Ben Kay is hoping the dramatic overhaul at Leicester in recent times will eventually pay rich dividends and see the Premiership club back competing again in the Heineken Champions Cup.
Having been in involved in the showpiece European tournament for 22 successive seasons (bar 1998/99 when no English club took part), Leicester have recently been banished to the Challenge Cup wilderness on the back of successive eleventh place finishes in the Premiership.
It’s a massive fall in reputation for the club that twice won the European Cup and was a serial presence in the knockout stages in that tournament.
Kay was part of the Leicester engine room when the trophy was won with back-to-back triumphs in 2001 and 2002 but their current Challenge Cup status means they are currently out of sight to the ex-England second row who is working with BT Sport on their Champions Cup coverage.
Leicester were semi-finalists in 2016, losing narrowly to Racing, but their form in subsequent seasons was a sign that they might fall out of the competition. Just four Champions Cup pool games were won in 18 matches across three seasons before inconsistent Premiership form consigned them to the Challenge Cup.
— Challenge Cup (@ERChallengeCup) December 15, 2020
It means that Leicester will be away at Bayonne this Saturday night rather than battling it out in the revamped 24-team Champions Cup that is accommodating eight rival clubs from England. Leicester opened last weekend with a 39-17 home win over Brive and Kay is hopeful it’s a good sign of better things to come from a revamped squad now under the thumb of Steve Borthwick following the axing of Geordan Murphy.
“It’s very, very difficult,” said Kay about the frustration that Leicester, a club when he is on the board, have been forced to play in second-tier European rugby. “The fans expect to be competing in the top tier of Europe but if you look at the performances over the last two years they don’t warrant being at the top table at the moment.
“There has been a massive, massive change at the club, particularly in the last sort of 18 months to two years to get back to where they feel they belong, to where we feel we belong. Although the club certainly isn’t flying yet, there is a fantastic feeling about the direction the club is going. It was really a complete reset to try and stop dwelling on the past glory, stop looking at what was achieved in history and write a new history with the current crop.
“The fans have been fairly positive on the whole. I don’t want to bracket everyone together, and there will be people that have been frustrated, but you look at where we have got to now it’s certainly a lot more positive with the fans than it was a couple of years ago.
“There has been a lot of upheaval but none of those decisions were made to deliberately get them wrong. Sometimes you need to make mistakes to be able to learn from them and the club, with the current set-up, are in a brilliant shape to move forward. But we are not kidding anyone and saying by the end of this season we will be winning championships. It’s part of a building process over a couple of years to get back to where we feel we belong.”
- Watch every single Heineken Champions Cup fixture live on BT Sport, starting with Scarlets vs Toulon this Friday from 5pm on BT Sport 2. Click here to buy now
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