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The lessons Jimmy Gopperth gave a 14-year-old Charlie Atkinson

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

Jimmy Gopperth has shed light on his strong rapport with Leicester teammate Charlie Atkinson – despite their 18-year difference in age. Having previously been backline colleagues at Wasps, the 21-year-old England youngster followed the 39-year-old Kiwi to Welford Road not long after last October’s spectacular financial collapse of the Coventry-based club.

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Gopperth was chosen at inside centre in last weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup round-of-16 clash with Edinburgh, his 10th start in 14 outings since last summer’s switch, with regular replacement Atkinson making his 15th Tigers appearance – his 10th off the bench – late in the contest when replacing Guy Porter, Gopperth’s midfield partner.

Next on their schedule is this Friday’s quarter-final trip to Leinster, another of Gopperth’s former clubs, and they head into it with the New Zealander explaining that he first encountered the youthful Atkinson as a teenager when he enrolled in the Jimmy Gopperth Kicking Academy in Warwick.

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“I first took him as a 14-year-old for a kicking lesson, a few kicking lessons when he wasn’t even in the Wasps set up. I do private kicking lessons in my academy, and he was one of the guys I ended up coaching. I saw it [his potential] straight away. He has a good left foot on him, and he is brilliant.

“He then came into Wasps and we played together a number of games which was awesome and now we find ourselves playing with each other again (at Leicester). It has been awesome for me to see his development coming from a young kid and grow into a young man and a brilliant player.

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“Everyone says I’m like his dad. He is actually young enough that I could be his dad, which is kind of scary, but it is brilliant to see him. He is a brilliant young talent, and I’m sure he is going to have a massive future in the years to come.”

Leicester will travel to Dublin as underdogs having lost last year’s quarter-final at Mattioli Woods Welford Road to Leinster. Gopperth, who was still at Wasps at the time, hopes Tigers have a match-winning blueprint on this occasion.

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“Look, we all know what kind of outfit they are, we all know the style of rugby they play, short passes, fast passes, fast attack, so it is just about slowing their ball down through just being right on top of them in defence and giving them no room to move,” he explained.

“You have seen certain teams that have done well against them, it’s the physicality first and then it is not worrying about them too much. We have got to worry about what we are trying to do and really stamping our game and our authority on them.”

Leicester’s defence has been impressive during their recent charge up the Premiership table, with five wins on the bounce leaving their title retention bid set for the playoffs next month. Another recruit from Wasps, assistant coach Matt Everard, has been crucial to this improvement, as has young forward George Martin.

“You don’t win games without good defence,” outlined Gopprth. “Matt Everard is really pushing us together to work as a unit and the stats have probably shown we have been pretty resilient in that area. We are being very physical. George Martin is leading the way.

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“He is a brilliant player and everyone sort of gets in behind him and he smacks guys behind the gain line. Defence is one of those things that requires no talent. It just requires good willpower and some determination and fight. We have shown that in bucketloads over the last month or so and long may it continue.”

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