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Way of the Tiger

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Ben Dirs | 17:23 UK time, Tuesday, 22 May 2012

If the thought of sharing the same square of Leicester soil as the Tigers team of the mid-to-late 1990s chills you to your boots - think Martin Johnson, Dean Richards, Neil Back and more jagged edges than a breakers yard - then spare a thought for those condemned to share the same Welford Road changing room.

"I was just 18 when I made my first-team debut," recalls Leicester legend Lewis Moody. "When I walked in, all my heroes were there. 'Deano' stood up and I thought he was going to welcome me to the club. 'Lad', he said, pointing through the door, 'the youth team changing room is down the other end of the corridor.'"

It is a revealing snapshot of the forbidding, clannish culture that has made Leicester the most enduring English team of the professional era and carried them to an eighth successive Premiership final, against Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday.

"It might sound to outsiders like a horrible place to be, but it draws you closer as a team," says former Tigers lock Ben Kay. "It's not the most comfortable environment to be in. But if you're driven by success, it's exactly where you want to be."

The Leicester ethos can be boiled down to a couple of lines from Tennyson: "The path of Duty was the way to Glory... he that walks it... learns to deaden love of self." Or, for those who like their poets more grounded, a line from Bremner, the exemplar of Don Revie's Leeds United side of the 1960s and 70s: "Side before self, every time."

Martin Johnson and Lewis Moody

Martin Johnson and Lewis Moody cut loose against great rivals Wasps in 2001

"A player is only at Leicester for a short period of time, on loan almost," says Moody, a World Cup winner in 2003. "It's never your club or your position. The culture is drilled into you as a 14-year-old: no-one is a star and no-one is bigger than the team. Everyone understands you're here to work, you're here to win, and that's the end of it.

"Some players that come through from the Tigers academy are talked up as the next big thing and they've very soon departed because of a lack of application. And some guys that came from other English clubs or from overseas who don't buy into the philosophy will leave quite quickly.

"It's not about bringing in big-name players and buying trophies, they'll create a squad from players that you wouldn't consider to be the best in the world. Look at Geoff Parling: he had been at Newcastle for six years, came to Leicester having had no real recognition and all of a sudden he's an international player. He's a great example of how players can suddenly thrive in the Leicester environment."

"When did Leicester last have a genuine superstar, like a Jonny Wilkinson, a Shane Williams or a Richie McCaw?" says World Cup-winning England scrum-half Matt Dawson, who waged many battles with Leicester for East Midlands rivals Northampton and as part of Wasps' great side of the mid-2000s.

"It's never about that with Leicester, it's just about winning trophies and being part of a winning team. That seems to flick a Leicester player's switch, being more than an individual. And if anyone does step out of line, they get it verbally and physically."

Graham Rowntree, Richard Cockerill and Darren Garforth

Leicester's feared front row of Rowntree, Cockerill and Garforth

Dawson's views are informed by myriad bar room tales from Leicester pals of training ground spats and legendary, character-testing hazings. "Even if it was a game of touch, you knew at some stage a scuffle would break out," says Moody, who spent 14 years at Welford Road before two years at Bath and retirement in March.

"It was an intimidating environment for a young man but it was about fronting up at every opportunity and not taking a backward step. If someone confronted you, you had to confront them back. It was like a test of your manhood.

"I remember fights between Neil Back and Fritz van Heerden, Julian White and [current Leicester head coach] Richard Cockerill. I didn't really have a fight with 'Johnno', more of a disagreement - he hit me and I fell over.

"One day we were having a ruck and maul session and someone landed on Will Johnson's ankle and broke it. Everybody heard the crack, he was in a lot of bother. 'Wellsy' [John Wells] just moved us about 20 metres to the right and we continued as if nothing had happened. If one player went down, another one came in and replaced him. Nothing ever got in the way of us succeeding."

Kay, who made 281 appearances for the Tigers between 1999 and 2010 and was also part of England's World Cup-winning team, recalls: "It would erupt and there would be no referee to stop it. I never got punched by Johnno. Lewis did, but he was never exactly the brainiest member of the squad.

George Ford

Teenage fly-half George Ford is part of an exciting back-line at Leicester

"It was like a tempestuous relationship you might have with a sibling that you love more than anything. But if the guys were prepared to do that to each other in training they would do twice as much in a game for each other."

While Revie's Leeds were simply labelled "dirty" by fans of rival teams for their robust style of play, Leicester, as is the way in the sometimes wilfully myopic world of rugby, are rather more charitably lauded as "masters of the dark arts".

"There was always something going on when you played against Leicester," says Dawson. "Darren Garforth, Graham Rowntree and Cockerill - the old 'ABC Club' - wouldn't have finished a game in this present climate, they would have been sin-binned or sent off because of all the little bits and pieces and the niggle.

"And Welford Road is a hell of a place to play rugby, right up there with some international stadiums because it is so oppressive. I only remember winning once or twice at Leicester, it was a very, very intimidating place to go."

What now seems an almost organic connection between players and fans was in actual fact man-made. A succession of wily businessmen and administrators took a side that attracted gates of less than 1,000 in the early 1970s and built it into a forward-thinking, cup-winning amateur outfit before steering it, full-mast, into the professional era.

