Richard Cockerill, the director of rugby who has seen Leicester through a variety of different playing styles over the years, makes no apology for the team's latest incarnation.
Leicester's approach this season has been characterised by an accent on pace and ambition, as conceived by new head coach Aaron Mauger.
“It’s a strange one. Everyone wants the northern hemisphere to catch up with the southern and now we are trying to bridge the gap, everyone is saying: ‘Why don’t you stick it up your jumper?’” he said.
If Cockerill and Mauger, a former All Black midfield maestro, are facing questions it is because of performances like that at home against Gloucester last weekend, in which they scored five exhilarating tries yet faced a 17-point deficit at one point in the first half. They emerged with the full complement of match points but this was not the ruthless performance we expect.
“There was nine minutes of dross. The other 71 were pretty good, but after the intercept [from which Gloucester scored the try that sparked their dramatic if short-lived spree] that next nine minutes of play was really poor from us. A repeat of that and I am not sure we will chase down 17 points against Stade Français with the quality they have,” Cockerill said.
Leicester are preparing for a home European Champions Cup quarter-final on Sunday against the Paris club, whom they beat handsomely at home in the pool stages, only to endure a comprehensive defeat in the return fixture. It was not enough to deny them that home quarter-final but the results were consistent with this idea that Mauger’s Leicester are still searching for an even keel as they continue to develop in their current direction.
“I would much rather not play like Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle and just score one more than the others. We need to control the game better at times but we are getting there slowly. We are sitting fourth in the Premiership table and we have a home quarter-final [in Europe], so I think it is pretty positive,” Cockerill said.
Meanwhile, Saracens will give Maro Itoje every opportunity to prove his fitness for Saturday’s quarter-final against Northampton. Itoje was replaced at half-time during Friday’s 30-10 victory over Bath due to a knee injury, but has a good chance of being ready for the all-English European showdown at Allianz Park.
“We’re giving Maro as long as we can,” forwards coach Alex Sanderson said. “The injury is probably an eight- to nine-day lay-off, but he’s young and a quick healer so we hope he’ll come through for Thursday’s session.” Guardian Service