The former England hooker, who will work alongside new head coach Heyneke Meyer at Welford Road this season, believes that the mere presence of the Lions will give his players an added incentive to perform.
â00I think itâ00s a big year for all the guys,â0 says Cockerill, who saw last yearâ00s Guinness Premiership Finalists secure a third successive win at Gloucester in their first match of the new campaign on Sunday.
â00The English guys that are in the Elite Player Squad (EPS) know thereâ00s the added bonus of a Lions tour at the end of the season. The incentive to play well for your country is heightened even more. Itâ00s a four-year cycle for the Lions and, in lots of careers, you donâ00t get that opportunity.â0
Leicester have a reputation for producing players for both England and the Lions, with the 2005 tour to New Zealand no exception. Neil Back, Martin Corry, Ben Kay, Lewis Moody, Geordan Murphy, Ollie Smith, Dorian West and Julian White all made the squad the last time the Lions left these shores, and Cockerill is hoping for more of the same come 2009.
â00At Leicester, weâ00re steeped in a huge history with international rugby and weâ00d like to get as many guys as possible on the Lions tour because it reflects very well on the club.
â00Weâ00ve got eight guys in the senior EPS and three in the Saxons so weâ00ve got a great chance of having a few Lions next year. Geordan Murphy will hopefully be there or thereabouts with the Ireland squad as well.
â00Itâ00s all about who hits their straps early, whoâ00s on good form and which team is successful. If England can come through and top the Six Nations or win the Grand Slam then that will push a lot of players to the forefront of selection.
â00Any experience at such a high level is important for the club as it rubs off on everyone else around here. Any positive experience away from here is definitely good for us.â0
White (l), Rowntree (r) and Moody (back r) - three Leicester Lions
Cockerill missed that experience as a player, with his time as an international falling in between the 1997 and 2001 Lions tours. Although he doesnâ00t go as far as to suggest he deserved the opportunity, there is no doubt that a trip to Australia in 2001 would have been one of the highlights of the 38-year-oldâ00s glittering club and international career.
â00I played for England for two-and-a-half years and I was unfortunate enough not to be in a cycle where the British & Irish Lions tours came up. Given the opportunity, and if I was good enough at the time to go on a Lions tour, it would have been the icing on the cake.
â00It would have been a fantastic experience but I had a good Test career, a great rugby career and youâ00ve got to be happy with what youâ00ve got. Itâ00s not a regret but itâ00s something I would love to have gone on because theyâ00re fantastic occasions and itâ00s probably one of the toughest touring environments youâ00ll encounter in the modern game.â0
Richard Cockerill was an England international for two-and-a-half years
If any of his players are selected to go one step further than he did come 2009, Cockerill is under no illusions as to the size of the challenge they will be facing. A tour to South Africa can be a daunting experience but it can also be one which could have long-lasting benefits for a club such as Leicester. Regardless of the end result, Cockerill believes the fact that so many Tigers will be pushing for a place in the ultimate international squad can only see an improvement in their domestic form.
â00Itâ00s definitely a tough place to tour. South Africa is a rugby-mad country, theyâ00re the current World Champions and the excitement that the Lions will bring will be enormous. For a lot of guys, itâ00s a once-in-a-lifetime chance of playing in that environment.
â00Itâ00s the pinnacle of a lot of Test players careers, to go on a Lions tour. The World Champions versus the Lions is going to be a massive event and a lot of guys will see that as a huge incentive to get fit, stay fit and play well.â0