A compliant council saw Welford Road swell to 24,000 fans by 2009, with another 6,000 seats planned, making it the largest purpose-built club rugby ground in England. Compare with Wasps, nominally of London but who play their home games in Wycombe and whose prospective new owners want to move to a site off the M40.

Financial reasons apart, Kay cites more spiritual reasons as to why Wasps, whose two Heineken Cup triumphs match Leicester's back-to-back victories in 2001 and 2002, have fallen off the pace, to the extent they were nearly relegated last season.

"It's not so much that Wasps were a team of players who thought they were big stars," says Kay, "but they certainly built a team on a lot of very good individuals. When a lot of those players retired there wasn't that natural succession. At Leicester, it's ruthless: as soon as you're not good enough, no matter how big a name you are, it's a case of 'thank-you very much, we'll find someone else who's on the way up'."

While Moody talks of the Leicester ethos and history being "continually churned through", with the likes of Cockerill and executive director and front-row great Peter Wheeler tangible links to a glorious past, Dawson is keen to point out that all that churning serves another purpose, namely to keep the ingredients fresh.

"One of the strengths of Leicester has been their ability to move on," says Dawson. "They can still play that tight game if they want to. But when they want to counter-attack and offload they've got the likes of Geordan Murphy, Manu Tuilagi, Anthony Allen, Toby Flood, Ben Youngs, real international-class players.

"They had a couple of years of being a little bit more attritional but they didn't want all their old titles to become history, they wanted to stay in the present and that means a team that plays from 1-15. Conversely, it was plain for everyone to see how Wasps played in their heyday and no-one could stop us. But this year and last, Wasps didn't move on and tried to do the same things they'd done for years and years."

So while Wasps face a period of rebuilding - both literally and metaphorically - Leicester carry on as they always have done: taking the path of Duty to Glory, through "stubborn thistle, bursting into glossy purples". Or as Cockerill puts it: "Just hard work." Prose over poetry, spoken like the Leicester front-row he was and always will be.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    How do they compete with the salary cap?

  • Comment number 2.

    They now need to find a way to translate that Premiership form into the H-Cup again. Too often the boring side - that is why they used to get beaten by the likes of Wasps because they were incapable of playing a more expansive game (when necessary). The reason Leinster won is because they play an extensive attacking game AND have a stout defence. They have one or two imports but are largely players who have come through their academy - so I don't see the salary cap being an issue for this side - they just need to rediscover how to do well in Europe. I hate them - but i also like them really as their success is built on English players and because they draw in more fans than many football teams so good on them!

  • Comment number 3.

    the arrogance of the club makes it the most hated in England. Reading players' comments about the final ahead just emphasises that.

  • Comment number 4.

    The thing I'm looking forward to most about this final is the fact that both sides have teams built upon a foundation of players who have come through the youth set up not just imported a team. Personally I'm hoping for a Quins win being a Quins fan but I have nothing but respect for the way Leicester have managed themselves over the years.

  • Comment number 5.

    #1: they compete with the salary cap because they bring players through themselves, rather than buying in big names with big salaries like Sarries and others do. When was the last 'big signing' Leicester made?

  • Comment number 6.

    I certainly don't think Leicester are the most hated team in England, I would think that probably falls on Sarries now, and as for arrogance I'm not to sure. They trophies they have lifted over the years gives them a right to a certain amount of arrogance, but I think people often mistake this for the hard nosed tight knit group that they are. As a Bath fan I'm a huge admirer of the Leicester way and my head say that they will destroy Quins on Saturday, although my heart says Quins as they have had a fantastic season.

  • Comment number 7.

    #3 No Tigers are not hated..... well only by jealous, bitter people like you who hates the fact that they are always there or there abouts at the end of the season.

  • Comment number 8.

  • Comment number 9.

    I've been a Tigers fan for over 20 years and it's become the norm but not a god given right for us to be the best.

    Like most rugby grounds, welford road has a magical family atmosphere and i think the history of the tigers- particularly over the past 30 years has kept the club at the top.

    To create players like Martin Johnson, Dean Richards and Neil Back who are all legends of World Rugby to me gives Leicester more credit to their name and to have youngsters like Ben and Tom Youngs, Manu Tuilangi and George Ford coming through the ranks the future looks very bright for the Tigers.

    Hopefully we can reach the stage again where we were ten years ago where we were feared on the European stage and i believe Richard Cockerill has enough passion to get us back there again.

  • Comment number 10.

    Isn't being the most hated team a compliment? You know you have your enemies on the run when they react....
    I'm an Australian and appreciate the history of Leicester and the way it has traditionally waved the flag for English rugby.
    Having said that, I can't help but feel that since 2003 the 'Leicester way' has stunted the development of the national side.

  • Comment number 11.

    Got my ticket for the final. Hoping for a Tigers win, but know full well that Quins have the ability to do us. Rarely a bad game when these two sides meet. Last time we played, you could make a very decent England XV out of the EQ players on show. Haven't seen the sides yet, but I imagine the same will be true this time.

    Regarding salary cap, don't think it should be increased. Reason Tigers want it is to pay more players to be able to rest the existing ones enough when competing in the HC as well as the Premiership. Don't think the English game can let us do that until other clubs are financially more sound. Suspect the club know that and are just making a point about requirements iif we wish to compete in Europe.

