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'It was sink or swim': The fearsome dressing room culture which existed at Dean Richards' Leicester

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Mike Finn-Kelcey/Getty Images)

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Ex-England international Sam Vesty has opened up about the very different dressing room culture that existed when he was a player at Leicester and what is now tolerated in the modern game regarding drinking, training ground bust-ups and general behaviours. 


The current Northampton Saints assistant coach made his name at Tigers during an era where the club were serial trophy winners who played hard and partied even harder. Vesty made 111 appearances for Leicester between 2002 and 2010 before finishing out his playing career at Bath.

Now 38, he has since honed a reputation as one of English rugby’s most up-and-coming coaches, earning his stripes at Worcester before wielding his influence at Chris Boyd’s Northampton. He also assisted England, travelling with them for their 2017 tour of Argentina while other staff were away with the Lions. 

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Northampton assistant coach Sam Vesty guests on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series
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Northampton assistant coach Sam Vesty guests on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series

Looking back on his time on the field, he claimed the atmosphere at Leicester was sink or swim with players who couldn’t sufficiently adapt to the way it was run quickly cast aside during an era where Tigers were constantly challenging for Premiership and European titles.

Speaking to former Leicester teammate Jim Hamilton on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series, Vesty said of his eight years at Tigers: “My fondest moments, a lot of them are off the pitch stuff where we just had a lot of fun. 

“We did some great things on the field and I loved all that, but we had some great times off the field. We worked hard when we crossed the white line, that was very definite, but there was some good fun off it as well and growing up through the age groups, they were real fond times.

“You make some really good friends at that time, don’t you? I look back on this with really fond memories. Some of the drinking sessions were great fun, some of the games we had when we managed to get ourselves out of the crap and win, and some of the training sessions – you look back on some of those training sessions where it used to kick-off and you actually look back on those fondly now. They were flippin’ good times.


“What I took from my time then is that it spit out lots of people who couldn’t take that environment. It created an environment that if you weren’t that type of person, there was nowhere to go. You either swam or you sank and if you sank you were just got rid of, you were there for three months and then suddenly gone and that happened to a lot of people in those days. Actually, a lot of the people who that happened to would have been good players.

“What I have learned from being away from there is that was one way of doing it. It was a very good way but it was very much of its time and it was very much of the place it was. Moving on, some players wouldn’t make it there but would make it somewhere else and be very, very good players, so there are different ways of doing things.

“But the fundamentals of you have to be competitive, you have to create a competitive environment where people want to beat the other people in that squad, that actually just makes everyone get better and better and better.

“Ultimately I take that competitiveness out of my time at Leicester, and then secondly the culture was peer-driven. You have been part of teams that go and write stuff on walls, they go and make lists of things and they do all these things that at that point we didn’t do.


“But you knew as soon as someone was out of order it was put down and everyone knew where the boundaries were, they just weren’t written on walls. It wasn’t like that. Dean (Richards) set a culture, the players (he mentions Martin Johnson, Martin Corry, Richard Cockerill and Graham Rowntree by nickname), there were so many leaders there that just bossed it.”



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