If you were on Family Fortunes and the subject of Leicester legends came up, Martin Johnson would be the number one answer. Not because of his ability but for his force of character which is something the club is lacking at the moment.
It’s 14 years since Johnno played his last game at Welford Road and he epitomised the DNA of Leicester Tigers. He’s the most celebrated name from a big, gnarly forward pack and who can even remember who played in the backs in that team?!
I was part of that backline, nobody remembers us and rightly so because it was all about the forwards dominating games and the old adage of forwards win you matches and backs decide by how many was so true back then.
The game has changed a lot but there is still a good degree of truth to that saying. You look at the two most successful clubs in England in Exeter and Saracens and they have the two most dominant packs and best power games.
And, it’s clear for everyone to see what the DNA of those two clubs is. Identity and culture are words that can be bandied about too easily but both have got it spot on in those departments. There is an obvious strong bond between the players and they have a clear way of playing.
Wind the clock back 10 years and Exeter were only just winning promotion to the Premiership and who knew what Saracens were about? They’ve both been on a journey to get to where they are now and the reverse has happened to Leicester.
They’ve drifted away from what made them successful and since Richard Cockerill they have had back after back after back in charge of the club.
I spoke to CEO Simon Cohen the other day and he admitted that Matt O’Connor wouldn’t have been his choice when he was appointed. Geordan Murphy, another back, now has the full backing of the club and rightly so but he needs some help in the forwards.
The romantic side of me would love to see Johnno come back to Welford Road in the role of a director of rugby or sporting director but there’s also the likes of Graham Rowntree, Dean Richards, John Wells and others who might be available and have the Leicester DNA coursing through their veins.
I think it’s doubtful that Johnno would want to get involved again but Geordan Murphy is the main man now and you just feel that, together with someone else from a forwards perspective, he’ll be able to get the culture right if he’s allowed to bring in who he wants and is given time.
Successful eras are almost always built on stability and Tigers haven’t had that recently. That starts with the coaching staff but then there have been too many players coming and going because each coach wants something different.
Recruitment has been a huge issue for the club, as has been mentioned many times before, and from the outside you can’t pinpoint how Leicester are trying to play.
Right now the pack looks underpowered and the backline looks great on paper but you might as well have me playing in it with the quality of ball that they’re getting most of the time.
That would never have been the case in Johnno’s day. He wouldn’t have stood for it. The game has moved on and it’s easy to hark back to the good old days but the fact that it’s 14 years since England’s World Cup winning captain played his last game at Welford Road, before going on to lead Tigers in the Premiership final, does serve as a stark reminder of where Leicester were and how far they have to go to get back there.
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