  • Comment number 12.

    @10: I agree that it is a compliment when born out of jealousy. However, many people cannot get over the 'dark arts' side of the game that dominated pre-professional era rugby, and as the Tigers were the best at it, they still carry that reputation. As far as holding England back, I don't think that can be blamed on Leicester. Post 2003 there was a dearth of talent to come in to the national team, mainly thanks to a Premiership that lived up to its reputation as boring and attritional. The Tigers still bear that tag, but one merely needs to watch a couple of games (or look at the try stats) to see that they are up there with the best in terms of genuine entertainment. The issue that people have is that they also have a phenomenal pack and therefore will not only run through and round you, but may decide to scrum you to death if necessary. No other Premiership team can currently combine those two factors to the same degree.

    Hoping for an absolute cracker on Saturday, with Tigers coming out on top of course. What is most pleasing is that Quins have kept up their form and do play some lovely stuff, meaning that it may be a final that is worth watching for neutrals.

  • Comment number 13.

    @#1 Without name dropping, I know a recently retired player who said that players have taken a wage cut to play at Leicester, and the reason the go there is to win trophies... quite refreshing when you look at the situation in some other sports and I'm in favour of keeping the cap in place.

    I'm a Leicester fan, and love going to Welford Road; it's so passionate. I disagree with #10; I look at some of the rugby Tigers have played in the second half of this season and it's been phenominal; tight when it needs to be, expansive when the opportunity is there, look at Gloucester at home and Saracens away as examples; all with a healthy mix of home grown and foreign players. If anything I think the national side would benefit from a similar mentality (albeit not with foreign players!).

  • Comment number 14.

    I've been a Leicester fan since going to quite a few matches while living in the city in my teens. From the very first time my dad took me I was hooked - the singing in the crowd, the friendliness of it, and above all the complete silence when a kick was being taken (by either team). Those were the days with the Underwoods on the wings, Martin Johnson, Neil back, Dean Richards and that feared front row. Leicester have to be commended for managing to stay at or near the top for all of those years, but there has been a lot of heartache along the way - I particularly remember one Pilkington Cup final against Bath where a penalty try ended up being the decisive score.

    Hopefully the team will continue to do well for the next few decades and that even though I've moved away from the area I'll get to go again sometime!

  • Comment number 15.

    Can't see Leicester not winning this..How would they do against Leinster I womder?

  • Comment number 16.

    Good side which have created some great players

    However English club rugby is having a bit of a wobble at them moment. The complete inability of backs to play whats in front of them is holding us back. Its all well and good telling tales of fist fights in the changing room, but if our centres can't decide when to pass or break we are well and truly snookered.

    2003 is starting to become an Albatross. We may not produce a generation of forwards like the ones we had then for some time. The game has moved on. And we still dont have a natural openside at seven!!!

  • Comment number 17.

    Derek Ballon- 'Can't see Leicester not winning this..How would they do against Leinster I womder?' sums it all up.

  • Comment number 18.

    Leicester seem to sum up everything that is good and bad about English rugby. All the stuff about fronting up, prose before poetry etc was visible at the last world cup. Its a shame that the current leicester team is playing such great rugby, england didn't keep up.

    On a related point, am I the only one who hates the franchise thing that's happening with clubs. Leicester were always the Tigers, but it was just a nickname, It didn't need to be added to their branding. I think that they've lost something by doing that.

  • Comment number 19.

    Leicester's mentality and style of play (although wonderfully expanded this last season) is the ideal league winning set up. To play consistently over a large number of games, whether your at Sale on a Friday night in early January and you can hardly see in front of you or playing for the title at Twickenham.

    It's true however that this mentality does not transform so well to international rugby. Yes the attitude of a pack is crucial, but the style of play needs more dynamism and more well rounded players. Mostly it requires more 'footballers' who can also be destructive in the tackle/carry, as at the highest level, defences won't yield to a power game without some finesse.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great article! Good to have an insight into how the game used to be for us younger generation. However, I have less respect for the club than what they probably deserve, due to the arrogance of supporters. Digging for Quins this weekend!

  • Comment number 21.

    A quick look at the stats from the final league table shows that Tigers scored 70 tries this season and their nearest competitiors scored 53 and 51 with Sarries scoring only 35. Tigers also scored twice as many try bonus points as anyone else in the league.

    I think Matt O'Connor has done a fantastic job in bringing on Leicesters playing style over the last few years. Anyone that considers Tigers to be a boring side has clearly not been watching much rugby in recent years, although personally I quite enjoy a good forward battle and find the watering down of the scrum and maul to be to the detriment of the entertainment.

  • Comment number 22.

    @14. Seems like your of a similar age to myself! I am not a die-hard rugby fan, but have always supported Leicester since similar trips to Welford Rd in the 1980s. I guess success breeds success (and support!). Whereas the city's football and cricket teams are only second class sides, the Tigers have always been at or near the top of the club rugby tree. Other English club sides have had their period in the sun (Bath, Wasps, Saints, Gloucester, etc), but Leicester is really the only English side that has seen off these challengers and maintained its forward momentum year after year. They reached the Heineken Cup final at the first time of asking (and 4 more times since) and rarely does a season go by without them reaching some final or other. This is what attracts and retains the fan-base.

