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Leicester Tigers: BTSport.com's Gallagher Premiership 2019/20 season preview

After a season to forget, Geordan Murphy will hope to inspire Leicester back to former glories as the 10-time English champions look to bounce back from their relegation-threatened campaign.

Last season's Gallagher Premiership finish: 11th (W7 L15 - Pts 41)

This season's target: Vast, vast improvement

Last season's top try scorer: Jonny May (11)

Odds to win the Premiership: 28/1 (odds correct at time of writing)

First four fixtures: Worcester (A) Saracens (H), Gloucester (H), London Irish (A)

Transfers in: Jordan Taufua (Crusaders), Noel Reid (Leinster), Calum Green (Newcastle Falcons), Jaco Taute (Munster), Charlie Clare (Bedford Blues), Nephi Leatigaga (Biarritz), Tomas Lavanini (Jaguares) Joe Thomas (Otorohanga), Johnny McPhillips (Ulster), Hanro Liebenberg (Bulls), EW Viljoen (Stormers), Jordan Coghlan (Nottingham), Andy Forsyth (Coventry), Ifereimi Boladau (Nottingham)

Transfers out: Matt Toomua (Melbourne Rebels), Mike Williams (Bath), Graham Kitchener (Worcester Warriors), Mathew Tait (retired), Will Evans (Harlequins), Tom Varndell (Yorkshire Carnegie), James Voss (Coventry), Matt Smith (retired), Gareth Owen (Newcastle Falcons), Mike Fitzgerald (Kamaishi Seawaves), Brendon O'Connor (Hawke's Bay), Valentino Mapapalangi (Rouen), Joe Ford (Yorkshire Carnegie), Fred Tuilagi (Colorno), Charlie Thacker (released), Campese Ma'afu (released), David Feao (Brisbane City), Ross McMillan (London Irish), Harry Mahoney (Birmingham Moseley), Leonardo Sarto (Benetton), Clayton Blommetjies (Scarlets), David Denton (retired)

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Read on for BTSport.com's in-depth Leicester season preview, or check out more from our exclusive series:

Bath | Bristol Bears | Gloucester | Harlequins | Leicester Tigers | London Irish | Northampton Saints | Saracens | Sale Sharks | Wasps | Worcester Warriors

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The story of last season

Where do we start? It’s a story that all connected with the Tigers will certainly want to forget.

Having endured their worst campaign of not only the professional era but perhaps the club’s entire history they will be glad to see the back of 2018/19.

Having missed out on a semi-final spot for the first time in 14 years the season before, the scale of the decline that would follow was impossible to predict.

The 10-time English champions flirted with relegation all season long and it was only a losing bonus point at the start of May that saved them.

In unusual fashion, head coach Matt O’Connor was relieved of his duties after the first round of the season – a 40-6 loss to Exeter – lasting just 18 months in the role.

Club legend Geordan Murphy took interim charge and guided Leicester to a 49-33 win over Newcastle Falcons – a result that would come to have huge significance at the foot of the table.

The former Ireland full-back’s position was made permanent in December, despite being on an eight-match losing streak in all competitions and sitting just three points above the drop.

That decision did not alter the club’s fortunes however, as they continued to struggle and went on to lose 10 of their 15 home games in all competitions.

Far from what we’ve come to expect.

Hopes for this season

One of the few positives to be taken out of that dismal showing is that surely the only way is up!

Murphy has implemented wide-scale changes as he looks to make his mark on the squad he inherited. There have been 14 new arrivals, with 22 heading out of the door.

That has meant saying some difficult goodbyes, with club legends Matt Smith and Matthew Tait both retiring and Matt Toomua heading back to Australia to seal a place in their World Cup squad.

But it has given Murphy license to rejuvenate and shape the squad in his vision as he aims to both stabilise and vastly improve the club’s fortunes.

It’s been a mixed showing so far in the Premiership Rugby Cup, winning two and losing two, but the head coach will hope that having a pre-season to work with his squad this time around will reap longer term rewards.

With several key men still away on international duty it may take a few weeks to see if there is a noticeable change but with the clouds of last season still looming, the Tigers need to get off to a reasonable start.

While those connected with Leicester no doubt dream of an immediate return to competing for honours, a more realistic target is surely a top six finish and not to be looking over their shoulders this time around.

Rugby World Cup absentees

Tomas Lavanini, Dan Cole, Ellis Genge, George Ford, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Ben Youngs, Sione Kalamafoni and Telusa Veainu.

Key man: Guy Thompson

The back row made an immediate impression on his arrival from historic rivals Wasps last summer, being named fans’ newcomer of the season.

He made 20 appearance across all competition in his debut year and his aggressive ball carrying went down well with the Welford Road faithful.

While George Ford kicked the points and Jonny May often took the plaudits for some fine finishing, Thompson scored arguably the most important tries of all.

The 32-year-old inspired their 27-22 win at Kingston Park to ease their relegation fears and sink Newcastle further into the mire in mid-April.

Having set up May’s opening with a beautiful offload, he went on to score two of his own in the second half of an enthralling game.

The first was a textbook intercept from former Tigers fly-half Flood, with Thompson sprinting home from inside his own half and within minutes of Falcons taking the lead for the first time he struck the decisive blow.

Crashing over from close range he scored his second of the day but his most heroic moment of the match was still to come.

With the hosts battering the Leicester try line at the death, he secured the crucial turnover penalty to clinch the vital victory.

One to watch: Jordan Olowofela

Olowofela was handed his first Premiership start in just Murphy’s third game in charge and last season truly marked his integration into the first team picture.

He played 17 matches in all competitions, starting 10 of them, and manged to chip in with two tries as he showed his potential.

The 21-year-old’s season ended in disappointment however as he dislocated his shoulder in the penultimate Premiership game against Harlequins.

“Jordan dislocated his shoulder and it was out of place for quite a while so he has had that put back into place,” said Murphy in the aftermath.

“He will see a specialist this week but effectively that’s his season done. Most probably he will have to have an operation to tidy that up and we will see him next season.”

Having worked hard over the summer to get back to full fitness Olowofela has already been involved in the Premiership Rugby Cup games, starting two and coming on the final few minutes in another.

Playing on the wing he did his chances of some Premiership action no harm when scoring in the 27-7 bonus point win at home to Exeter.

Comfortable there or at centre, the former England U20 international will certainly be in Murphy’s thoughts as Tigers look to rediscover that winning touch.

Upcoming Premiership fixtures live on BT Sport

27/10/2019 - Leicester Tigers v Saracens (2.30pm, BT Sport 1 HD and Ultimate)

02/11/2019 - Leicester Tigers v Gloucester (2.30pm, BT Sport 2 HD)

30/11/2019 - Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers (3pm kick off)

21/12/2019 - Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs (3pm kick off)

28/12/2019 - Harlequins v Leicester Tigers (4.30pm kick off)

Find out all of our games chosen for live coverage across the first eight rounds, with 22 matches being shown on TV before the end of 2019.

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