Leicester Tigers have sacked director of rugby Richard Cockerill, with head coach Aaron Mauger taking “interim charge” at Welford Road.
The former kingpins of English rugby have dropped out of the Aviva Premiership’s play-off berths after consecutive defeats by Exeter and Saracens, following closely from the record 38-0 European defeat at the hands of Munster. They were also hammered 42-13 in the Champions Cup by Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun in October.
Former England boss Stuart Lancaster and ex-South Africa chief Heyneke Meyer will move into the immediate running as a long-term replacement for Cockerill, who had been at the club since 2004.
Leicester’s slender 16-12 defeat by Saracens at Welford Road on New Year’s Day proved the final straw for the Tigers board, who will now review their entire coaching structure.
“It is with great sadness and regret that I leave my position as director of rugby with immediate effect,” said Cockerill. “I still believe that I am the right person to lead the team at this present time but respect the board’s decision to make the change as they see fit in the best interests of the club.
“I arrived back at the club in 2004 as an academy coach and leave as director of rugby with a record that speaks for itself and stands up against any in club rugby in the world. This club has made me the person and the coach I am today and I will never forget what they have done for me.”
Leicester’s patchy form led to the departure of defence coach Scott Hansen in October, with Cockerill since having battled for his own future.
He bought himself some time when Leicester edged out Munster 18-16 at Welford Road on 17 December, just one week after the record 38-0 mauling at Thomond Park.
Former Leicester and All Blacks centre Mauger will now take coaching control while Leicester launch their search for Cockerill’s successor.
“Tigers head coach Aaron Mauger will be in interim charge of team affairs working with coaches Richard Blaze and Geordan Murphy and the existing support staff,” read Leicester’s statement.
“The board will also conduct a review of the coaching structure to determine an appropriate way forward.”
Ex-England boss Lancaster has bounced back from the 2015 World Cup failure by impressing in a senior coach’s role at Leinster this term.
The former Leeds coach has already insisted he remains keen on staying in Dublin past the end of the season, when his current contract expires.
Connacht are also seeking a new coach, with Pat Lam heading to Bristol in the summer, and Lancaster has previously downplayed speculation linking him to the Galway side.
Former South Africa head coach Meyer has been out of work since relinquishing his Springboks post after the 2015 World Cup, but remains well regarded at Leicester after a short-lived stint in the east midlands in 2008.
Meyer returned to South Africa in December 2008 after less than six months as head coach at Leicester, to help care for his wife’s ill parents.
The former Blue Bulls boss resigned his position in January 2009, with Leicester respectful of his situation.
Cockerill made 262 appearances as a hooker at Leicester between 1992 and 2002, winning five league titles, two domestic cups and back-to-back European crowns.
The 27-cap England front-rower returned to Leicester after a spell in France, working through the coaching hierarchy before taking overall control in 2010. He led Leicester to the Premiership final in 2011 and 2012, before his Tigers side lifted the league title in 2013.