    PS: I'm surprised no-one has mentioned Neil Back's helping hand in 2002 yet!

  • Comment number 23.

    #1 Gareth
    I can confirm #13's comments. A recent Leicester and England player described Tigers players to me as 'self-selecting' - players who are motivated by money never go to the club because they are not wanted.
    I admire Leicester. They know and understand what it takes - no fancy stuff, no fine words, just hard work, skill, toughness and smartness.
    Not only is Welford Road intimidating for players, it's not too easy for spectators - the loudest, most partisan fans on the planet, more fearsome in my experience than the Shed. However, give them a few minutes to calm down and reach the bars and they are some of the best and most decent rugby people you will ever meet.

  • Comment number 24.

    As a Quins fan I'm hoping for a win on Saturday, but I do have to respect Leicester for what they have consistently done over the years. I'm not sure many clubs could have made the Premiership final with the start to the season that Leicester had, so well done to them. As for the salary cap, one previous comment was correct in that Leicester dont do marquee signings, my view for what it's worth is that I suspect many Premiership clubs don't use their entire level of salary cap because they do not have the finances to do so.

    Let's hope for a good game Saturday and a Quins win by any score will do me nicely.

  • Comment number 25.

    #13
    I think this year many of Leicester's games have been very entertaining and have got a balance right between grinding, attritional play and a more open 15 man style. However I think much of that is down to the rule changes and the benefit the laws now give to an attacking side. Between 2003 and 2011 I still believe that the 'dark arts', filed position, wait for a mistake mentality held back the premiership and the national side.
    You often hear people say that because the premiership is played in the wet and cold and on heavy fields, it is never going to be as fast and free flowing as say the Super 15 or French Top 15. However this doesn't explain the phenomenal running rugby of Leinster or the All Blacks (playing in wet cold Invercargil etc).
    IMO (and it pains me to say it as an Australian) the talent and depth in England should make England the number 1 side internationally every year- BUT English sides are 95% of the time too cautious and I think this comes from the old school Leister mentality that I hope Lancaster and Co can overcome.

  • Comment number 26.

    This Saturday's Final will be a fitting end to one of the most entertaining seasons of rugby yet. Take Tigers (I'm a Tigers fan and season ticket holder) who have scored over 70 tries this season in the Aviva Premiership and staged the mother of all comebacks after the World Cup to finish just behind Quins in second place. And Quins who have led the table all season (correct me if I'm wrong) and provided almost as equally entertaining rugby and the rise of Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown who should be certainties for starts against South Africa in June.

    Tigers are there or thereabouts every season but like some of my learned friends have stated already the Heiniken cup still eludes their grasp. They have been very close recently (2009 against Leinster at Murrayfield) but the capitulation in Belfast this season to Ulster shows there is still a way to go to get back to the top of the european game, and Tigers fans crave european glory more than anything else.

    Lets not forget that this is Qunis first Final and Leicester's umpteenth final, the pressure is heavier on Quins in my opinion and the Tigers will take advantage of that and come out on top- but it will be close maybe only by five points.

    RE: the Salary Cap: Saracens can afford the players thay have by having a billionaire South African financier and it doesn't take a genius to figure out where the bulk of the wages are kept!!!, However I'm sure they aren't the only club doing this.

  • Comment number 27.

    I think there is a certain element of people burying their head in the sand in regards the salary cap.

    There is no doubt that currently many players will choose Leicester over teams in France or Ireland, who would pay more, because they are attracted to the likely prospect of success. This is the same in most team sports. However the gap is becoming wider and wider and we are not far off a situation where players will be able to earn double or even treble playing abroad.

    To break down the figures. Jonny Wilkinson (not an average example of a player I admit) is reportedly on wages between 20-30k per week at Toulon. This equates to between £1m and £1.5m per annum. The entirely squad salary cap in England is £4m! If you are a World class player with endorsement value, the likely maximum you can earn (pre-tax) in England is £5k - £7k per week.

    Now you can talk about the craving for glory, the desire to win trophies and the history of a club like Leicester all you want. But rugby players are ultimately regular people. People with a house to pay for, a family to support and a lifestyle to maintain. Everyone has their price, and more and more players, when given the opportunity to play for Leicester for £5k per week or a French/Irish/Japanese team for £15k per week are going to be thinking about a bigger house, that fancy car they want and crucially, whether they have to get a 'proper' job after their career.

    People seem to forget that the age of amateurism in rugby is long gone and we now have a game where none of the players who play for Tigers, Saracens and Quins have ever had to have a supplementary job to pay the bills.

    England players date pop stars, endorse clothing/drinks and like to appear on chat shows nowadays. The notion that the lure of more money won't progressively become the primary factor in deciding who plays for who is naive at best, blinkered at worst.

    At the moment I would say the pull of money in France over the history of clubs like Leicester is even. Tigers have retained a few players who could have earned more in Europe, but they have lost a few too. And as the salaries abroad go up, but the salary cap stays where it is, the tide is only going to go one way.

    Either the salary cap needs to be seriously looked at (I am not advocating getting rid of it) or English rugby will only slip further and further behind.

  • Comment number 28.

