Smiles have returned to Welford Road as hard graft proves key to Leicester Tigers’ mini-revival - (2021)
England wing Jonny May bagged two tries in Leicester’s win over Gloucester to move on to 10 for the club in 13 matches this season, and said the “tough times” endured by the Tigers in recent weeks had made him a better player.
Two try-bonus wins at home to Harlequins and Gloucester, either side of a bonus-point loss away to Bath, have made the recent three-match block of Premiership fixtures a genuinely festive period for Leicester, compared with the miserable run of nine defeats in 10 games they suffered from October to December.
May said he was “never going to be banging the badge or lobbing the ball into the crowd” after scoring his eighth and ninth tries of the Premiership campaign – taking him level with Gloucester’s Charlie Sharples at the top of the league’s charts – against the club he left last summer.
But smiles have returned to most faces around Welford Road and, unusually, almost all the Leicester decision-making hierarchy were seen straight after the final whistle in the area under the old Crumbie Stand where the press room is adjacent to the changing rooms – chairman Peter Tom, chief executive Simon Cohen, head of rugby operations Ged Glynn and board member Ben Kay, plus the man deputed to speak to the media, Geordan Murphy, recently confirmed as permanent head coach after a stint as interim boss.
There was also a sighting of Phil Blake, the club’s former defence coach, whose reappointment is imminent. The 55-year-old Australian lost his job at Tigers in 2015 when he was banned for six months for betting on Leicester matches, and he has had a spell at Wasps in the meantime.
Mike Ford was on hand, too, ostensibly to catch up with his son George, the Leicester and England fly-half, who continued his good form with a try plus 14 points from kicks. Ford senior has an impressive club and international coaching CV, although he has had lower-profile engagements of late, having coached Germany in their World Cup repechage in November, on sabbatical from preparing to lead the Dallas Griffins in the American league this year.
Murphy continues to hold the reins for now, and he conceded that the next two weeks of European Cup action would be a chance to rest players, as he did not expect even a maximum return from Leicester’s remaining fixtures with Scarlets and Ulster would be enough to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Ups and downs
May’s full-on effort came to a halt when he cramped up on a second-half breakaway, and he was immediately substituted, but the 28-year-old flyer said hard graft was paying off as he contemplated an exciting 2019 of continuing the Leicester revival, in addition to Six Nations and World Cup duty with England.
“It has just been persistence and grinding away, even though sometimes you think ‘God where are we going with this?’, when it’s not working,” May said of his club’s ups and downs.
“We’ve stuck at it and we’re getting better but we’ve still got a long way to go.
“This league is crazy. Every week, every game is a cup final for most teams at the moment, a must-win game for everyone.
“We have had some tough results but those are the times you question yourself and dig deeper and come back a better player.
“At the end there, I reckon my legs were gone, by the end of that run. You’ve got to constantly find ways to stay fresh. But, form-wise, my plan has not really changed.
“I know what I’m working on and I’m confident with where I’m going with my game.”
Cipriani's recovery a boost for Gloucester
Gloucester’s defeat saw them slip to fourth in the Premiership, two places above Leicester.
Boss Johan Ackermann said he would weigh up whether or not to bring fly-half Danny Cipriani back into the line-up for the home European tie with Munster on Friday following his recovery from a pectoral-muscle injury.
Ackermann’s side also lost at home to Sale nine days ago but the South African said: “Our destiny [in the league] is still in our own hands, and there are a lot of games left, so we are not sulking yet.”
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