Newly crowned 2021/22 Premiership Champion Leicester Tigers’ progress continues, after beating Saracens 15-12 in a pulsating final at Twickenham last Saturday.
The result capped an extraordinary turnaround for a club that finished 11th in consecutive seasons only two years ago. Leicester Tigers’ progress continues to impress, so how has that come about and how will they get on moving forward?
Principles guiding the Premiership champion Leicester Tigers’ club
Leicester Tigers, under the guidance of head coach Steve Borthwick, have completed a remarkable transformation in fortunes by winning the Premiership in only their second full season together. This was a club that had completely lost its way, both on and off the field ever since they last competed in a Premiership Final in 2013 against rivals Northampton Saints. In the seasons that followed, numerous mistakes were made contributing to a remarkable fall from grace. As a result, Borthwick was given a herculean challenge in getting the club back competing at the top; the fact this has been achieved so quickly should be applauded.
Leicester Tigers’ progress continues off the back of firm principles set in place by Borthwick from the moment he arrived at the club. Hardworking, an uncompromising commitment to fight for each other, and a total desire to improve were qualities demanded of his players and they’re the elements the club has stuck to, to become English Champions.
All throughout the 2021/22 season they have been on show, with last-minute victories against Bristol and Connacht being crucial moments both domestically and in European competition. It was these qualities that proved so crucial in the Grand Final, as 2022 Champion Leicester Tigers’ fought to the last second to battle off a spirited comeback from Saracens. Their setup to position for a drop-goal by club hero Freddie Burns to win the game with only seconds left on the clock was an exceptional play. And deservedly celebrated.
— The Rugby Guy (@jarryd_harris) June 19, 2022
It can be argued that Tigers’ success has come too soon in their development, given they finished 6th in Borthwick’s first season in charge. However the improvement seen both in the 1st twelve months of Borthwick’s tenure and now the 2nd twelve months is all to see. These foundation stones and non-negotiables that Borthwick has laid down, mean the playing group are in a strong position to ensure Leicester Tigers’ progress continues next season.
Coaching Quality and Strategy
A key feature of Leicester’s turnaround has been the vast improvement in the quality of coaching the players now receive. This can be measured in both the improvements seen at micro-level in individual players, as well as macro-level in the squad overall. Players now come to Leicester and get better from being there – something that the club did extraordinary well in their glory years but slowly let slip. They are now a club that many a young player will be looking at with an admiration and desire to join the club to improve their game.
Leicester Tigers’ progress continues to impress given how young the coaching group is, and how little time they have been together. Indeed Borthwick is the eldest at only 42. Borthwick has underlined his credentials as a coach of high-standing as he has built a pack that is one of the most powerful in the league, and a team that plays with such clarity. Each player knows their role completely enabling them to execute that so well, given how clear the instructions they are provided with are.
The @premrugby final match report.
90% poss kicked from Tigers (which equals 58 kicks in play) was the MOST from any team this season. The total kicks in play (105) was also the MOST in a single game.
Sarries just 3 entries to Tigers 22, the 1st of which came in the 63rd minute pic.twitter.com/PZ0yYeeJYn
— Ross Hamilton (@RosscoHamilton) June 20, 2022
This was shown precisely in the final – Tigers engineered a game plan designed specifically to nullify the Saracens’ threats and to give themselves the best chance of victory. Tigers kick a lot, but in the final this was increased further, as they decided to kick 90% of their possession away. The result of this was that it meant they could take control of the game by flustering their opponents and ensuring they could never get a foothold at any point; factors listed by both Mark McCall and Owen Farrell after the match.
Not only can Borthwick improve players, he can also demonstrate tactical masterplans that can get the better of the best around.
In addition, Kevin Sinfield has built a defence that finished top of the tries conceded chart this season, with only 55 tries conceded. In the final, his systems ensured that Saracens went tryless and without ever really looking likely to breach the solid defensive wall. Where 2022 Champion Leicester Tigers’ could look to improve and develop their game is in their attack.
Whilst not bad, this has possibly been their weakest area throughout the season, with the team looking one-dimensional at times. Adding extra layers to their game and introducing further options in how they play will allow them to take their game to the next level, providing the tools to test the best in Europe as well as domestically.
Young Players coming through the Tigers’ system
Leicester Tigers’ progress continues to be built on having a core of young, local talent; this has been a theme ever since Borthwick joined the club, as he has not been afraid to back his youngsters and pick them no matter the opponent or context. A word does need to be said for his predecessor Geordan Murphy, who also was a big advocate for making sure Academy Graduates had a pathway through into the first pick team. He gave debuts to and/or recruited many of the young talent that Borthwick has at his disposal.
The likes of Dan Kelly, Freddie Steward, Ollie Chessum; amongst many others, have gone from being young players with potential, to being integral components of the title-winning side (and with many members of the England squad). Kelly, if not for injury, would also be in contention for an England spot given his form this year. George Martin, Tommy Reffell, Joe Heyes have also developed massively and have turned into key players for Leicester, producing performances that are International level. Jack van Poortvliet and James Whitcombe are another two Academy Graduates who were desperately unlucky to not be picked in the matchday 23 for the final, after the seasons they have both had. Van Poortvliet, in particular, has earned himself an England tour spot to Australia this summer and will be eager to put a marker down with the World Cup only a year away.
The key as Leicester Tigers’ progress continues into next season, will be to maintain the growth of these players. Given how those mentioned above are 22 and under, their scale of improvement is massive. That also does not take into account Nic Dolly, Harry Potter, Guy Porter, and Cameron Henderson who are still 24 and under, and have put in huge performances for the first team. Further depth can be seen in the next generation coming through – Archie Vanes, Emeka Ilione and Jacob Cuisick have all impressed in their Premiership Cup outings this year and will be knocking on the door for further opportunities next season.
Leicester, like all Premiership clubs, is challenged by a reduced salary cap next season, so adding depth from their own ranks will be crucial in their quest to progress further.
Recruitment positives, and replacing leaving players
A key strand of how Leicester Tigers’ progress continues to move forward has been in their recruitment. Using moneyball principals, they have added quality players to their ranks in the form of genuine unknowns, and have made them into much better players through the coaching and environment they have created. Players such as Harry Potter and Guy Porter are classic examples of that – both came from Sydney University and both are now key members of the squad. Sean Jansen is one to look out for next season. Another unknown, Jansen came from a building site in Ontario, New Zealand and has impressed enough to earn a new contract for next year. A physical carrier and defender, Jansen looks the perfect back row player for Borthwick’s side.
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) May 12, 2022
Tigers have also made sure they have added genuine X factor as well. Julian Montoya was awarded Player of the Season after his exploits this season. British and Irish Lion Anthony Watson joins the club for next season in addition. Whilst Watson does come with injury concerns, there can be no doubting his quality when fit. Both are examples of Leicester ensuring they have top-end talent to move [themselves] forward.
This in particular will be crucial as Tigers face a period of almost transition with Ellis Genge, George Ford, and Matius Moroni all leaving the club – with Nemani Nadolo also expected to exit. Whilst Tigers have made quality replacements with James Cronin, Handre Pollard, and Watson all joining the club, it will still take time for these to bed in and adapt to how Leicester wants to play.
Genge in particular will be a big loss given his impressive leadership skills.
2022 Champion Leicester Tigers’ progress continues at a good pace, and now they are Premiership title holders, they can go into next season full of confidence and ready to build on their achievements. However, they are not without their challenges, still with plenty of hard work required to ensure this successful season was not just a one-off.
“Main photo courtesy of Twitter“