    If anyone has the time read up on the history of the 'Tigers', i e. before rugby was played. Back when the 17th of Foot was formed in the back streets of Leicester and around Leicestershire, via Quebec, Queenstown, Pennsylvania and the Northwest frontier ( where the name Tigers comes from) through two world wars, then Welford Road to Twickenham.
    You may understand the 'Tigers' family values

  • Comment number 29.

    Well as for the arrogance of Leicester I can honestly say I disagree. All the tigers players are approachable and don't think they are too big for their boots. If they do they leave. Mr Varndell learned this.

    I agree that Tigers can be boring on occasion but this is when the game needs to be controlled. Let’s not forget that the rolling maul was developed at Leicester into the try scoring machine we see emulated at every level now. Simple rugby can win games and games won equals titles and cups. Towards the end of this season once we had a few of our players back tigers have played exciting rugby. I remember we got try bonus points in the last few games of the season....? This is not the behaviour of a boring team.

    Regarding big signings Leicester just don’t do them they find the players that want to play for the club and fit the correct style of play. Such as Steve Mafi, Horacio Agulla and Logovi'i Mulipola.

    However if Leicester can win the title again on Saturday they will definitely deserve it as they were written off at the early part of the season. Quins also deserve it having won the league by playing well all through the season.

    Good luck to both teams I hope it’s a cracker!

  • Comment number 30.

    As a life long home bred Tigers fan I love that we are disliked (hated is too strong a phrase for Rugby fans) so much by the fans of the other teams. Shows we're doing something right. Its not arrogance to have faith in your team though and we have a lot of reasons to have faith in the Tigers, past, present and future. Tigers by 10 on Saturday.

  • Comment number 31.

    "I wonder how Leicester would do against Leinster?"

    Ulster 14-42 Leinster

    Ulster 41-7 Leicester

    Leinster ?-? Leicester

  • Comment number 32.

    For 'tis wrong to speak thus of this formidable Tigers side
    Methinks there are some that mistake arrogance for pride

    I know.....worthy of Shakespeare : )

  • Comment number 33.

    No22

    Nice username, Personally I would go slightly further and say I would love to ....................... ahem cough cough etc etc etc

  • Comment number 34.

    @31 Clump

    Good point... judging by those results it would be difficult to see how Leicester could compete with Leinster

    I remember the Ulster 41-7 Leicester game well, Leicester were made to look so second rate and average. Their response to verything that day was to stick it up their jumper and plod on regardless.

    They had no direction which Piennar put in asuperb display of tactical kicking, controlling his forwards around the park.

  • Comment number 35.

    Playing devil's advocate for a moment I think there are other very successful sides like Leicester who pride themselves on wining wars of attrition- Munster in Ireland, Northern Transvaal Blue Bulls, Biaritz in France.
    The there are the flashy sides like Queensland, Auckland and Leinster.
    To my mind though the greatest side of the modern era is Canterbury- they had a balance between squeezing their oppo to death and attacking in the blink of an eye from their own 22. Ultimately I think that is where Leicester has fallen down a little- the inability to evolve with the game and a fast rate.

  • Comment number 36.

    "Ultimately I think that is where Leicester has fallen down a little- the inability to evolve with the game and a fast rate."

    Leicester have scored more tries in the league than any other side for the past two seasons, and this year have scored nearly 20 more than Quins... Some people just don't seem to watch much current rugby.

  • Comment number 37.

    A lot of drivel spoken. Tigers biggest acheivement was adapting to the professional era so well. Before that it was sporadic success, and they certainly weren't the all conquering team suggested (Bath had their day in the sun!!! They were virtually unbeatable for 15 years.

    When all is said is done, with the set up and backing, Leicester have under acheived

  • Comment number 38.

    Leicester have 'not many big name players' really???? Don't think so. Just look at the current team for example:

    1. Castogivanni
    2. Youngs
    3. Manu Tuilangi
    4. Alesenna Tuilangi
    5. Croft
    6. Agullla
    7 Flood
    8. Cole
    9. Murphy

    That is a lot of big name players for and English premierhsip side

  • Comment number 39.

    I think Leicester show the way in how a Professional Rugby club should be run from the first time i took my football ardent son to a game he was so impressed he has now taken up the game. When you look at the local club sides they all adopt the Leicester ethos of it being about the team and not the individual giving the tigers a great base to find the next generation from long may it continue.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ 38

    This is true, but how many of them had you heard of before they played first team rugby at Leicester?

    Thy have all been adapted to th Tigers style and are big names because of Leicester Tigers and not because of any other teams.

    As for how we'd do against Leinster... you can't compare the result against Ulster as a basepoint. Take for example Derby County. They beat Manchester United a few years ago 1-0 and Manchester United had just won the World Club championship. Does that make Derby the best team in the world at the time?

    Leicester are currently the best team in the country but after the 22 games are actually the 2nd best team in England. Saturday to me is all that matters.

  • Comment number 41.

    I still don't understand why some people on here criticize Leicester for not being attacking, they have scored more points than any other side in the past 4 seasons (including this one). If that is not the 'right way to play the game' then I don't know what is.

  • Comment number 42.

    First up: Declaration of interest. Been a tigers season ticket holder for 26 of my 30 years on this earth, they're my club, and I will always support them over all others.

    Why are we perceived as arrogant? We are just extremely succesful. You want arrogance go look at Sarries and all their mercenary muppets.

