It says a lot about the decline of Leicester Tigers that George Ford struggles to remember how old he was the last time they won a major trophy.
It was the last of their 10 Premiership titles in 2013 – for the record, 他是 20 – and, barring a negligible Anglo-Welsh Cup succes in 2017, the subsequent eight years have been barren. In the interim Leicester City have been crowned Premier League champions, last weekend they won the FA Cup and it is hard to escape the feeling the Tigers have been left behind.
Back at Twickenham on Friday night, 然而, they contest their first Challenge Cup final against Montpellier – Leicester are traditionally used to dining at Europe’s top table – and if victory would not exactly herald a return to the glory days it would be something tangible to demonstrate improvement in Steve Borthwick’s first full season in charge. They have finished the two previous Premiership seasons in 11th – decline had turned to decay – but under Borthwick there is a hard edge about the Tigers, exemplified by power runners such as Ellis Genge and Jasper Wiese, even if it is not always pretty to watch.
Ford, for his part, does not feel like the current side is living in the shadows of those which dominated in the late 90s and first decade of this century, winning back-to-back Heineken Cups and seven of their Premiership titles. But had anyone at the time suggested the 2013 triumph, when Ford came off the bench to steer Leicester past Saracens before spending four years at Bath, would be their last significant bit of silverware, they would have been laughed all the way back down the M1.
“The first part of my time here we won the Premiership trophy [in my last season],” says Ford. “That’s one of the highlights of my career so I don’t get sick hearing about it at all. That’s why Leicester is the club it is, it’s well followed because of the history. But we’re a different team, different personnel, different coaches, a different era. We’ve got to work hard to keep improving and try and win things ourselves and build a memory bank we can be proud of.”
Ford and Borthwick both see Leicester as underdogs against Montpellier but though the 10,000 tickets available had not sold out as of Thursday lunchtime it is a safe bet that the majority of those in attendance will be Tigers fans. Borthwick’s decision to start the 37-year-old Richard Wigglesworth at scrum-half, with Ben Youngs dropped to the bench, says everything about Leicester’s approach against a team packed full of South African muscle and Ford is confident the unfancied side from the Midlands can prevail, just as was the case at Wembley last Saturday.
“We were unbelievably proud of what Leicester City did in the FA Cup,” says Ford. “I think they went into the game as underdogs – which I think we are as well – and going and producing a performance like they did, the way they played, the courage they played with, the workrate, the effort, the skill, in a big game on the big stage was incredible to watch. So if anything, it inspires us.”
Ford comes up against a familiar face at fly‑half in Alex Lozowski, on loan from Saracens while they endure their exile from the Premiership. It is a measure of the mark he has made that he is keeping the fit-again World Cup winner Handré Pollard out of the side and Ford speaks glowingly about his compatriot. Lozowski has not played for England since the autumn of 2018 – Eddie Jones has overlooked him ever since a sub‑par showing against Japan – but Ford believes he does not get the recognition he deserves.
“First and foremost he’s a brilliant bloke but I also think he’s a brilliant player,” says Ford. “I think he’s underrated to be honest, his skillset is brilliant, he’s a strong runner, he can hit in defence and he’s just an all-round good rugby player. And he turns up every week. He’s consistent.”
同时, Mike Brown will appeal against the six-week ban for stamping on the head of Wasps’ Tommy Taylor that had brought his 16-year Harlequins career to an end. The length of Brown’s ban – handed down out last week – means that even if Harlequins reach the Premiership final he would not be able to play again before joining Newcastle next season. If his appeal is successful next Wednesday, 然而, he could yet add to his 351 appearances for the club.