Leicester Tigers prop Dan Cole insists no one at the Premiership club is surprised by how well Vereniki Goneva has adjusted to life at centre as the Fijian continues to impress this Aviva Premiership campaign.
British and Irish Lion Manu Tuilagi’s comeback from his success Down Under lasted just one game, against Newcastle Falcons, before he tore his pectoral muscle and now faces two months on the sidelines.
But Leicester fans need not worry about filling the sizeable void if Goneva’s early season form is anything to go by.
Despite having been deployed mainly as wing, Goneva has played half his games this season with 13 on his back and scoring a try on both occasions.
The latest effort came in the Tigers’ last game against Exeter Chiefs and he put in a man-of-the-match display to boot as the defending Aviva Premiership champions wrapped up a 21-9 victory at Sandy Park.
And Cole believes no one at Welford Road questioned Goneva’s centre credentials even for a second when the news of Tuilagi’s setback broke.
“Niki is just a great player no matter where you put him and he has shown that whether he has played out on the wing or in the centre this season,” he said.
“He is a great runner and a solid defender as well so I think playing at 13 suits him right down to the ground.
“Obviously losing someone like Manu would be a blow to any team but we are fortunate that we have players like Niki who can come in and ease that blow.
“He has played international rugby at 13 before so no one doubted he could do the job in the Premiership and he is showing he is more than capable.
“He is confident with the ball in hand and he is on great form at the moment and seems to be a threat nearly all the time.”
Leicester will hope Goneva’s hot streak continues this weekend as the Tigers welcome arch-rivals Northampton Saints to Welford Road in a repeat of last year’s Premiership Final.
And Cole admits he can’t wait to get going again against Jim Mallinder’s men, with the game the one he looks for when the fixtures are released.
“We always look forward to playing against Saints and these games are the reasons why you play rugby really,” he added.
“Going on last year’s performance we are the best two teams in the country and we are local rivals so it should be one to remember.
“They have a good forward pack and like to use it and so do we so I am expecting a busy game but I can’t wait to get going really.”
* Planet Rugby