    Leicester is (and always has been) a club built on respect. Respect for your team mates, respect for the club's values and respect for rugby in general. We don't, and I hope never will, try to "buy success" (Yep, another reference to the hated sarries). We develop young players from academy (Dan Cole, Ben Youngs, Crofty, Manu etc), or bring in relative unknowns languishing in other clubs (Geoff Parling for instance, heck even Castro). Reckon the last player who could be even remotely called a marquee signing is Floody.

    And for those bemoaning our boring play, as others have said, go look at the try stats. We've scored the most tries of any team in Europe this season. Yep, more than the supposedly awe inspiring attacking force that is Leinster, more than any of the supposedly free flowing attacking French teams and 20 more than Quins...

    And speaking of Europe... Please note, we were in a group with Clermont and Ulster (both semi-finalists) this year. And beat them both...

  • Comment number 43.

    Sounds to me like there was a lot of bullying going on at Leicester. As to punching a team/workmate, well that's not the Corinthian ideal of sport is it?

    Shame Joey Bartons not a bit bigger he would have made a fine Tigers player.

  • Comment number 44.

    I can't say that I've seen the fans be arrogant. I lived in Leicester for 4 years and they were very welcoming. Move forward 25 years and I took my son to the Tigers/Bath HC cup game after looking at the University. They had a bit of banter then asked what we were doing there. Knowing that he was going to be a student with a passion of rugby he was immediately accepted into the fold.

    No doubt all clubs have some twits follow them, but at least rugby leeps things in perspective. Some banter, a game and a few beers together whoever you support

  • Comment number 45.

    I agree with most of the comments above that Leicester are a team who are hated by some because of jealousy. I don't really see them being arrogant....not outwardly anyway. It is a fact of professional sport that successful teams are not the most loved by opposition fans and that's just the way it is.

    Most people would rather see Quins topple them on saturday...just like many would have enjoyed an ulster victory in the HC and a French victory in the WC Final.

    Leicester players and fans should just take it as a compliment.

    There's a really good preview of Saturday's game on dumptackle's rugby blog if anyone's interested. Make's for a really good read.

    http://dumptackle.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/harlequins-vs-leicester-aviva.html

  • Comment number 46.

    1st, rugby clubs should be wary of comparison with any football club, let alone early 70s Leeds Utd. I know, I've seen The Damned United! 2nd, anyone know what Leinster's salary cap is? - they're not a rugby club, they're a representative team. 3rd, check out the final prem table - 17 more tries than the next best must say something (unless they're all pushover/penalty tries!!)http://www.premiershiprugby.com/premiership/rugby/table.php

  • Comment number 47.

    Can always remember a story about the cricketer Bruce French who, apparently, marked out his own space in the changing room with a piece of chalk, and went barmy if any team mate went in it - he would have been, very quickly, disabused of that notion in any rugby changing room I have ever been in.

  • Comment number 48.

    I played in the same school team as Matt Poole, who went on to play for England. He was a fearsome, uncompromising character but highly intelligent, even though he didn't say much. He was just the type of player who Tigers would be interested in and he did well for himself. That philosophy of saying less, and doing more has served Leicester well.

    Anyone who succeeds with Tigers is generally good enough to play internationally. Earning the respect of the best players there is quite an achievement. Martin Johnson was a young man when he broke into the first team but he was quickly seen as an equal by Dean Richards. Age is irrelevant at Welford Road - it's what you produce that counts.

  • Comment number 49.

    Nice dig at Wasps from Ben Kay as well. Not many teams would have avoided relegation with 21 injuries including 5 retirements due to injury, and to have an imbecile like that talk about a side built on individuals. Wasps have always had among the best development systems and despite the poor season have given England some very bright prospects.

  • Comment number 50.

    we did sign Aaron Mauger who was a big name.

    but those who criticise us have to remember that we breed a lot of the england team. My friends in the academy when they were around 12 said that they never lost the game. Were they all the most able players? Not always. But they didnt know any other way- they had to win and losing wasnt even an option.

  • Comment number 51.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 52.

    No big name signings eh?
    How about Matt Tait? Or Aaron Mauger? Or Lote Tuqiri? Even Anthony Allen was an England International when he signed for the Tigers.
    Going back a few years you have Pat Howard, Will Greenwood, Joel Stransky, Josh Kronfeld and Tim Stimpson. (these are the only ones I can remember so there are probably more).

    It's true players opt for the Tigers over other teams because of the chances of winning trophies. The same thing was happening at Manchester United through the late '90s and early 2000s (even down to former players taking up coaching roles and becoming directors, small money signings from overseas becoming international players, and beating wealthier European opponents who spend twice the wage budget) but the still broke transfer records to land Cole, Yorke and Keane.

    I've always admired and respected the Leicester mentality and their work ethos, and the success that has given them, but please don't make them out to be they're something they're not.

  • Comment number 53.

    Agree with "Blindside Beast", add in Scott Hamilton, Castro Giovani (or was he born in leceister) darrly gibson, seru rabani, andy powell, craig newby, steve mafi, friitz van herdeen, thomas walkdron. The list goes on and on and on. Saying you dont' buy trophies. Enough said.
    Come on Harlequins!!!!!!!! Best team all year, deserve the trophey!

