Interview: Austin Healey previews Leicester Tigers vs. Northampton Saints

Interview: Austin Healey
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Sports Mole looks ahead to this weekend's East Midlands derby with former Leicester Tigers and England player Austin Healey.

The East Midlands derby between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints is one of the biggest fixtures that English rugby union has to offer.

The two rivals are due to meet at Welford Road on Saturday with just one place separating them in the Aviva Premiership table.

ESPN analyst Austin Healey is no stranger to this encounter, having spent a decade with the Tigers. Sports Mole caught up with the 39-year-old to preview the match.

How does the East Midlands derby compare to normal Aviva Premiership encounters? Are there any major differences?
"I suppose that it differs a little bit but I wouldn't say massively from others because you always want to win every game that you go into. There is certainly a local edge. I think the local derby thing applies more to people that have grown up in the area and always had that local banter. I came from the Wirral and most of the team came from various parts of the country and the world. You appreciate it but I don't think it is quite the same as if you had always lived in Leicester or Northampton."

Would it be fair to say that the rivalry is felt more by the two sets of fans?
"I think the rivalry between the supporters is definitely greater between the fans than the players - although like I said the players love to win. They like the local bragging rights and they are two big, big clubs - let's now forget that."

This match has seen a couple of well-documented clashes in recent seasons. For example Calum Clark and Rob Hawkins, as well as Manu Tuilagi and Chris Ashton. How important is it that the players keep their discipline in a match like this?
"As a spectator I don't think very important! But as a player very important! Talking about the Calum Clark incident, as far as I'm concerned it has happened and he has served his ban. He will return to what I expect will be a warm welcome from Welford Road! As for Tuilagi, it just means so much to the players and supporters alike that this sort of thing just happens. It's sport and it boils over."

Does that mean it is easy to get swept up by the occasion then?
"It is easy to get carried away. Nobody wants to see it or wants it to happen but it does. It just shows you how intense the rivalry is between the two squads."

George Skivington (former Tigers player) said last year that he noticed more intensity in training in the week leading up to this game. What that something you experienced?
"I didn't train because I had 'Monday calf' - only joking! I think so yes. I think you could argue that players want more from each other. It's a big game and professional players want to play in the big games. I think it's great really."

What have you made of the start that these two clubs have made to the new campaign?
"I think Leicester haven't had a bad start to the season, certainly when you compare it to last year. All in all they're looking very strong this season. Northampton, four games in I thought they were favourites to win the whole thing. They've had a lot of untimely injuries and have not played so well in recent weeks and lost a few games. It's a tough one for them. All the injuries that have happened to Northampton could work out for the better for them come the end of the season though because they won't have their big stars playing for England in the Autumn internationals. Then, they will have them back fresh for December and January, so it might work out nicely for Jim Mallinder."

Will they both challenge for the title then?
"Leicester will definitely be challenging. It looks to be a four-horse race to me. I think Harlequins and Gloucester will argue that they are contenders. Realistically for me, the winner will come from Saracens, Leicester or Harlequins."

So would it be fair to say that this type of game helps determine who will finish in the top four?
"The key for all the directors of rugby and players is to give themselves a little bit of breathing space in that top four. If you can do that in the top two, even better. Then when you get to the end of the season and your players are tired, you start to rotate your squad a bit and you can rest the big players for the knockout stages."

You can watch Leicester Tigers vs. Northampton Saints this Saturday live on ESPN from 1.45pm and Saracens vs. London Wasps live on Sunday from 1.30pm. Visit ESPN.co.uk/tv for details.

Richard Cockerill
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