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Leicester using league great's 'apex of pain' mantra in bid for French giant's scalp

By PA
Steve Borthwick /PA

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Leicester will take Kevin Sinfield’s “apex of pain” mantra with them when they enter one of European rugby’s great cauldrons on Sunday.

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The Gallagher Premiership leaders have dominated this season’s English domestic scene, winning 17 league games and booking a play-off place with four matches still remaining.

Tigers’ attention now turns to the Heineken Champions Cup, with French heavyweights Clermont Auvergne blocking their quarter-final path.

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The round-of-16 clash will be played over two legs, and Leicester head to Stade Marcel-Michelin this weekend, where Clermont boast an outstanding European record.

Leicester have lost there on three previous occasions – although they did claim a 40-27 win in 2006, when wing Tom Varndell scored four tries.

One of the key factors behind Tigers’ resurgence this term has been Sinfield’s impact as defence coach.

And Sinfield, one of the most decorated players in rugby league history who made more than 500 appearances for Leeds Rhinos, knows all about pushing himself to physical limits.

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He helped raise more than £2million from a 101-mile run from Leicester’s Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium to Headingley, on top of the £2.7m he raised after running seven marathons in seven days last December.

Sinfield’s efforts were in aid of his former Rhinos team-mate Rob Burrow, who was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December 2019.

“There are all the technical things, and Kevin also talks a lot about the apex of pain and staying in there,” Leicester centre Dan Kelly said.

“That is something we are trying to engrain in us as a team in that when it’s in the fight, we stay in there longer.

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“That is something he demands from us, and it is definitely making us more resilient.

“I think that’s why we’ve had a few results, where we have just won it right at the end, and a lot of that comes down to him and his mentality.

“The apex of pain – hopefully we can stay in there longer than the opposition and hopefully we come out on top.”

Freddie Steward and Kevin Sinfield
Freddie Steward and Kevin Sinfield /PA

Manchester-born Kelly made his England debut against Canada at Twickenham last summer, and his strong-running, tough-tackling midfield presence make him an important part of Leicester’s armoury.

“Kevin has been so good, for not just me, but the whole group. It’s the small minor details,” Kelly added.

“He is so experienced – he has played in those massive games in rugby league – and it’s just picking his brains in different scenarios and trying to layer myself as a defensive centre.

“It’s about just asking as many questions as I can. He is so good at what he does – he is such a good mentor.

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“I was more than aware of Kevin as a player. I used to watch a lot of rugby league – Challenge Cup finals, the NRL and all the big games – so I know how decorated he is as a rugby league player.”

Leicester, meanwhile, will head to France’s Massif Central boosted by their England fly-half George Ford shaking off an ankle knock that he suffered at Exeter 11 days ago.

Ford is partnered at half-back by Ben Youngs, with their England colleagues Ellis Genge, Freddie Steward and Ollie Chessum also starting.

Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick said: “Clermont are an excellent side with a great balance throughout their team.

“They have a big, powerful forward pack with a very good scrum, very good maul and experienced half-backs who boss a game really well, and electric pace and power out wide in a dangerous back-line.”

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