Tigers can add to remarkable year for Leicester

Date published: May 3 2016

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5,000-1 outsiders to champions – Leicester Tigers are unlikely to be ever faced with those kind of odds, bar an unforeseen implosion, but the outstanding success of the city’s Foxes can provide an extra dose of inspiration for the Tigers’ ahead of the play-offs.

Residents of the East Midlands city are well accustomed to triumphs from one of rugby’s giants, what with ten domestic and two European crowns in the cabinet going just back to 1988.

The story of Leicester City’s 2015/2016 season however is pure Hollywood.

Moneyball, which brilliantly charted the rise of the Oakland Athletics baseball side after they tore up the traditional path to success in the early 2000s, has been trumped by an even better tale.

Football supporters who saw City pull out of a relegation nosedive at the end of last season before the appointment of Claudio Ranieri, and the most unexpected of winnings runs, haven’t watched the Foxes thrash sides week in week out.

As much as Leicester’s maiden Premier League crowd will be remembered for Jamie Vardy’s consecutive scoring record and the magic of Riyad Mahrez – not forgetting the signing of N’Golo Kanté and the defensive backbone of Kasper Schmeichel, Wes Morgan and Robert Huth – it will be celebrated for Leicester emerging through nerve-shredding scraps with their composure intact and their focus unwavered. Now they are champions.

Leicester Tigers have little to learn when it comes to winning championships based on their sporting degree.

Yet after watching their local neighbours defy the odds, there is an added incentive to match them not based on a rivalry – the relationship between both clubs is impressively supportive – but to enhance the already bombastic levels of local pride, which on Monday were added to by local Leicester boy Mark Selby winning the World Snooker Championship a whole thirteen minutes after City’s title was confirmed.

European glory for the Tigers this season has already gone after they lost their composure against Racing 92 in the Champions Cup semi-final.

They are however three games away from being Premiership champions yet again. Second and third place are still mathematically in reach heading into the final round of the regular season but in all likelihood the Tigers will have to do it the hard way, travelling to table-topping Saracens in the semi-finals.

Aaron Mauger’s arrival along with the right signings – Mike Fitzgerald’s grunt and the pace and finishing of Peter Betham and Telusa Veainu – have all been masterstrokes, supplementing Leicester’s traditional power with some of the finest tries in the Premiership this season.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that last year’s semi-final was a nightmare, with Leicester crashing to a 45-10 defeat at Bath on the same ground where they were beaten 45-0 in the regular season.

Like the 2014/2015 version of Leicester City though, this season’s pack of Tigers are much improved.

No one will be writing them off at Saracens, and should they secure the sweetest of bonus-point wins at Bath (of all places) this week and Exeter and Wasps lose, then a home semi-final makes Leicester look a sure bet to head to Twickenham.

Three years have passed since Leicester last played in English rugby’s biggest event, when they lifted the title against old rivals Northampton.

Secure a 11th Premiership trophy and the newly crowned ‘sporting capital of the world’ will be celebrating long into next year and beyond.

What a year already for Leicester. One more trophy may be on the way.

by Ben Coles

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