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Tigers never doubted top four spot

Published 22/05/2015

Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill has seen his team reach the Aviva Premiership play-offs for an 11th successive season
Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill has seen his team reach the Aviva Premiership play-offs for an 11th successive season

Leicester boss Richard Cockerill says the Tigers never doubted their ability to feature at this season's Aviva Premiership business-end.

A campaign that started miserably with Leicester suffering comprehensive defeats against Bath and Gloucester, while also losing at home to London Irish, is nearing its conclusion with Tigers chasing a 10th Premiership final appearance in 13 years of play-offs.

Bath, 45-0 conquerors of Leicester last September before Cockerill's men gained a modicum of revenge by winning the return fixture 17-8 in January, stand between Tigers on Saturday and another trip to Twickenham.

"A lot of questions have been asked about deep-rooted problems at the club and the coach has lost the changing room and it's a club in decline," rugby director Cockerill said, ahead of the trip to the Recreation Ground.

"The way we've battled through the games and got results, it's not been vintage, but the resilience of the players to fight and win those tight games and not let the outside distractions get to them.

"We've worked hard, and we have believed we could finish in the top four. We have never ever doubted that.

"When a club has been successful for a long time, it's boring isn't it? There is not a lot to write about. So it's news if we are in 'decline'.

"There is a lot of new money in the game - that is the fashionable thing at the moment - but like Northampton and a couple of other clubs we have to do things slightly differently because we are not backed by money men.

"We have very tight budgets, and every penny we spend must be accounted for. What we've got is what we've got.

"And if I want to spend 5,000 quid on something, I have to go to the people who employ me and justify why I need it, and if I really do need it, what I am using it for.

"We are planning for the future. We are borrowing money to buy land around the stadium, build the ground up and try to move and improve our training facilities.

"But we haven't got a guy who is going to write a £30million cheque to build the stadium. We've got to borrow the money and pay it back, and drive the revenue to do that.

"Now that's not a criticism - that's just the fact of it."

Bath are boosted by skipper Stuart Hooper's recall this weekend following a two-game injury absence as they target a first Premiership final appearance since 2004.

Hooper packs down alongside Dave Attwood in the second-row, with hooker Ross Batty replacing Rob Webber and England centre Jonathan Joseph returning in midfield.

Leicester, meanwhile, show one change from the side that secured a play-off place through victory over Northampton last weekend, with prop Marcos Ayerza replacing Logovi'i Mulipola. There are eight starting line-up survivors from the team humiliated by Bath earlier this season.

Of all the key individuals in action on Saturday, considerable attention will inevitably focus on Bath's high-profile rugby league recruit Sam Burgess, especially following his selection as part of England head coach Stuart Lancaster's 50-man World Cup training squad earlier this week.

After starting his Bath career as a centre, Burgess is now consisently impressing at blindside flanker, and Cockerill added: "He is a very good ball-carrier, he plays ball in hand very well and he off-loads the ball well.

"Clearly, at six, he is finding his feet and he is becoming more comfortable the more he plays. Bath use him sensibly - they use him in the roles he is good at.

"I don't know the guy, but he comes across as a very down-to-earth bloke.

"He works hard, he knows where he is at and he is just getting on, learning and playing and working hard. And to be fair to him, those are pretty good traits."

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