Loose Pass

Date published: January 24 2017

This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with slain Tigers, espionage thrillers and a trial run…

Putting the 'less' in Leicester

A fortnight ago this column wondered, with the leader of the 'old guard' removed from his post, which way the path for the Leicester Tigers would lead. On Saturday we got our answer.

It's tempting to imagine Richard Cockerill sipping a provencale red through an ear-to-ear grin while lounging by his mountainside pool and watching the carnage on his laptop, but in all reality schadenfreude was probably very far from his mind as Leicester were humiliated by Glasgow.

His last press statement before exiting Welford Road hurriedly, pursued, by Tigers, left all readers in no doubt whatsoever just how green, red and white the blood that courses through his veins is, while the impression is that his hostility to taking advice from his All Black-blooded assistant proved to be his downfall.

Those whose hearts pump juices of similar colour to Cockerill were notably absent on Saturday. It's been a long, long time since I can remember empty seats at Welford Road on any occasion, let alone a European Cup match, but on Saturday there were scores. Between half-time and full-time there appeared scores more. Who gave up first, the players or the crowd? When has that EVER happened in Leicester?

Aaron Mauger apologised to 'our Tigers family' after the game, but it is a family which is disintegrating. Back-to-back humiliations and empty seats at Welford Road, the local hero-turned-coach out on his ear, a high chance of there being no European Cup rugby in Leicester next season and the fans who were there out-shouted by the visitors…

Leicester have lost more than just a couple of matches this last fortnight; they've lost their identity. That can take a long time to get back.

Gotcha

The week's most bizarre story has to be the cold war-style espionage drama spanning the borders between Sale and Bristol. In a week where it was announced that 'The Spy Who Came in from the Cold' is to be televised and Donald Trump was swept into power on the back of an apparent multitude of Russian votes, John Le Carr and Vladimir Putin must have both felt so aggrieved that such a belting thriller could steal their thunder so.

Not only did it involve leaks, night-time visits to hotels and ultimately a sensational swing and upset of power in a public competition, it also involved brothers on opposing sides of the competitive fence supposedly conspiring in spite of the differences between their two employers.

If we are to be covering clubs where all is not well, it would be unfair to single out Leicester. At least they've grabbed a couple of wins recently: Sale have won one game in eleven.

It's difficult to genuinely pin the blame for Sale's collapse against Bristol on either Sale's Tom or brother Bristol's Luke Arscott. The Sharks were 15-0 ahead before things went south – or maybe Bristol allowed them to get a head start before acting out their master plan.

But Bristol's mole was nonetheless smoked out by his own Sale team-mates, an act which has apparently 'galvanised' those at Sale who have lived through this terrible time (although not enough to actually win a game since until last weekend).

Tom Arscott denies vehemently any wrong-doing, as do Luke and Bristol, who face a points deduction if the treachery is proved.

We await the final denouement, perhaps the handover of finger-printed play sheets to the RFU disciplinary in a service station near Blackburn…

Putting the Wyn in Lions?

We'll go as far as saying that the change in leadership in the Wales squad may even have been a couple of years overdue. Excellent bloke and level-headed leader Sam Warburton is, enduring physical specimen he is not. Too often he has been conspicuous by his absence down the years, while the form of Justin Tipuric continues to cloud the issue of who Wales' best number seven really is.

But there's no such doubt of the physical durability of Alun Wyn Jones, nor is there any doubt who the first name is on the team sheet when it comes to picking the locks.

Nor is there any doubt of the pedigree: this is the man who took on the job of leading the Lions for spells during the last two tours.

And considering those Lions, it's also not hard to see Warren Gatland's shadow hanging over the change. Is Jones on trial for the Lions captaincy?

It's tough to see any other challengers who are so obviously as first choice for the Lions as they are for their country. Don't be surprised for there to be another Welsh lilt decorating the airwaves at that squad announcement in May…

Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby Editor Danny Stephens

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