Leicester’s sacking of Cockerill could be a cautionary tale for Saints

Richard Cockerill was sacked by Leicester earlier this week (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

Richard Cockerill was sacked by Leicester earlier this week (pictures: Sharon Lucey)

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This week’s events at Leicester will have raised eyebows in Northampton - and not just because of the rivalry between the two clubs.

Tigers have taken the plunge and dispensed with the services of long-serving director of rugby Richard Cockerill.

Jim Mallinder has been under scrutiny at Saints but steered them to back-to-back wins

Jim Mallinder has been under scrutiny at Saints but steered them to back-to-back wins

After almost eight, largely successful years in charge, Cockerill has been shown the door, with the club making it clear that he was sacked and the man himself insisting he still felt he was right for the job.

“The club always has aspirations to contest the major honours in the game and that remains unchanged but the board believes this is the right time to make a change,” Tigers chairman Peter Tom CBE insisted.

While Cockerill, who last steered Leicester to the league title in 2013, when they beat Saints in the showpiece, said: “I still believe that I am the right person to lead the team at this present time but respect the board’s decision to make change as they see fit in the best interests of the club.”

The decision appears to have split the Leicester faithful, with some fans feeling it was time to make a change and others believing the bullish boss was still the man to turn things around.

There has been a similar divide among supporters at Franklin’s Gardens, where Jim Mallinder has been under intense scrutiny this season.

After December’s double drubbing by Leinster, keyboard warriors loudly called for the head of the Saints director of rugby.

They felt enough was enough and that Mallinder’s time was up after nine and a half seasons in charge.

But others still felt a loyalty to Mallinder for what he has achieved at the Gardens.

He has steered Saints to their first Premiership title, two Challenge Cups, an Anglo-Welsh Cup and not to forget the promotion from National League One and EDF Energy National Trophy during his first season in charge.

Mallinder has had the full backing of the club’s board, who retained faith that he was the man to turn things around even when Saints dropped to ninth in the league and bottom of their Champions Cup pool.

And the belief of the Saints heirarchy will only have been strengthed by back-to-back wins over the New Year period.

What will be really interesting now is to assess the fortunes of sixth-placed Northampton and fifth-placed Leicester.

Because though the clubs are not far apart geographically, they are clearly polar opposites in their respective approaches.

Tigers feel change is the way forward, Saints believe stability is the answer.

Yes, Alex King has left the Gardens this season, but changing your attack coach is very different from changing the main man, the director of rugby.

That reshapes the whole system and Tigers fans must be concerned by one of the lines in the statement about Cockerill’s sacking.

It read: “The board will also conduct a review of the coaching structure to determine an appropriate way forward.”

Surely they should have done that before getting rid of a man who has never failed to steer them into the Premiership play-offs since taking charge.

It all makes you feel that mid-season change at the top really isn’t the way forward.

But, as ever, the proof will be in the pudding.

If Tigers rise and Saints fall, those calling for Mallinder to get out of town will become more vociferous.

But if Leicester fall and Saints, who are now four points behind their rivals in the league, rise, the decision of the Northampton board and fans who have continually defended him will be vindicated.

And with Tigers travelling to Wasps on Sunday, a day after Saints seek their third successive win, against Bristol at the Gardens, the latter looks most likely, in the short term at least.