will return from the knee injury he suffered during Leicester's European Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Racing 92 last month while Brendon O'Connor and Mike Fitzgerald will also be fit to face Saracens.
However, scrum-half Sam Harrison is out for the rest of the season after fracturing bones in his face and breaking his nose in Leicester's 31-17 win over Worcester on April 30.