This year’s 6 Nations period was a tough one for Leicester Tigers as they undertook seven league fixtures without their key England internationals, without having the luxury of a bye week.
In addition, they also made the trip to Newcastle to take on the Falcons in the Premiership Cup. After such a grueling period, they then had to undertake two fixtures in the space of 48 hours. Firstly away to Exeter in the Premiership, before a return to Premiership Cup action at home to London Irish two days later. As a result, the Tigers’ strong squad depth got thoroughly tested, but how did they get on?
England Boys reintegrated well
The main issue that clubs face when the 6 Nations is over, is how to reintegrate their International players back into the squad after being away for so many weeks.
As a result, there is usually a transition period that clubs go through whereby they reintroduce their players back in, yet lose a sense of coordination, as calls and moves have to be re-learnt, and combinations picked back up again. However, away at Exeter on the weekend, Leicester’s seven England players all featured and all looked as though they had never been away.
Leicester Tigers’ squad depth showed last Sunday
Genge was at his imperious best with his ball-carrying. Joe Heyes was strong in defence with 23 successful tackles, missing none in the process, as well as contributing to a dominant Tigers scrum.
Ollie Chessum started the game at Blindside Flanker before moving into the Second Row in the second half. The move did not affect him as he came away with the Player of The Match award for his efforts, a great reward for a strong afternoon showing.
🎦 𝐏𝐎𝐒𝐓-𝐌𝐀𝐓𝐂𝐇 𝐂𝐇𝐀𝐓
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) March 27, 2022
Ben Youngs was his usual controlling self and contributed to two of the Tigers’ tries. Firstly by getting the ball out of a stagnant ruck for George Ford to set up Chris Ashton with an inch-perfect kick, before setting up Freddie Steward with a perfect box-kick of his own.
Ford was only on the pitch for half an hour before injury forced him off, yet looked top drawer in his kicking and distribution. Steward added to his try with another perfect display under the high ball. Lastly, Nic Dolly came off the bench and contributed to a strong defensive showing in the 80th minute.
As a result of Sunday’s showing, the top end of the Leicester Tigers’ squad depth is in very good order, with their England players returning in good form without causing too much disruption. In addition, the seven players can now be reunited with fellow heavy-hitters Julian Montoya, Hanro Liebenberg and Jasper Wiese amongst others ensuring that Leicester has a very strong 15 and 23 available to them, especially with big games still to come.
Senior Squad Players Stepping Up
A feature of the 6 Nations period and the Premiership Cup fixtures has been the strong showing from their senior squad players, stepping up and showing that the Tigers’ squad depth is pretty solid. In the league, James Whitcombe and Francois Van Wyk have ensured the loss of Ellis Genge has been minimal.
At half-back, the loss of Ben Youngs and George Ford was considered to be such that the Tigers would really feel the impact. However, with Richard Wigglesworth and Jack Van Poortvliet handling the reins at Scrum-Half and Freddie Burns showing such great form that he won February’s Premiership Player of the Month award, that worry was soon forgotten.
Not having Freddie Steward available would be a big loss for every team given how majestic he is under the high ball, however, summer signing Bryce Hegarty has stepped into his shoes with aplomb.
Hegarty has been a consistent performer for Tigers at full-back whilst Steward has been away and really helped minimise the impact of not having him available. He has also been a perfect endorsement of the new money-ball strategy that Tigers are now using in recruitment.
A canny signing but not commanding a large salary, allowing the Tigers to get great value from their squad. This has also been seen with Chris Ashton joining in recent weeks, creating great competition with Harry Potter in the process.
👏 𝘾𝙊𝘼𝙎𝙏 𝙏𝙊 𝘾𝙊𝘼𝙎𝙏 👏
Bryce Hegarty with a full-field effort for one of his tries in last night's Premiership Cup win over @LondonIrish.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) March 30, 2022
Fringe Players Showing The Way
The Premiership Cup has allowed Tigers to use more of their “fringe” senior professionals, giving players game-time to those who have needed it. In response, those players have really come to the fore, and have created a strong spine for the team in a competition designed to give development opportunities to younger players.
As a result, Leicester has been able to give debuts to their talented youngsters knowing that they will have senior professionals alongside them leading the way and showing a great example.
This was highlighted in this week’s Premiership Cup game at home to London Irish, where the Tigers selected a starting XV that was a combination of senior fringe players and talented youngsters.
Here the senior group of Van Wyk, Charlie Clare, Captain Ollie Robinson, Juan Pablo Socino, Kini Murimurivalu, Hosea Saumaki and Hegarty alongside new signing Sean Jansen really showed their nous and experience and we’re constantly communicating to their younger colleagues.
This really helped keep the side calm and composed despite conceding an early try and allowed Leicester to get back into the game and then go onto victory. Whilst everyone was impressed with how the younger players got on, they were only able to be so successful thanks to the hard work of the senior pros. Again Tigers’ squad depth coming to the fore and allowing them to compete on three fronts.
Young Players Putting Their Hands Up
A feature of the great work undertaken by Steve Borthwick over the time he has been at Leicester has been his trust of his younger players at his disposal. As a result, he has a core group of players that includes those who are still only 20, 21 or 22 yet are crucial to the turnaround in the Tigers’ fortunes.
Whitcombe, Dolly, Heyes, Chessum, George Martin, Tommy Reffell, Van Poortvliet, Dan Kelly and Steward are all players that have been front and centre of why Leicester are top of the league and already in the play-offs.
What has been so pleasing about the Premiership Cup fixtures has been there being clearly another layer of young players following on from those just mentioned, adding to the Leicester Tigers’ squad depth. What is so exciting is that on current evidence they already look very talented. Given a couple more years of physical development as well as the high-quality coaching they will be getting at Leicester, then the club really will have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal.
On the evidence of the Cup games, Archie Vanes, Will Hurd, Tomiwa Agbonbon, Lewis Chessum, Emeka Ilione and Sam Edwards have a bright future ahead of them, not looking out of place in and amongst senior professionals. They all adapted well to the increased demands of senior rugby. These players were able to compete in the increased physicality the step-up requires.
Not only that, the Tigers showcased that their ability to score off rolling mauls is engrained at all levels of the club as five were scored through this method in the games against Falcons and Irish. Having such a culture in place is so impressive and shows that Leicester is a club in good health.
Competing on Multiple Fronts
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) March 30, 2022
Overall, after a few tough weeks, Leicester can now go into their own bye week in good shape. They have now qualified for the Premiership Play-Offs, with a last 16 European Champions Cup double header to look forward to. They have also put themselves in a strong position to qualify for the semi-finals of the Premiership Cup.
How they have been able to compete on three fronts is down to the remarkable Tigers squad depth. At all levels of the club and across all positions, there is now healthy competition in place, as well as the ability to make changes to the team as and when needed.
There are still a lot more big games to come, but the Tigers can go into them knowing they have the tools at their disposal to compete in multiple competitions. Their journey from where they have come from is almost unbelievable as a result.
This includes the upcoming European Rugby Champions Cup match against Clermont Auvergne. This game will take place at 2:15 p.m. GMT. It will be shown live on BT Sports 3 according to the TV Sport Guide.
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