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'Game has changed for them': What Leicester now demand from props

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Alex Davidson/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Leicester boss Steve Borthwick has lauded the long-term potential of England hopeful Joe Heyes, the 22-year-old tighthead who earned his first two Test level caps in last summer’s series versus the USA and Canada. The Tigers boss still views the prop as a player for the future – the nine appearances so far by the front-rower in this season’s Gallager Premiership have all been as a sub, the role he will again occupy this Sunday when the league leaders visit Wasps. 

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That said, the trip to Coventry should herald the 86th appearance for Heyes in the Leicester colours – quite a number given his young age – and Borthwick has highlighted how the contribution of the front-rower is an ideal example in showcasing how much the demands of the sport have changed for props in recent times. 

“The thing with Joe is you can almost forget how young he is because he has been around a good number of years and has a lot of games for Leicester Tigers behind him already,” outlined Borthwick ahead of his team’s latest assignment in a season where they have so far won all 15 matches in the Premiership, Champions Cup and Premiership Cup

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How Joe Heyes looked when coming through the ranks of the Leicester academy

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How Joe Heyes looked when coming through the ranks of the Leicester academy

“He has got a background in other sports, a big football background. Physically he is a big man but he moves really well. People will talk about early specialisation versus late specialisation – he has played other sports and has taken the physical attributes and skills from that and it has been a great foundation to play rugby. 

“In that (tighthead) position you are continually learning and until the very last scrum you have ever, you will get better and learn more about scrummaging. That is very much a numbers game: how many times can you pack, how many scrums can you do? What we are trying to do is accelerate that. I see him as being a really good player now but the exciting part now with that background he has, with the age he has, he is going to keep getting better and I see his future as being really exciting. 

“Nowadays if you look at the way this game has changed, props used to just scrum and maul and now you are asking them to make 15, 16 tackles a game, you are asking them to carry and you saw a couple of his carries when he came last weekend in horrendous conditions (against Newcastle), you saw the power he has. 

“You are asking him to move and hit. It used to be just you made a tackle and landed on the person and stayed there. Now they are hitting, rolling away, bouncing to their feet and getting back into another one. The game has changed for them and with what he has in his background, the attributes he has, he has the great potential to do really well in where the game is going.”

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Having finished his assessment of Heyes, Leicester boss Borthwick further elaborated on his perspective of how the sport has changed by including the latest demands now made of modern-day second rows. “The tight forwards now are incredible,” he added. “I have just talked about the props, but the second rows in the loose have got to defend like back row forwards, have got to move like back row forwards, carry like back row forwards and then go back to being in the set-piece, big, strong, tough – and props the same. 

“They are doing the scrums and mauls… and then they are running and now they are being asked as well to make 15 or 16 tackles, make a good number of carries, to hit 20 breakdowns, to get in a load of kick chases. Where it just used to be you would sit in the middle now they are running. That is different nowadays for a tight five forward.”  

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