  • Comment number 54.

    Leicester have always had great players, my season ticket 50 years ago as a boy was two shillings and sixpence in those days we had Phil Horrocks-Taylor, Ken Scotland, Tony O'Reilly to name a few of the internationals who we had then. We have always had great coaches who were respected by the players and the results proved it.

  • Comment number 55.

    Good article, but focused a little to much on the playing side, with a brief mention of the 'administrators', as well as the people of Leicester, who have made the club one of the best and most respected sporting clubs, not just rugby club, in the country.

    I went to Leicester University, and In the three years I was there, it was so obvious that Tigers were just synonymous with Leicester, the club is interwoven into the fabric of the city - and that is as large a part of their strength as their rugby. You went into the city centre on a Saturday, there was a sea of tigers shirts being worn, shops were flying Tigers flags in the window (proper chain retailers, not just local newsagents).

    Bear in mind at this time Leicester city were in the premier league and doing well for themselves, but you would never have known it in Leicester.

    This symbiosis between the club and the people puts Tigers in a seat of power, for example when negotiating with the council for extending the ground - Tigers are big business in Leicester and you cant help but feel the outrage should they be denied planning permission and have to consider moving out of Welford Road would probably lead to the people of Leciester electing the tigers 1st XV into the council at the next round of local elections!

    As a Wasps fan, this approach to fiercely sticking to their location, to their people, and building through becoming intrinsic to the community is one that I am constantly jealous of! how can Wasps, by way of example, hope to emulate this, and trully engage the people of Wycombe when they are still making a big deal out of calling themselves LONDON Wasps?! (Surely somebody must have pointed out by now that Wycombe Wasps has a nice illiterative ring to it?!)

    So whilst I can't bring myself to support them on the pitch*, they are a club I admire as a rugby fan and think should be held up as an example to all as a model of the correct way to grow a rugby superpower.

    *They'll have my support tomorrow - but to be honest supporting one from Tigers and Quins is like Sophies' Choice!

    oh and #43 - not the Corinthian Ideal of sport, no, but perhaps the Spartan - and we all know who was better in battle - rugby is a contact sport!

  • Comment number 56.

    @10

    Probably a fair call on the Leicester Way and England but I think that was as much about being overly hard-nosed with the players as the coaching. That ethos works in a club environment but when you have only a few weeks to pull it together, a more inclusive and adaptive policy works better vis Lancaster's success in the 6N.

    Leicester will be back in the H Cup. Leinster are very good but I think the French h and better English sides will work out how to cut the Reddan-Sexton axis next season.

  • Comment number 57.

    @55

    I know this is off topic but wanted to make a point about your wasps comment

    (Surely somebody must have pointed out by now that Wycombe Wasps has a nice illiterative ring to it?!)

    I understand where you’re coming from as Wasps have been based in Wycombe since the start of the professional era.... if I'm not mistaken.

    But I feel Wasps need to move back to London, this is where the majority of there fan base are (as represented by the crowds during such fixtures as the London double header)

    I understand it’s near impossible to get planning permission to build a stadium (and wasps want there own) or to expensive to share with most London football Clubs, but calling Wasps the Wycombe Wasps and settling down there, I feel is a bad thing.

    It will be interesting to see what decisions are made with the new investors.

    Here’s hoping they move back to London as am getting pretty skint with all the train and coach trips to High Wycombe ;)

  • Comment number 58.

    @49 - I read Kay's comment about Wasps too. I think he's just glad to see the back of the Gatland/Edwards/McGeechan/Edward era. Wasps were the only side to put a stop to total Leicester domination in the professional era. When you're used to beating everyone and then another side becomes as good as you are (especially a side that couldn't afford to compliment their strong youth development players with top imports) then it would dig at you. Especially when their captain is a character like Lawrence Dallagio. And I'm sure Dallagio didn't leave the Tigers v Wasps rivalry at the club house when he was on England duty.

    But fair credit to Leicester. They have produced some wonderful players from their junior ranks and brought in the right type of import (ie someone there for more than just a pay cheque) to make themselves consistently the strongest side in England.

    Even though they were the only club to vote against the playoffs(for good reason too. They won four league titles in a row before the playoffs became the title decider), they have adapted themselves to it and always peak at the right time.

    Good luck to both sides on Saturday. I have a feeling the game is going to be a cracker.

  • Comment number 59.

    #tiny red wagon should go back to school and learn to SPELL correctly! And bearing in mind Andy Powell was a nobody when he was at tigers. You notice a lot of the foreign imports we get in I name the likes of daryl Gibson thomas waldrom and Aaron mauger etc came from like minded family value clubs (Canterbury in NZ) and the reason why players like that come to tigers is not only to experience the top flight in England and europe but because of the atmosphere around the club and the ethos of family core values. You can also say like many of the more learned contributors to this blog have rightly pointed out tigers have taken unknown players like steve mafi and Marcos Ayerza and moulded them into world class players as well as bringing in home grown academy players like the youngs brothers, croft, cole, and ford to name a few. I and the whole rugby community should applaud Leicester's model and take note however the salary cap definatly needs addressing.

  • Comment number 60.

    You forgot to mention Martin Corry whom along with Johnson and Cockerill made Tigers what they are today.

  • Comment number 61.

