Premiership has lost its 'bite' - Cockerill

Richard Cockerill watches his Georgia side warm up before a game
Richard Cockerill has previously worked as an England forwards coach [Getty Images]

Premiership-winning former Leicester Tigers boss Richard Cockerill says England's top-flight competition has lost its "bite".

Cockerill, who was sacked as Tigers director of rugby seven years ago, collected 13 major honours in his 23 years with the club as a player and coach.

He says the 10-team league, which was reduced from 13 from start of last season after Wasps, Worcester and London Irish went out of business, has taken a sense of jeopardy out of the competition.

The top eight sides qualify for the European Champions Cup - which is the continent's biggest prize.

"It used to be that the top four would qualify, and that was just so much more competitive. There was a real ferocity to get into the top four," he told BBC Radio Leicester.

Cockerill, 53, is returning Leicester for the first time as an opposition boss on Friday, with his Georgia Black Lions facing a Tigers XV in an friendly match.

The decorated former hooker, who won two European Cups, five English titles and two domestic cups as a Leicester player, has been in charge of the Georgia national team and its club side Black Lions since January.

That move for the former Toulon and Edinburgh head coach came after a stint at Montpellier and what was a return to club rugby after working as England forwards coach between 2021 and 2023.

When asked about what he thought about the state of English club rugby, which has lost a number of high-profile sides because of financial failings in recent years, Cockerill said economic problems are only part of the issue.

"Financially, clearly there is an issue," he said. "But I'm not sure that’s any different to other competitions.

"In France, if the money men pulled out there would be no game there, and Japan would be the same. I don't think it is unique to English rugby."

Cockerill says the biggest shift since his time working at Leicester has been around historic rivalries.

Richard Cockerill guided Leicester to Premiership wins in 2007, 2009 and 2013
Richard Cockerill guided Leicester to Premiership titles in 2009, 2010 and 2013 [Getty Images]

Rivalries were sporting 'hatred'

One of his most famous successes was beating fierce East Midlands derby foes Northampton Saints in the 2013 Premiership final.

A year later, Saints avenged that loss in the semi-finals on the way to winning the crown themselves.

"The intensity of those games, the rivalry between us and Saints was hot, it was hard, it was tough and it was a hatred in the sporting sense," Cockerill said.

"When we played that final, the last time I said to the boys in the changing room was 'there are some games you can't lose, and today's game we cannot lose because it's Saints. Don't worry about the Premiership, it's Northampton'.

"I watched Leicester against Northampton a couple of weeks ago and it was a decent game, but it doesn't have the same bite that we used to have when I first joined the club in the '90s to those games when Manu [Tuilagi] was dealing with [Chris] Ashton or Alesana [Tuilagi] was maiming people for fun.

"I’m not sure I get the same feeling now. And it's not just Leicester against Saints, but Bath versus Gloucester or whatever it might be."

Cockerill does, however, acknowledge that the club game has developed in different ways.

"It's not the same, but it is entertainment and a good game of rugby," he said.

"Everyone wants it to be an 80-point game between two teams, but the real anticipation for kick-off and who is going to get stuck into who first, the edginess and violence it had in a good way, I don't think is there anymore.

"Maybe I'm just old and the game has moved on, but in those games at Welford Road against big teams, there was a real atmosphere.

"I don't think the game has the same bite any more."