'Leicester, heads down, can absolutely annihilate Northampton'
World Cup winner Lewis Moody has made a smashing promise to himself about Leicester: if the Tigers defeat Northampton on Saturday and qualify for their first Gallagher Premiership final since 2013, he will definitely get along to the June 18 Twickenham decider and plug into the upbeat wave of optimism now surrounding his former club.
Watching rugby live at a stadium is something increasingly difficult for the retired player to do. The demands of a young family mean his time is understandably taken up elsewhere at weekends so aside from nipping along to Bath every now and then to keep tabs on his other former club and even rarer trips to Leicester to check in there, the interest of Moody is very much confined to watching on TV.
That’s no bad thing in the sense that the coverage provided by BT Sport takes a viewer into the heart of the action. But still, nothing beats the atmosphere of being there in person at a big rugby occasion and Moody is backing Leicester to provide him with a great excuse to be in southwest London on Saturday week.
He is steeped in Tigers’ history having made first-team appearances across a dozen multi trophy-winning seasons before his career ended a decade ago after a couple of more years at Bath. He might not watch his old team live much anymore but he has his finger on the pulse from afar and can’t see anything other than a Leicester victory materialising this weekend at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.
There is a lot of hype about how Leicester versus Northampton is this great East Midlands derby fixture, but it wasn’t the big needle game for Moody in his playing days. For him, it was all about clipping Wasps’ wings and that perspective perhaps feeds into his general dismissal of the Saints’ chances in this upcoming semi-final.
After a special season, a HUGE semi-final now awaits ?
Here are 5?? of their best tries this term, as they stormed to a first-place finish ? pic.twitter.com/nIBYOsEmpe
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) June 9, 2022
“Northampton is the local derby that went back centuries and you would always talk about the old names like Tim Rodber, who I used to watch and would literally batter anyone that got near him on a rugby pitch. That was a lesson for a young schoolboy like me when I first went on the pitch,” explained Moody over Zoom to RugbyPass this week.
“But the real derby as a player, those important games were the ones with the best teams and consistently during our time Wasps were the best side and Leicester really felt that was our derby game in the sense that it was the two best teams going together consistently going head-to-head and you knew you would get the best challenge.
“I know the local derby, especially this one for Northampton, is huge because it’s a local rivalry but I don’t think it has the same significance for the players because ultimately you have got one team that, heads down, can absolutely annihilate Northampton.
“You look at the form card, the quality of the individuals, the collective spirit, the continuity and consistency over the last season, you reel off the stats, really there is only one team that should win this but when you add the fact that it is a local derby, when you add the fact that (Chris) Boyd is leaving, (Sam) Vesty is taking over (as head coach under Phil Dowson), it’s Tom Wood’s last game, there is all other sorts of noise being played out around it so it will make it a special encounter, but I still think Leicester will win.”
The careers of the soon-to-be 44-year-old Moody and that of the 42-year-old Leicester boss Steve Borthwick overlapped with England, the back-rower winning 71 caps for his country and the lock gaining 57 caps. So when it emerged in 2020, with Leicester again struggling down the wrong end of the Premiership table, that Eddie Jones’ assistant coach would swap country for club coaching and enlist at the Tigers, Moody was delighted as he knew the way his old Test teammate operated.
It’s just that like numerous other ex-Leicester stalwarts such as Neil Back, Moody thought it would be a far slower rebuild than the accelerated project that has the club on the cusp of sealing a Premiership final return just two full seasons into the Borthwick era. “It’s remarkable. We all probably would have said the same thing as Neil because of where Leicester were, which was rock bottom for a couple of years and on a downward trend through a decade since they last made a final.
“You have got to say hats off to Steve for what he has produced. There is probably a little bit of a throwback to the previous coaching regime that allowed young players the opportunity to play when maybe a lot of people would be maybe asking what is going on. You see Tommy Reffell, Freddie Steward, guys who were given opportunities in previous years have now come to the fore.
“But to rightly give Steve his dues he has built an impressive coaching team around him. Kevin Sinfield was a genius appointment. Steve would openly tell you he is not the most charismatic individual, he is not about creating relationships. He is about winning and detail and process, therefore he realised he needed someone who was (charismatic). Kevin Sinfield is that character, he’s a little bit like Andy Farrell, a guy you’d want to play for, so he has done a wonderful job and the appointment of Ellis Genge as captain was key as well.
OTD: HEINEKEN CUP WINNERS 2002@LeicesterTigers 15 (Murphy 1t, Healey 1t, Stimpson 1c 1p)
Munster 9 (O’Gara 3p)
Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, 25 May
Tigers become the first Back-to-Back European champions. pic.twitter.com/ESW2sT6kY4
— Leicester Tigers History (@HistoryTigers) May 25, 2022
“I was excited,” continued Moody, explaining his reaction two years ago when he first heard Borthwick was coming to Leicester. “Having played with Steve I knew what he was like. He was process orientated. He loved the fine detail. He spent so long as a player understanding his lineouts and the opposition’s lineouts and defence and attack, he was a machine.
“You knew he would be absolutely suited to coaching but also combine that with a relentless work ethic. He has an understanding as well that he doesn’t necessarily expect everyone to work at the same level that he does. Maybe that is why he has had so much success this year. He has understood the importance of the team and that every individual is different and you have to treat people differently to get the best out of them.
