’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, rugby fans were preparing to watch one of the games of the season…
Live Aviva Premiership rugby: Leicester Tigers v Saracens, Christmas Eve, 2.30pm, BT Sport 1/HD (CH 531/527)
Roaring out of the home dressing room will come Leicester Tigers, a committed, fast and powerful unit, packed with Midland grit and powered by the desire to return to the summit of English club rugby. Charging out of the away dressing room will sprint Saracens, a fearsome XV, sprinkled with world-class talent and fuelled by the craving to claim a third Aviva Premiership title in four years.
“We want to look back and be counted as one of the great teams,” admitted Saracens and England prop Mako Vunipola last season. “That comes from winning trophies, but that’s not the only thing. We want to make memories as a group, that’s the biggest driver for us.”
Winning at Leicester’s formidable Welford Road ground would be a magnificent memory for Mako and his mates to take into Christmas. But to do this they’ll have to overcome an in-form Tigers team that has been reinvigorated by the return of Australian coach Matt O’Connor.
“It wasn’t a tough decision to come back,” reveals O’Connor, who led Leicester to three Premiership titles between 2008 and 2013. “The club has a special place in my heart and I’m really looking forward to starting that legacy up again.”
The Tigers’ season got off to a slow start, with defeats in their first two league games, but since then O’Connor’s men have gone on a stunning run that’s seen them join Saracens in the top four. “There is genuine intensity about what we are trying to do,” the Australian believes. “We are creating a lot on the field at the moment, but we have to be a bit more ruthless.”
It’s tough to believe this comment could be aimed at new signing Jonny May. In his first nine games for Leicester, the England winger scored ten tries. “Physically, I feel sharper than ever,” smiles the former Gloucester man. “I’m scoring tries and building a solid all-round game. Moving clubs was a big change for me, but I’m pleased I’m here and enjoying it.”
But will May’s lethal finishing be enough to fire Leicester to their first title since 2013? Rugby presenter David Flatman doesn’t think so. “I can’t bring myself to bet against Saracens,” he says. “I think they are the best set-up and they’ve recruited nicely with Liam Williams, Christopher Tolofua and Will Skelton all coming in.”
Is Flatman right, or will Leicester or another club prove him wrong? Time will tell, but for the time being all you need to do is settle down and enjoy Christmas Eve’s top quality clash.
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