Cockerill hoping for Goneva deal

Blackpool Citizen: Vereniki Goneva Vereniki Goneva

Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill remains hopeful of holding on to winger Vereniki Goneva despite interest from France.

The Fijian, who scored a try in the 45-15 demolition of Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road on Sunday, has been heavily linked with a move to Castres at the end of the season.

But Cockerill insists contract talks with the 29-year-old, who signed from Tarbes in 2012, are on-going.

He said: "Niki is not under contract to anyone at this point for next season, but we are a long way down the line to sorting that out, so I am hopeful that will be the case.

"In the world of rugby never say never, so until it's signed I am as confident as I can be.

"But I am always slightly more pessimistic than optimistic.

"We have got a good environment here. Niki came from Tarbes and we gave him the opportunity. He was the shop-window, we look after him and we pay him as well.

"We are not going to match the French financially, none of us in the Premiership can, but what we can offer him is good coaching and a good environment.

"You saw today, he is enjoying himself. He wants to be part of this team because he likes it. We are a big club, let's not forget that."

The Tigers produced their best performance for some time to earn a bonus point win against the newly crowned LV=Cup champions, who beat Northampton in the final last weekend.

They scored six tries through England centre Manu Tuilagi, Logovi'i Mulipola, Goneva, Adam Thompstone and replacement scrum-half David Mele (two), with fly-half Owen Williams kicking 13 points.

Cockerill said the return of Tuilagi for his first home game since September after a chest muscle injury was a major boost to his team.

"We caught Exeter at the right time," he added.

"We thought if we got it right physically after the couple of weeks they have had, physically and emotionally, we could dominate the gain-line, and we did.

"That was probably as well as we have played ball in hand for a long time."

Leicester closed the gap on second placed Northampton, who they meet next week, to 10 points and Cockerill has not ruled out catching the Saints in the table.

"If we get over the line next week it makes it interesting," he said.

"Two weeks ago I would have said the top two would have been the top two at the end. We will see."

Exeter boss Rob Baxter admitted the defeat had brought his side down to earth with a bump after their cup triumph.

They scored two tries through Jack Yeandle and Ian Whitten but were well beaten.

"It was the cold bath we needed," he said.

"That shocked us back to reality. We were just off and if you are a bit off against a good Leicester side you will pay the price.

"That's what happened. We got knocked out of our stride early on and it took us a while to recover. We did but we could not sustain it for long enough. I am hoping it was the shock we need."

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