Leicester Tigers’ Squad Building Strategy Continues

Leicster Tigers' Kini Murimurivalu runs with the ball on April 10, 2021

Last week saw Leicester Tigers announce a host of new contracts for existing squad members, as well as new signings ahead of next season. What was striking was that on both sides of the coin it showed the Tigers’ squad building strategy continues to follow a theme and purpose that started three years ago. This strategy has been a major factor in Leicester’s resurgence to the top of the table.

Strategy: Leicester Tigers’ Squad Building Continues

You Win Nothing With Kids

A feature of Leicester’s rebirth has been their investment in youth through new signings and through their academy, which is backfiring on all cylinders with three league titles in a row between 2018 and 2020. As a result, the average age of the teams that the East-Midlands side has picked has been around the 25 mark – a point that Head Coach Steve Borthwick likes to state on a regular basis. This has seen the likes of Dan Kelly, Ollie Chessum and Joe Heyes to name but a few, go from junior squad members to key personnel and in some cases certain starters for Leicester in the big games.

This philosophy was continued last week with six new contracts for members of the Senior Academy side – all of which have had a taste of first-team action this season. This vote of confidence in the talented youth the academy is producing is very much a continuation of the faith Borthwick has placed with the young players. It also reinforces the bond that supporters have with the squad, where they can see young, local lads playing their hearts out for the club.

Examples of the Tigers’ Squad Building Strategy

Tigers’ squad-building strategy continues to focus on bringing through young, talented and hungry players and looking to develop them. Growing out rather than buying in, seems to be the guiding philosophy.  For example, this was shown with the signing of Phil Cokanasiga from London Irish – 20 years old but with bags of potential. This is a sign of the good coaching that Leicester can now offer players, with the likes of Borthwick, Kevin Sinfield and Aled Walters at the helm.

Players can now see the improvement their peers have made at Tigers and want a piece of the action, especially if they harbour International aspirations. With the salaries of these young players not likely to be too high, this is very important to Leicester, operating in a reduced salary cap world. Placing the club’s faith in top coaching has been the cheapest form of top recruitment for Tigers, and is why Tigers’ squad building continues to impress.

Leicester’s “Golden Oldies”

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What has been fascinating to see with Leicester, has been how they have combined their philosophy of trusting their youth with bringing in experienced players, nearing the end of their careers. This has been lazily dismissed, with the phrase “journeymen” thrown around. However, anyone who has watched Tigers on a regular basis will testify to the value of having the likes of Richard Wigglesworth, Chris Ashton and Kini Murimurivalu available to them. Ashton in particular has scored six tries in his eight games since joining, a phenomenal strike rate.

The Three Signings were Announced Last Week

All three were announced last week as having signed new deals at the club – a shrewd move in helping guide the young players around them through. This is both in their experience on the pitch – talking to the youngsters and giving them an example to learn from, as well as their hard work off the pitch and on the training pitch. These players have been at the top level for numerous years and will have learned numerous good habits in how they prepare for matches, and how they train day to day. There can be a few better examples for Leicester’s youth to learn from.

Tigers’ squad-building strategy continues to combine youth and experience together, with Jimmy Gopperth being announced as joining Leicester for next season. At 39, he is much closer to the end of his career than the start, however, his performances for Wasps this season have shown that he still has the ability to perform at the top level. His kicking and game management skills will be invaluable to the Tigers, especially for the likes of Dan Kelly whose kicking game at the inside centre is still being developed the more he plays. Having the likes of Gopperth to learn from can only elevate his game as he looks to push on.

Moneyball in Action Again: Tigers’ squad building strategy

A big feature of how Leicester have put their squad together has been around utilising the “Moneyball” principles – that is using data analytics to establish which are the right players for them to target within their budget. This allows Leicester to get more for their money, as it means they get good quality players without breaking the bank to do so. It makes their recruitment more efficient and effective as a result. This has been seen with the likes of Sean Jansen, who joined the club in March and last week signed a new contract to stay at the club and fellow back-rower Olly Cracknell who was announced as a new signing.

How these players are examples of Moneyball?

Both players are examples of Moneyball in action. Cracknell for example is likely to have joined and not be one of the squad’s top earners, however, he is a player that has big ball-carrying and a focus on winning the collisions as a big part of his game. It is likely that when Tigers ran their numbers, Cracknell was a top performer in these areas for the budget Leicester was willing to spend.

Jansen is a player in a similar vein, having arrived at the club from a building site in New Zealand he has impressed coaches and supporters alike with his impressive carrying and physicality in defence. Added to which a work rate that has seen his body go through a brief transformation already, with 3kg lost in the short time he has been at the club. Both Cracknell and Jansen are unlikely to be on big salaries, however, are impressing on the pitch with their performances. Both men are examples of how using data analytics, Leicester has uncovered uncut gems and maximised their budget to bring in good quality players, ensuring they get more out of their squad. Another way in how Tigers’ squad building strategy continues to impress neutrals and stay ahead of the competition.

Ready-Made Starters

It is not just project players and older heads that have characterised Leicester’s recruitment. They have also made sure that they have brought in players of top quality to add a sprinkle of stardust to their squad. They signed players such as Handre Pollard and Anthony Watson. These are real statements of intent and show that Leicester is a much more exciting prospect for players compared to where they were in recent years. Both Pollard and Watson bring plenty of international experience and star quality, with both being likely starters for Leicester.

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Tigers’ ambitions are to be challenging at the top both domestically and in Europe. Having players like these two will be invaluable to them if they are to achieve their goals. One being a World Cup winner, and the other being a Lions Tourist from 2017 ensures the Tigers do not lose any drop in quality with George Ford leaving and Nemani Nadolo rumoured to be following.

Tigers have also recruited well to replace Ellis Genge with James Cronin arriving from the French side Biarritz in the summer. Whilst not quite at the world-class levels that Genge is currently at, Cronin is still an Irish international, and after playing 140 games for Munster is no stranger to the demands of being at a top club. Combined with availability for the whole season, Cronin brings experience and strong scrummaging to help boost the Tigers next season.

Finalising their Squad: Tigers’ squad building strategy

Tigers have in recent years transformed their recruitment and squad retention strategy, with a huge reduction in the high churn they used to go through every summer. They have strong continuity of their playing staff, ensuring the combinations can get ever stronger. Their recruitment strategy is also transformed with players now being signed for a purpose and after extensive research to make sure they fit the demands and requirements of the coach. As a result, the Tigers’ squad building continues to impress and make sure they are in the best possible shape to be competing for trophies.


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