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'He wants feedback... that's hugely infectious': The Borthwick effect at Leicester

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images)

It’s starting to feel a bit like old times at Leicester for veteran scrum-half Ben Youngs. Sixth place in the Gallagher Premiership isn’t yet the title-threatening potency of yesteryear but that position with two rounds of the regular season remaining is a heck of a lot more acceptable than the derisory consecutive eleventh-place finishes in recent seasons. 


Just seven of their 22 league games were won in 2019/20, a figure that dipped to six last term. Contrast that to this season’s ten wins from 20 (in reality it is nine wins from 18 when the two virus-cancellation results are excluded) in Borthwick’s first full campaign in charge. 

For sure it has been reinvigorating and while Youngs has been absent for a decent chunk of it due to the Test centurion’s England commitments, time away that has seen Leicester turn to veteran Richard Wigglesworth and youngster Jack van Poortvliet, his half-dozen league starts has been enough to appreciate the transformation that is underway with Borthwick at the helm. 

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The 31-year-old, who last month declared himself unavailable for 2021 Lions selection, would have somewhat known his new club boss from his England days, Borthwick serving as Eddie Jones’ assistant for five Six Nations campaigns and the run to the 2019 World Cup final, and Youngs is enjoying what he has experienced so far at Leicester even though he only started last month’s Challenge Cup final defeat to Montpellier from the bench.

“Internationally he obviously did the forwards, so I wouldn’t have a huge amount of time with him actually coaching one-on-one because he would be doing the pack,” explained Youngs when asked by RugbyPass at this week’s Leicester media briefing about his rapport with Borthwick.

“We would overlap and stuff but for me, he is a man that really drives standards, he’s a guy that wants to be successful, he wants feedback, he wants to get the best out of himself, the best out of others and that becomes hugely infectious. He is a guy that really wants to evolve each player and try to get the best out of them – what that looks like and how he goes about that from player to player is different depending on what their wants and needs are.


“And I just think he has come in and given us some clear direction and clear DNA about right, this is where we are going, this is how it is going to be done and this is how I am going to help you get there. Hopefully, you can help me and I can help you and we will all get on board and we’ll get after it and that is what we have done.”

It might sound odd a fearsome-looking boss willingly asking for feedback, but Youngs and co have had no hesitation in stepping forward to make their views known. “That is what our job is,” he continued. “Coaches give you feedback and your job is to take that and do as you please with it, to hopefully do the right things with it. You have got to understand coaches see what we can’t see. They can sit in the stands, can see this and see that but they can never actually feel how you feel in the games.

“Let’s say I am keeping the ball for ten phases and we’re not going anywhere and he is in the stands going well, why are you keeping it for ten phases, you’re not going anywhere? Well, I’d say we are because of X, Y, Z, I feel he is dropping off that space, we’re putting fatigue in and that is where the conversation between a player and a coach is. They see what we can’t and we feel what they can’t and then you come to a solution, don’t you?”

Four points ahead of seventh-place London Irish and six points behind fifth-place Northampton, Leicester will finish out their Premiership campaign with this Saturday’s home game versus Bristol followed by a final day outing to Wasps. “Definitely we have come on a huge amount,” added Youngs, reflecting on the confidence-boosting campaign.


“There is no doubt. We have had to strip our game back and start from the fundamentals of our game which is set-piece, scrum, maul, lineout, being direct, kicking game, kicking strategy and all that. We have stripped it right back and I’m sure when we get a full pre-season we will layer on the next bit, layer the next part of our attack and how we put teams under pressure in a different way.

“So for me, it has definitely been a success and I want to make sure the next two weeks don’t fizzle out. We want to attack the next two weeks and make sure we finish strong and go, yeah that has been a success. We did this, we did that. We played Bristol, this is where we were against them, we made the top six, we made Europe. There are plenty of things still for us to try and do but there is no doubt that definitely we have come on a huge amount under Steve in a short time.”


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