Leicester v Leinster, Heineken Cup Final, May 23
Cockerill backs Tigers to raise their game
May 22, 2009
Leicester boss Richard Cockerill speaks to the media ahead of his side's showdown with Leinster © Getty Images
Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill is confident his side can return to their best form when they tackle Leinster in the Heineken Cup Final at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The Tigers claimed the Guinness Premiership crown with a narrow 10-9 victory over London Irish last weekend but were far from their best in an error-strewn display. However, Cockerill is banking on a major improvement against their Irish rivals for Europe's premier club crown.
"We didn't play as well as we would have liked with ball in hand and our line-up and scrum was a bit sloppy," he said of the win over the Exiles. "We've got to be better this week. In some ways, not playing so well has galvanised us a bit more. We've re-focused our minds quite quickly.
"Guys are a bit worried about keeping their spots and that's a good reminder for everybody. In some ways it did us a favour."
Victory for the Tigers would represent a major personal triumph for Cockerill, who after twice acting as head coach was elevated into the hotseat last month when Heyneke Meyer resigned for personal reasons.
"You don't get many opportunities to win a double," admitted the former Leicester and England hooker. "In isolation, they're great achievements but to win them together would be enormous for everybody involved here."
Standing in the way of a hat-trick of double triumphs are two former Leicester favourites, Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings, now plying their trade with the Dublin side. The 31-year-old Cullen made 56 appearances for the Tigers from 2005-07, 15 of them as captain, and was a member of their 2007 Heineken Cup final team before rejoining Leinster.
Cockerill is wary of the threat of the ex-players but believes there will be little to choose between the two finalists. "For a non-Englishman to captain Leicester is a big thing," said Cockerill. "That's the status Leo had here. I think a lot of Leo as a player - I recruited him - and Pat (Howard) recruited Jenno. I have a huge amount of respect for both of them.
"I think the teams are evenly balanced. They've got four Lions in their team and world-class players across the board but we're a good side too."
Centre Dan Hipkiss is another who believes their narrow win at Twickenham served as timely reminder. The 26-year-old Hipkiss was still a teenager when Leicester lifted the European Cup in 2001 and 2002 and has only experience of defeat following their 25-9 lost to Wasps two years ago.
He is desperately hoping to make amends for that defeat and is confident the Tigers' below-par display against London Irish will help focus their minds as they seek to complete the domestic and European double for a third time.
"It keeps us grounded," he said. "It showed us what we needed to work on this week. We understand what we need to do. We didn't execute well enough and that's an area we have to improve in.
"Often it is a little bit harder when people expect you to win. Leinster have performed well and, when it came to the test against Munster, they were fantastic. I think most people expect them to get the result on Saturday. They're solid pretty much throughout the team."