    Nice bit of rewriting of BBC darling Matt Dawson's 'career' with Wasps as well. They won 1 trophy when he was there, think Howley is considered by most as the crucial 9 during those Wasps glory years. Sale could also find a way to live with Wasps quite easily in their final.

    No problem with Leicester winning tomorrow, they've weathered the storm caused by them having so many players away at the World Cup.

    You've got to begrudgingly admire the will to win which runs right through the organisation, from playing with 16 men on the pitch, to lobbying your MP to reverse a Home Office deportation order.....

    Cracking stadium as well.

  • Comment number 62.

    Ayerza was a full cap when he joined Leicester, following his appearances at U19 and U21 level. Same for Castro, so hardly unknowns!

  • Comment number 63.

  • Comment number 64.

    at #20...i think you should read the comments by #23 to really know what Tigers Fans are really like. Not sure arrogance comes into it. Tigers fans have every right to feel very proud of their club's achievments and the way the club is run with the good blend of acedemy players and imports who's attitude and ethos fall into the tigers way. If this is arrogance, you know nothing about supporting a rugby club....seems more like jeolousy!!

  • Comment number 65.

    @62 Its not whether they were "full internationals" is the point of the article or discussion - Castrogiovanni was a relatively young - well thought of I admit but - raw player playing in a (then) fairly amateur league who Leicester were brave enough to take a Punt on.

    Ayerza similarly was gambled on and the gamble paid off - he was not (and actually to this day isnt) ashooin for the starting jersey for Argentina.

    Look this season, needing cover for the props due to injury and call-up they find a samoan prop who rapidly showed the fans that he has the skills and enthusiasm to light up the crowd.

    Sure they signed Tuqiri - as a short term injury cover for Geordan Murphy - you dont want injury cover to be untested you want a player that you KNOW can do the job you ask. It is interesting to see that Tuqiri came with alledged baggage and thoughts he wouldnt "fit in" but left with fans dissappointed he was going.

    Im going on a bit here - I actually have more respect for Quins than many other clubs as they are trying to build using young England Qualified players too - the game at the Stoop was immense and by the end I'm not entirely sure any true fan there actually cared too much about the score - it was a tremendous advert for the premiership and why I am glad that the slightly dour kicking regime didn't get into the final this year (Im more happy because they would have had to beat Tigers ;) )

    We have the two top try scoring sides in the league playing off against each other - of course Im rooting for Tigers - but regardless of the result if the game is as good as last time then noone I know in and around Leicester will begrudge Quins their title.

    Its about time the league winners got some credit as well though!

  • Comment number 66.

    Banda... I think you'll find it was our opposition who had 16 men on the field if it is the European cup game you are discussing...

    The home office deportation order - ah yes here we go... That particular order was because Manusamoa Tuilagi had recently finished school - the same school he had attended in this country since the age of 11. Unaware of the need to reapply for a "working" visa as when he finished school his student visa expired he did not. The home office noticed one day that a chap called Manusamoa Tuilagi was now living on a student visa when he was no longer studying the club (and city) lobbied to keep him in the country - he's not exactly Abu Hamza.

  • Comment number 67.

    Brave enough to take a punt on an 'Argentinian' international prop who had a European passport (so easier to get a work permit) and Ayerza, oh come on, it's hardly Russian roulette!

    If you sign a prop of argentine origins, who has succeeded out there and got intention honours, it's a fairly safe bet he will do what you want him to do in the Premiership. I'm not doubting that Leicester have improved some players, but think you're overdoing it on these props, they would have succeeded at most prem clubs.

    I knew about the 16 men, just thought it a little churlish of you to press the matter through the disciplinariez for so long in an attempt to get some points out of it, as I say though, will to win.

    Good luck for today.

  • Comment number 68.

    I love the way Leicester (fans and staff) spent the first half of the season complaining about a lack of strength in depth. You have since gone on to use 50+ players and are now praising the strength of those who have "stepped up". Yet during the world cup you had only 2-3 more players away than the top 4 teams (at that time of the season). And finally good luck to quins today, best team all season, they deserve the title.

  • Comment number 69.

    I am a neutral but although I admire Leicester for their achievements, especially this year, I will never admire anyone who seems to have a thuggish mentality,protrayed as passion during training and agree with RedKnIght re bullying.It has been obvious over the years it's the Leicester way or nothing, shown to players and coaches alike, which I do not feel is something to be proud of.They call some of their play "streetwise" and cannot understand why they have been called "cheaters"! However they do play some great rugby especially Quins this season and we all hope for an exciting game today.Yes everyone should be proud of the team they support but a little humility goes a long way in life, some thing to be admired in teams like Exeter.

  • Comment number 70.

    I make no bones of the fact that I dislike Leicester and their fans. Going to Welford Road is like going to a soccer ground and can be a thoroughly unpleasant experience for someone rooting for the opposiion. The language on the terraces is very industrial so I don't see how anyone can call it a 'family club'. The so-called fans in the seats are no better either. I would like to say that this is a small minority but unfortunately it is not the case.

    Their on the pitch 'winning ethos' is taken too far and yes they are arrogant because they expect every decision to go their way (and it usually does). The expression 'street wise' springs to mind although some may use stronger language.

    I hope Quins beat them for the sake of the Union game.

 

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