Joseph Mullane looks at how the head coach has turned things around
How Steve Borthwick has revived Leicester Tigers
The two seasons at Welford Road before Steve Borthwick’s arrival were very dark times in the history of Leicester Tigers as they finished second from bottom in the Gallagher Premiership table twice.
When the former England lock initially arrived as head coach for the delayed conclusion of the 2019-20 campaign, things did not immediately improve and the rebuilding task he was faced with was plain for all to see.
Borthwick’s tenure started with seven losses in his first nine Premiership games, including Leicester’s heaviest-ever league defeat, 54-7 by Wasps. What followed, however, represents one of the most extraordinary turnarounds seen in the English top flight.
Under his stewardship Leicester finished sixth last season and reached the European Challenge Cup final, while they are currently top of the Premiership having won their first eight games in the 2021-22 campaign. We take a look at what he’s implemented…
How Steve Borthwick has revived Leicester Tigers
1. Back to basics
Under previous head coaches the fundamental issues had never been resolved, or even fully known. Other coaches were perhaps too close to the club, not experienced enough or didn’t have enough time to address the issues.
Borthwick is an outsider bringing great expertise working as forwards coach under Eddie Jones with both England and Japan. A fresh set of eyes and perspective has allowed him without prejudice to implement an array of changes at Leicester to great effect.
One major change under Borthwick is the return to the Leicester Tigers staples, which are forward pack domination, mauls, set-piece orientation.
This has been a massive success as Leicester’s forward pack has once again become one of the most feared forces in English rugby with a maul that is yielding incredible results.
Nic Dolly, a low-key summer signing from the Championship, is currently the Premiership’s second top try-scorer with six this season, mostly emanating from mauls.
To gain this domination it also releases Leicester’s biggest weapon and one Borthwick was familiar with in his England days, George Ford. Ford behind a dominant pack is one of the greatest fly-halves in world rugby and we are finally seeing him flourish in a Leicester jersey due to that.
2. Leading figure
A clear indication of Borthwick stamping his mark on Leicester and signalling a change in direction is his choice of captain.
Who better to decide a captain to lead Leicester to a new successful period than Borthwick, a former player who was chosen by Martin Johnson himself to be his first England captain in 2008? Not to mention being both Bath and Saracens captain.
However, to hand the leadership reins to Ellis Genge was an extremely bold decision from Borthwick, but this does signal a changing of the guard and marks a new legacy for Leicester, which was needed.
So far, this decision seems to have been a stroke of genius with Genge currently thriving as captain, proving to be a leader both on and off the field.
3. Youth club
A focus has also been placed on bringing through young players such as Freddie Steward, Jack van Poortvliet, Joe Heyes, George Martin, Dan Kelly and so on.
Leicester in their glory days were renowned for developing the country’s top young players but in recent years more focus was placed on buying established performers on big wages who gave little in terms of long-term progress and even less in terms of squad depth.
This has changed with Leicester having a very understated summer in terms of big-name signings.
Before the season kicked off, vice-captain Hanro Liebenberg said that squad depth would be Leicester’s biggest asset. He told the Leicester Mercury: “I think now there’s so much good competition within the boys, it’s hard to even pick a 23. That will definitely benefit us going down towards the end of the season.”
4. Real-time stat attack
What is possibly the most revolutionary change is something Borthwick has brought with him from his time under Jones with England. Leicester use in-game statisticians to send feedback during matches to the Tigers’ coaches that analyses team, player and opposition performances.
This is a new development in rugby performance and it seems Leicester are ahead of the curve.
Ultimately, Borthwick has used all the tools at his disposal to turn the juggernaut of a rugby club around and these tools seem to be doing the job with Leicester Tigers sitting ten points clear at the top of the table.
The only question that remains is how far can he take them this season and beyond?
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