Leicester Tigers: Winger Anthony Watson & fly-half Jimmy Gopperth among five signings

England winger Anthony Watson made the British & Irish Lions tour party in 2017 and 2021

Leicester Tigers have signed England and Lions winger Anthony Watson and 38-year-old Wasps veteran Jimmy Gopperth.

The Premiership leaders made five new signings for 2022-23 and sealed five contract extensions on the same day.

Tigers have signed London Irish duo Olly Cracknell and Phil Cokanasiga, and Biarritz prop James Cronin.

They have also given new deals to Richard Wigglesworth, 38, and former England wing Chris Ashton, 35, the Premiership’s leading try scorer.

Full-back Kini Murimurivalu, 32, scrum-half Harry Simmons, 24, and back-row forward Sean Jansen, 22, are the other three to agree new deals.

Ashton’s new contract, after arriving on a short-term deal in February, comes less than a month after breaking Tom Varndell’s Premiership’s try-scoring record of 92.

Tigers now have three of England’s all-time top 10 try scorers on their books.

On a list headed by three former Leicester players – Rory Underwood (49 in 85 appearances), Jonny May (35 from 69 caps) and (joint third) Will Greenwood (31 in 55) – Watson has so far scored 22 in 51 games, just ahead of Ashton (20 in 44) and England’s all-time most capped player Ben Youngs (20 in 117).

‘Watson is world class’ – Borthwick

“Anthony is a world-class player,” said Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick. “I am fortunate to have worked with Anthony with the England team and on the British & Irish Lions tour in 2017 and have seen first-hand what a professional he is. It is very exciting to be adding a player and person of his calibre to what we are building.”

Gopperth, like former England scrum-half Wigglesworth, turns 39 in June.

But the former Newcastle and Leinster centre/stand-off has still going been strong in Coventry this season and has taken his tally of Premiership points to 1,696 – fourth on the all-time list, headed by Charlie Hodgson.

Wigglesworth, a three-time European Champions Cup winner alongside Borthwick at Saracens, already holds the record of 316 Premiership appearances (Borthwick himself is still second on that list with 265).

This extension of his playing career comes on top of joining Borthwick’s coaching staff earlier this season.

Chris Ashton brought up his record tally of 95 Premiership tries with Leicester last month
Ashton brought up his record tally of 95 Premiership tries with Leicester last month

Dual-code international Ashton’s career seemed to be drawing to a close when he left Worcester Warriors in December. but the twice Premiership winner has touched down six times in seven appearances for the table-topping Tigers.

Ashton has played for six Premiership clubs, starting out at Northampton in 2007 before moving to Saracens in 2012, where he won two titles before a season at French side Toulon in 2017. He returned to the English game in 2018 with Sale and spent time last season at Harlequins, before his ill-fated move to Worcester in January 2021.

Of the other new signings, Cokanasiga, who can play anywhere across the back line, is the younger brother of Bath and England winger Joe Cokanasiga.

Cronin, who was capped three times by Ireland, made more than 140 appearances for Munster from his debut in 2013, before moving to France to join Biarritz this season.

Leeds-born Cracknell, who began at Yorkshire Carnegie, had seven years with Ospreys, including a Wales Six Nations call-up in 2017, before joining London Irish this season.

None of the lengths of contracts have been disclosed.

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