Howard praises threatening Hook

Leicester Tigers coach Pat Howard has paid a glowing tribute to Ospreys fly-half prodigy James Hook ahead of the EDF Energy Cup final at Twickenham on Sunday.

Hook, who masterminded Wales’ Six Nations victory over England last month and then eased the Ospreys past EDF semi-final opponents Cardiff Blues a week later, represents the biggest individual threat to Tigers’ cup hopes.

The 21-year-old’s superlative match-winning ability is not lost on Howard as Leicester step up their bid for an unprecedented trophy treble.

“Hook is one of the most enjoyable players to watch in the world. I really enjoy watching him play,” said Howard.

“But the Ospreys have a lot of strengths. They are a better team than they were last season, and we respect them.”

Leicester, without major silverware since 2002, face a Heineken Cup semi-final appointment with Llanelli Scarlets on Saturday week, while they are likely to secure a Guinness Premiership play-off home semi-final a fortnight later.

Tigers arrived at the season’s business end a year ago with similar hat-trick aspirations, but they collapsed in a crumpled heap, suffering respective Heineken quarter-final, EDF semi-final and Premiership final defeats against Bath, Wasps and Sale Sharks.

But head coach Howard believes Leicester have the ability to win all three trophies in his farewell season.

“It is going to be very hard, I am not saying we will do it (the treble), but the team we have here is capable of doing it,” said Howard.

“We are aiming high and believing in ourselves.

“We have had plenty of chances to win trophies in the last few seasons, but we’ve got to finals and then haven’t performed.

“We have tried to address those issues. We have talked about performing on big days, and we’ve put ourselves in a position to have a lot of big days.”

While his players wind up for a punishing season’s finale, Howard also faces a testing time in selection.

The Tigers are poised for five games in 22 days – EDF final, Heineken semi-final, Premiership appointments with Bristol and Wasps, plus a league play-off – and his renowned squad resources will be thoroughly tested.

Leicester will be without injured pair Gavin Hickie and Seru Rabeni for Sunday’s final, plus suspended prop Marcos Ayerza, while England flanker Lewis Moody is rated doubtful.

Moody suffered a knee injury during the closing minutes of Leicester’s Heineken Cup quarter-final victory over Stade Francais and has not trained since.

Howard said: “We won’t keep banging out our first-team squad because they won’t be able to keep going until the end of the season.

“We are nine or 10 months down the track, and I told the players before the Sale game last Friday (Howard made 13 changes) that they would be considered for Sunday if they played well.”

Tigers skipper Martin Corry has backed Howard’s selection policy.

“Pat believes players can rotate, and they have proved that by stepping up and performing throughout the season.

“It has worked so far, and you have to give credit to Pat. Earlier in the season there was some criticism in the papers, but he has stuck to his guns.”

Leicester beat the Ospreys twice in Heineken Cup combat last term, but both games could easily have gone the Welsh team’s way – a fact not lost on Corry.

“I think their coach said afterwards that he thought Ospreys were better for 140 of the 160 minutes we played each other, and maybe he had a point, but the crucial thing is the result,” the skipper added.

“We go into this game knowing what we are up against.

“We have played against these guys regularly and have watched videos of them – there is a respect and rivalry between us.”


365 Digital

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