Leicester Tigers: How Geordan Murphy is trying to turn Premiership club around

Geordan Murphy
Geordan Murphy is in his first pre-season as Leicester head coach, having taken over last year

The "worst period in Leicester Tigers history".

Head coach Geordan Murphy's assessment of Leicester's abject 2018-19 season was short, frank and cutting - and he took it personally.

There was little point in trying to seek positives.

"It's been an absolute drain emotionally, physically and mentally," the Tigers legend told BBC Sport. "Everyone has wanted to put the boot into us because Leicester Tigers were a big side for so long.

"We need to get fitter, we need to get more powerful, get an identity. We want silverware again."

Murphy's men finished 11th in the Premiership. They lost 15 league games.

But, during an "incredibly long" 16-week pre-season, he and his coaching staff hope they have pulled Tigers back from the brink as a new Premiership season begins.

The club reached nine Premiership finals in a row between 2004-2013, winning four titles. They cemented themselves as giants of the English game.

But Murphy became head coach of a team in decline after the first game of the 2018-19 season. His first pre-season with the team has seen him without nine players, who are on World Cup duty.

'We did drills under-7s wouldn't do'

"It's been a big job," he said. "I've been leaving the house at five o'clock in the morning, and often don't get home until six or seven o'clock in the evening.

"But it was a pretty simple, really. Anyone could see we weren't fit enough, and we didn't have a huge amount of experience coming off the bench."

The fitness regime they devised was called "12 weeks of hell" by new signing Joe Thomas. It included an army camp and painful hill sprints.

"It's been one of the toughest pre-seasons of my career" added former England centre Kyle Eastmond.

"We can now go deep in games, where we were hanging in before."

The length of pre-season, extended because of the World Cup, allowed the coaching staff to "peel back the layers" of the failures and "start from scratch", said defence coach Phil Blake.

"We started off with a very simple defensive drill, to the point under-7s wouldn't even do it," explained Blake. "We built it up to where everyone knew what was required.

"Geordan's personality is about being excited, confident and being bold. Expect to see fast, open play.

"We'll have a crack. We won't be conservative."

'Young players correct the older guys'

Jordan Olowofela
Tigers academy graduate Jordan Olowofela scored two tries in pre-season

Leicester's strength in depth was regularly questioned whenever their six England internationals went away, but new signings such as Noel Reid from Leinster, plus South African's Hanro Liebenberg and EW Viljoen, have brought flair and physicality in equal measure.

Murphy has also put a particular focus on bringing academy graduates into the first-team squad. Players like Jordan Olowofela, Tom Hardwick and Joe Heyes are playing with a new-found confidence.

"Those young guys are hugely proud to represent us and are hugely passionate," said Murphy, who joined Leicester as a player in 1997 and has been on the coaching staff since retiring in May 2013.

"To have people like that in the squad is vital, bringing academy bodies through is what this club was built on."

The squad needed to be brought together too. Club captain Tom Youngs admitted there were "splits" in the dressing room last season.

Youngs said the players have led the changes, with little interference from coaches.

"Everyone knows the standards we have set," he added. "Even the youngest players will correct the older players if they make mistakes."

Uncertainty still abound

However, uncertainty remains at Welford Road. The club were put for sale in the summer and made an operating loss for the fourth year running.

Steve Borthwick is also set to join in a senior coaching role after the World Cup, which may shake up the backroom staff again.

Following two wins and two losses in their Premiership Rugby Cup campaign, Murphy is targeting silverware again ahead of their Premiership opener against Worcester on Saturday.

"I think we are a vastly different side," he said. "We're fitter. We've changed the culture. We're tighter as a unit. If that stays the same we'll be at the right end of the league."

Steve Borthwick
England forwards coach Steve Borthwick is lined up to take a senior coaching role at Tigers after the World Cup