It’s a measure of the season Leicester have endured that the most successful club in English rugby history go into their 12th consecutive Premiership semi-final as huge underdogs.
You can get odds of 4:1 on them winning away at Wasps, who haven’t lost at home all season and finished top of the table, on Saturday but that might just act as that extra bit of motivation the Tigers crave.
Head coach Geordan Murphy knows all about what it takes to win a Premiership title, after being part of eight title-winning sides in his 16 seasons as a player at the club, and says the players have confounded the critics all season and would love nothing more than to do so again in the semi-final.
“The boys are very confident and are really looking forward to it,” he told Rugby Pass.
“Justifiably, we are going there as underdogs but halfway through the season people were saying that we weren’t even going to be in the top six and were going to be struggling to make Champions Cup qualification. So, from our point of view, there is no pressure on us and it is exciting. We can go there and enjoy the game, get stuck in and try and get a result.
“We know how strong Wasps are but this is knockout rugby and it is why we have worked so hard all year to keep coming back when we’ve been written off.”
Leicester won a remarkable eight consecutive Premiership semi-finals between 2006 and 2013 but have suffered defeat in the past three seasons, and particularly chastening ones at the hands of Bath and Saracens in the last two years.
After finishing 18 points behind Wasps at the end of the regular season, the bookies are clearly fearful that they could be on the wrong end of another semi-final hiding. However, Tigers won seven of their last nine league games and are on the up again.
“It’s been a really tough year. We’ve had lots of issues on the field and have lost three coaches, our defence coach early in the season, then Richard Cockerill and Aaron Mauger,” said Murphy, who has been one of the few constants.
“A lot of the guys have worked under Matt O’Connor before, so they know what he brings and his process is slightly different to Cockerill and Mauger.
“Cockers is more forward-based but Matt is very similar to Aaron really in terms of his principals. He is very directive and he knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to tell the boys that either.”
Long-term injuries to the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Matt Toomua, Marcos Ayerza and others have not helped Leicester but Murphy is pleased with the way the squad have come together and turned their season around after suffering hammerings at the hands of Munster and Glasgow in December and January.
“We have had a tough run off the field as well. We have had a lot of injuries to key players and that has proved costly in parts of the season. On the whole, though, I think the way the players have reacted, come out fighting, bounced back and been so resilient has been great and there are some real positives that we can take out of the campaign as well,” he said.
“The players have reacted really well to all of the coaches and have worked hard throughout the season. They are the ones who have got us to this semi-final.”
The prospect of the Tigers being 4:1 underdogs when Murphy, who is the club’s most decorated player, graced the Welford Road turf was unthinkable. He can’t have as much of an influence on the result this weekend as when he was dancing through defences but one thing he can guarantee is that Wasps won’t have it all their own way at the Ricoh Arena on Saturday.
“You want to give a good account of yourselves and make your opposition earn it and we won’t be giving anything away for free,” he added.
“Geordan Murphy took part in the Fiat Fullback Challenge. For more information on the new Fiat Fullback Pick-up visit: https://www.fiatprofessional.co.uk/uk/Models/fullback-pick-up”