The Daily Telegraph - Business : 2020-09-14

Sport | Rugby Union : 27 : 19

Sport | Rugby Union

19 The Daily Telegraph Monday 14 September 2020 *** Sport Rugby Union Game in England needs Tigers to recover their roar L They have lost that local club feel that was a huge strength when it came to founding loyalty The Times Telegraph, The ast week I chatted to several former England and British and Irish Lions players at the Harlequins v Bath game and the subject of Leicester Tigers came up. One former colleague openly said that he could not help feeling a good deal of schadenfre­ude at their plight, a view which nobody else made any great attempt to quell. I chipped in my bit, but then said that, on reflection, I did not take all that much joy, even though I had played much of my rugby just down the road at Nottingham. This set me thinking about what lay behind this attitude, as it is one that I have seen mirrored elsewhere, including widely on social media. You cannot say Tigers’ success has been achieved with the aid of a rich benefactor, nor have Leicester’s squads ever been packed with foreign players. My conclusion is that it is caused by the envy at the way in which Leicester and their players have come to dominate so many facets of rugby. On the pitch they can list 10 English league titles, eight domestic cups and two European Cups. They provided seven players to England’s 2003 Rugby World Cupwinning squad and 21 players to England’s three other World Cup final squads. Fifteen Tigers have been internatio­nal captains and 11 have been British and Irish Lions. Their home ground of Welford Road has a capacity of almost 26,000, and they have a huge number of season-ticket holders. If you look at the coaching posts now and previously held by former Tigers, they range from the Lions, to England and throughout European club rugby. As merely one example, Dean Richards has had successful coaching stints at three different clubs. When you look at rugby’s media, former Leicester players broadcast for the BBC, ITV, BT Sport and side, who have lost six out of seven of their games since the resumption, provides some estimation of the depth of the malaise with which Borthwick has to contend. When one looks at the strides forward that other Premiershi­p sides are making, it is difficult to see the Tigers being title challenger­s in the near future. The rebuilding job that Borthwick must undertake should not be underestim­ated. Players such as Tom and Ben Youngs and Dan Cole are nearing the end of illustriou­s careers and these are players with long-time links to the club. Much will depend on how many of the club’s developmen­t squad, who are almost all England-qualified, come through into the first XV. If enough of them prove good enough, then the Tigers can regain their focus, and that should please not just Leicester fans. A club with their history, who have provided so much to the national and wider rugby causes, needs to flourish for the greater good of English rugby. write for and and so it goes on. At the Rugby Football Union, and in the Premiershi­p, former Tigers have held the highest offices When this is set out in full, you see that former Tigers permeate domestic rugby’s corridors of influence in a manner approachin­g how Old Etonians dominate British politics. That is bound to cause resentment, deserved or not. Somewhere down the line the Tigers appear to have lost that local club feel that was a huge strength when it came to assimilati­ng outside players and founding loyalty to the Leicester cause. I remember Richards telling me about a board meeting at which concern was expressed about too many outside players being picked in the Leicester squad. When Richards expressed his surprise at this comment and pointed out that most players were England-qualified, the author of the comment said he meant players from outside Leicesters­hire. When people such as Sir Digby Jones (now Baron Jones of Birmingham) became involved at a high level, one could see a change in focus at the club. An offer to share the King Power Stadium from Leicester City FC was turned down which, in hindsight, would have benefited Tigers enormously by halving their stadium costs and leaving Welford Road as a valuable property asset. The Foxes no longer need the rugby club, given their recent successes and the extraordin­ary amounts of money now available to Premier League clubs through huge broadcasti­ng deals. No longer are the Tigers the premier sporting club in the city, with the knock-on effects on local sponsorshi­p and support. All this might not have been appreciate­d by the Tigers’ recently appointed head coach, Steve Borthwick, but he would do well to bear it in mind, as it is against this background that he works, not just today’s Premiershi­p. It will not be enough for him to make the side competitiv­e. Leicester fans require a return to something like their previous glories, and former players in every aspect of rugby will have their say. A solitary try in a narrow win over a lacklustre Northampto­n