Richard Cockerill echoes Saracens pragmatism
AVIVA PREMIERSHIP FINAL
- Twickenham Stadium
- Saturday, 28 May
- 1500 BST
- Listen on BBC Radio 5 live, BBC Radio Leicester, London 94.9 and Three Counties Radio; live text and updates on BBC Sport website and mobiles; live on ESPN.
"I think all finals are different and they're all special," Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill says ahead of his side's seventh successive Premiership showdown.
"The first time is an achievement, the second time's really good and, well, this is the third time we can win it on the trot," he tells BBC East Midlands Today.
"But we're not really worried about that."
So opined the man who has taken Tigers to their last two successful appearances in the traditional Twickenham curtain call.
Saturday's final will be Cockerill's third in charge and it presents the 40-year-old with a chance to mastermind a sixth Premiership title in 10 years for the club he has represented, on and off, for nearly half his life.
Standing in his way is Saracens in a repeat of last year's epic tussle that many rate as the Premiership's finest final.
The teams match up in vastly contrasting styles, epitomised by their stats for the season prior to the play-offs.
Tigers finished as top try scorers with 67 and averaged more tries per match (three) than any other team this season.
In contrast Sarries scored just 35 - fewer than any of the other play-off semi-finalists and only five more than relegated Leeds.
"They're playing a little bit differently and so are we. We're scoring tries but they're a very pragmatic side and we have to give them credit for that," Cockerill asserts.
The one-time Tigers hooker is only too aware of the threat posed by this weekend's opponents.
Saracens wear the much-touted "pragmatic" label with pride and with good reason because they won more matches in the regular season than anyone else - and two more than Leicester.
The men in black were the only club to inflict a home defeat on the Tigers this season with a 15-14 win in March and with it the double over them following the 26-20 win at Vicarage Road in October.
"We've got something to prove and that's a good place to be," Cockerill retorts.
But for his players it is not just the pressure of the final in front of more than 80,000 spectators they have to contend with.
As Leicester and England Saxons centre Anthony Allen knows, just pulling on the famous Leicester jersey brings with it an expectation to perform.
"I've come from another club to Leicester and it's just different. Leicester have a history of winning things and we've got to win," he said. "There's pressure on yourselves as well with all the competition for places."
Allen, who was part of last year's final-winning side, is aware of the joy and despair that the Premiership final can bring after suffering defeat in 2007 with Gloucester, co-incidentally at the hands of his present employers.
"I've been on the receiving end of a Leicester beating in a final and it's not nice," Allen added. "You want to come out of these games winning. It's a third potential win on the bounce - so it's a massive chance."
Leicester will have wished their preparations for Saturday could have been smoother but the aftermath of their semi-final win over Northampton was coloured by what had happened on and off the Welford Road pitch.
The Manu Tuilagi incident and the accusations, since rejected by the RFU, that Cockerill issued an Anglo-Saxon tongue-lashing to match officials have been an unwelcome distraction but Cockerill is determined not to be thrown off course.
"You just get on with it - it's part and parcel of the modern game," the former England man said.
"It was a great performance against Saints which was overshadowed by lots of things. We want to take every opportunity and we want to take this one."
Cockerill's opponents too faced a backlash after their play-off semi-final against Gloucester for their lack of attacking ambition and the reliance on defence to squeeze opponents.
It is a widely touted criticism reinforced by the fact that Saracens claimed only two try bonus points throughout the entire season and kept the meanest defence in the Premiership - they shipped just 318 points in 22 games.
But Cockerill has heard all of this before: "Some people have described Saracens as boring but in years gone by people have described Leicester as boring.
"You're not boring if you win."
It could almost be Saracens' very own mantra.