“With his coaching staff, you have got Brett Deacon who has been at Leicester for donkey’s years, player and coach, he understands the makeup of the club. Kevin gets the feel of the team, he creates that sense of belonging. And then Steve brings the detail and steers the ship.
“I was delighted to hear the appointment because you just knew he would be a good coach but I didn’t expect him to turn things around this quickly, though. But, hey, none of this matters, the records that they set this year are irrelevant unless they make the final and win and lift the trophy.”
Moody understands how tricky the Leicester rebuild has been as he has seen it falter time and again at Bath, who would have been relegated last Saturday from the top flight if the moratorium on the drop wasn’t in place. “Bath were the team of 80s and the 90s, so they have been a long time waiting and they have tried multiple different ways to turn the ship around and it hasn’t quite worked.
'I have worked in so many organisations where you are resigned to the fact that you are never really going to see the fruits of your labour, it will always be someone else'
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 16, 2022
“That alludes to what Steve has achieved this year with his coaching team, the whole Leicester club really. There have been new appointments at the top as well. It feels like they have created a sense of the club again which was lost whereas each individual that now works within that organisation – whether they are working at the ground, working with the team, the backroom staff – they all feel like they are now pulling towards a common goal.
“That is the sense I now get and that is why we were so successful over the 90s and the early 2000s. Leicester haven’t won anything yet but it looks like they are moving in the right direction, certainly.”
Moody isn’t a traditionalist mourning the loss of relegation from the Premiership until 2024 at the earliest. He understands the bleak financials involved in coming out of the pandemic but he has every sympathy for the upwards of 100 players who currently find themselves out of contract, without an alternative club and sweating about their careers ahead of the 2022/23 pre-season.
“I have no problem with there not being relegation. I understand it is a little bit disappointing because those relegation battles are so exciting for the clubs and the fans, but not if you are in it as a player.
“I do think to stabilise the league after everything we have been through and also to stabilise the Championship and help those cubs that genuinely want or have the capability of progressing into the Premiership, in a few years’ time clubs will be (more) stable, they will know where their income streams are coming from and what is achievable and maybe we will have a few more of those Championship teams in the Premiership.
“I was speaking to my former agent and he made me aware of how difficult it is now to get a contract in the Premiership. There are good players that can’t find a club in the country. The Championship is still a reasonable quality of rugby but obviously, the level of pay is significantly different. It’s certainly interesting to see where the game is.
“You add to that the wage cuts that everyone had to take during the lockdown, but I suppose things need to level out. You want clubs to be sustainable. You don’t want the game to disappear because so much money gets injected and the clubs can’t keep up.”
Moody’s biggest bugbear, though, is his wish for the sport to generally improve from a safety aspect. It was in April, in an interview with the UK Telegraph, that he called on the officials to bring in a regulation officially limiting contract training to 15 minutes weekly. It is something he feels is especially needed at the grassroots level where concussion surveillance contrasts starkly with what now exists at an elite level.
What reaction did it ignite? “It feels like it is plateauing a bit. There is work being done by the RFU and various organisations to research and understand but to me, it is really simple: World Rugby came out (in September 2021) and said they would recommend 15 minutes – no more than 15 minutes – of contact a week in training.
“But they didn’t stipulate that as a law, they didn’t say, ‘This is a mandate, this is all you are allowed to do over the course of the season’, so that frustrates me because it would be an easy way of dictating what is acceptable, especially for those guys outside of the Premiership and the elite game where head injury and concussion is managed pretty well in my opinion.
A mix of emotions receiving this today. Proud for a Mate who is putting it all out there, as he always did in blunt and honest fashion. But gutted to learn about his diagnosis and the impact it has had on him and his young family. #headinjury @Tommo33sg .
??check it out???? pic.twitter.com/PYdjcUsVil
— Lewis Moody (@LewisMoody7) April 16, 2022
“You have got multiple video angles in the game, however many doctors, medics are there to look after the players and they generally have the players’ best interests at heart. Sometimes the coaches can get carried away in the heat of the moment which is why you have to have strong characters in that medical team, but the rules are there.
“But really there should be a mandate for the grassroots game so that grassroots coaches know it is not about the player going, ‘Yeah, I’m okay’. They could also reduce the risk of that by just dictating the amount of contact allowed. It doesn’t mean you still won’t have accidental head collisions, but just make it a simple mandate, For me, it makes simple sense.”
As a player, Moody endured a series of head knocks and some of the stories now emerging, especially that of Steve Thompson whose lineout he caught in the move that set up Jonny Wilkinson for the 2003 World Cup-winning drop goal, are especially poignant. “Absolutely, and I had a father who recently passed away from Alzheimer’s, his brother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s so through my family there could potentially be a genetic link.
“It is unlikely because it is so low but then add to that your previous history of playing the game. But there are some great (things happening). In Edinburgh, there is a clinic now set up for players who can go in so it’s not just about research and safety of players of the future, it’s about how do we support the individuals now so there is good work being done by great people out there.
“The same is happening in England at Twickenham in the coming season, but it’s just you want it to help them quicker because you want people to feel safe. The more noise you hear the more you question and ask. I know if I hear about concussion, if I have forgotten something does that mean am I on a downward slope?”
- BT Sport is the home of Gallagher Premiership Rugby. Watch both semi-finals back-to-back, live on BT Sport 1 from 1pm on Saturday, June 11. For more info go to bt.com/sport/rugby-union
Join free and tell us what you really think!Join Free