Ahead of their Heineken pool-topping showdown with Ulster on Saturday, Shôn Douglas takes a look at Leicester Tigers’ fly-half conundrum:
As vast swathes of the country struggle to cope with the deluge that has caused widespread flooding and disruption, Leicester has been struck by its own Flood warning in the shape of Club Captain and Tigers stalwart Toby Flood, confirming the widespread belief that he’d be looking to move on to pastures new in 2014.
His recent omission from the England Elite Performance Squad in favour of one time understudy George Ford has all but affirmed his decision to move on, citing the continued overlooking by Stuart Lancaster as one of his reasons for heading across the channel.
So what are the options available to Head Coach Richard Cockerill, as he seeks to replace a man who, only last weekend, was handed his 100th starting cap and tie by Tigers Chief Executive Peter Wheeler.
Priestland endured a frustrating 2013, suffering a season ending Achilles injury which ruled him out of Wales’ successful Six Nations campaign, as well as denying him a place on the plane to Australia with the British and Irish Lions. His return to form with the Scarlets, as well as his ability to operate behind a strong pack brought him to the attention of Cockerill, who confirmed that conversations had been had between the club and Priestland’s representatives. However, just this week, Priestland himself stated that he had no desire to leave the principality, provided the internal conflict between the WRU and the regions could be resolved. Tigers must be hoping that the impasse continues, and their number one target finds himself in the 10 jersey for the 2014-2015 season.
Freddie Burns has been widely regarded as an unfortunate within the England camp, the rise of Owen Farrell has seen the mercurially talented ten consigned to a bit part player despite sparkling form for his club. A pivotal role in England’s tour of the Americas in the summer saw his stock rise further, with Stuart Lancaster echoing fans calls for a more “flair” player to occupy the fly half spot by identifying the ‘Glaws’ player as a potential starter in the Autumn tests. Unfortunately, Rugby is a cruel sport, and Burns’ form this season has been nothing short of dismal. With the Gloucester pack struggling week in week out, Burns has had no platform to build from and this, coupled with his own wretched form, has seen his reputation take a pummeling. New horizons may well be precisely what the youngster needs. With the intimidating Leicester pack ahead of him, Burns would have the consistency of ball to offer the sort of game-changing play we have become used to witnessing. The rumblings from his coach Nigel Davies about ‘tapping up’ would appear to grant legs to the chances of Burns being a Tiger next season
Though Steenson isn’t a household name in the same way as many of the others on this list, he is one of the most consistent kickers in the Aviva Premiership since Exeter’s promotion to the top flight, and has played a pivotal role in their development from new boys to an established top flight side. In the 2012-2013 season he finished behind only Nick Evans and Freddie Burns in the top points scorers for the year, and has continued this form into 2013-2014 with an impressive 123 points. Consistency with the boot aside, Steenson is a more than a capable play maker and showed grit in winning his shirt back from Ignacio Mieres. These qualities would appeal to Tigers, but at 29 he is knocking on the wrong end of the age spectrum and would probably be reticent to relocate at this stage in his career.
Resurgent at Sale this season since his return from an incident heavy stint at Melbourne Rebels, Danny Cipriani is the one time poster boy of English Rugby who is finally starting to back the reputation up with the performances. His ability to create and bring colleagues into the game with a flash of brilliance is worth its weight in gold, particularly when allied with his consistency with the boot. The big question remains over his temperament, and whether he can resist the temptations outside of rugby and concentrate on his bread and butter. Tigers are famous for their team spirit, with the whole squad able to sing from the same hymn sheet from memory, and a perceived “big time Charlie” isn’t really in keeping with this ethos. The recent remarks about Steve Diamond’s coaching at Sale by the ever vocal Richard Cockerill would likely make negotiations brief and unsuccessful, but there are few 10’s in the game as skilful as Danny Cipriani.
Well…A man can hope, can’t he?
Signed to provide back up to Toby Flood after George Ford answered his father’s call to join the youthful revolution at Bath (and subsequently replace Flood in the England team, how’s that for irony?!) one of the journeymen of Premiership Rugby, Ryan Lamb is currently playing third fiddle to Flood and young Welshman Owen Williams. He hasn’t enjoyed a stint as a consistent starting stand off since his Gloucester days, fighting with Shane Geraghty for the start at Irish, before playing second fiddle to Stephen Myler at Saints, but perhaps Lamb has enough to stake a claim and convince Cockerill to use the wages to bring in reinforcements elsewhere in the squad?
After almost singlehandedly tearing Tigers apart in an LV Cup match last season, kicking seven penalties and offering up a show of the highest standard, Tigers made an approach to the Scarlets to take their prodigal son away from Parc Y Scarlets and in recent weeks have been repaid for their faith. Though he has not, as yet, been on the radar of Gatland and co, Williams’ recent performances have certainly lifted him from obscurity to back page news. Although he’s missed out on the Welsh Six Nations squad Williams could well find himself in the squad some time soon. Whether he has the overall game management required to be a starter for Tigers remains to be seen, but the early signs (and metronomic ability to slot place kicks) are good. If Tigers do manage to bring in a replacement for Flood, they will certainly have a excellent back up in place.