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'All our energy is going into being the best version of Leicester Tigers'

By Matt Merritt
VMandRC

It’s tough enough to build a new team from scratch at any level, but when that team will be competing in Premiership Women’s Rugby against established clubs stacked with some of the best players in the world, it doesn’t leave much of a margin for error.

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For Vicky Macqueen, all this sits alongside representing one of the biggest names in domestic rugby as she prepares for Leicester Tigers Women to make their debut against elite competition.

“We’re super excited, not just me, that’s the whole team, the players and the team behind the team, everyone is just really excited about kicking off the new Premiership campaign. I’d say it’s been a long time coming, but I suppose in a lot of ways it hasn’t. We’ve had to race through a lot in a short period of time.

“Now though, we just want to get on the grass and show what we can do, develop these young players that we’ve brought in to add value and talent to the squad and continue to develop the players that we had already. They’re on a massive trajectory of improvement all the time.”

Those players who were already in place come from the side that Tigers assimilated from Lichfield and who were one of the form sides in last season’s Championship 1. That side gives Macqueen a bedrock to build on, something that she sees as a definite advantage for her team.

“For me, it was all about embedding,” she said. “This has got to be sustainable over the long term, developing the game on a wider scale, from grassroots to elite sport. For me, you can’t do one without the other.

“We’re really proud of what we’ve managed to implement to support Lichfield. They’ve done a lot of their own back as well, but we’ve absolutely been there supporting them to make sure that we’ve got two full squads at Lichfield.

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“When we took that Championship place as Leicester Tigers, we knew we had a responsibility to Lichfield to make sure that we kicked on, and we’ve managed to do that. They’ve got 60-plus players turning up to training regularly, which is incredible for a Champ 1 team.

“We’ve made sure we’ve, we’ve spread our love to Lichfield, and they’ve reciprocated that with supporting us as well.

“From there it was just about picking out the players that really want to kick onto that elite pathway. How can we do that? How can we make them better?

“What we’re very much invested in now is the infrastructure of the coaching network, making sure that we’ve got absolutely everything that a player would want to develop. My job is to ensure that every player that comes into our club makes improvements and gets to reach their potential and we’ve done that by facilitating a great team.”

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At the time we spoke, that team had just come together for the first time in training and Macqueen’s excitement at getting them all in one place was tangible. “We had our first training session yesterday and to see the wider team all in the room at once, I actually got a bit emotional. It’s been a long time coming but we’re finally here.

“We’ve got the squad in front of us, we’ve got the playing group, the staff around the edges, and yeah, we’re ready to go now. We’ve always said, right the way through our recruitment, that we want good players, but good people as well. I think that’s been vital and it’s the same with the staff.

“So, Tom Hudson, the new head coach, has come in full of life. He’s really ambitious, he’s full of energy, I love it! We’ve got Luke Stratford as well, who’s come in the same way, Kingsley our analysis guy too they’re a bit of a squad already in within our wider squad, which is great.

“And then we’ve got our new medical team and S&C team, Jasmine, our team manager has running around a lot and pulling everybody together, bless her. Then we’ve also got a mindset coach as well, Cath Ruskin.

“She’s done a lot of hard work early on with the girls, they will get a slot with her, have a chat, what are their goals, aspirations? Have they got any limiting beliefs, let’s get them back on with that…. trying to eradicate those as much as we can and just make them the raw athlete they need to be.”

Alongside the foundation of players from last season’s Championship squad, Tigers have also tempted some well-known faces from the women’s game. With the likes of Elis Martin, Amanda Swartz, Catha Jacobs and Alana Bainbridge bringing in a wealth of Premier 15s experience and some international nous too.

They’ve also made a couple of box office moves, securing playmaker Meg Jones who has been the lynchpin for GB 7s in recent years alongside Red Roses powerhouse Amy Cokayne. “I’ve coached against Meg a few times, I think I even played against her at one point. She’s a real mentor and she’ll have a huge influence on the squad.

“Our young hookers will have Amy to learn from and to grow. We just want to get that synergy. In the gym last night you could see Cokayne being a role model and the other girls rising to try and match her.”

There’s one player in their squad who might not have the plaudits or caps of those named above, in fact she didn’t play at the top level last season, choosing to sign onto Tigers’ project early and join them in the Championship.

Lucy Nye might not be a big name, but for those who have watched women’s rugby over the past few years, she’s been a model of consistency for Wasps Women and has excelled for the Royal Air Force in inter-service games too.

“Let’s talk about Lucy Nye, she should be talked about a lot more! She’s such a good egg, she just gets on with the job and sits under the radar but I’m really excited for Lucy’s potential. It’s funny to use that word when she’s been around for a while, but I still think she’s got a lot to give.

“I think she’s in agreement that she’s never had the opportunity to be completely focused on herself and her rugby career because she’s always been working. She’s working towards being able to be freed up a little bit more by the RAF to go a little bit closer to full-time into rugby.

“So watch this space with her. She’s the pinnacle of athleticism anyway and I think the more time she’s got to spend on the game… We’ll see some really great things from Lucy this year!”

With the squad assembled, training underway, and the schedule now confirmed, all that remains is to kick on and play some rugby.

Macqueen is clear on her targets for her team and what success looks like. “We’ve got a clear vision on where we want to be,” she said.

“We will be the driving force of women’s rugby, and it’s just down to us when that’s going to happen. We’ve already sold 5,000 season tickets for our games, and we think we’ll be great value for everyone who comes along to Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

“We want to go out there and win everything we can, so of course we want to aim for the top, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t say we want to win. Realistically, we want to make sure we are in the mix. We don’t want to be going into the league and just making up the numbers, we absolutely want to compete.

“We don’t want to coast in on being a big name: this is a long-term project, a programme that is getting better every day but one that is still only going into its second year of existence. We believe we have set strong foundations to build from and we can’t wait to get started.

“All our energy is going into being the best version of Leicester Tigers we can be. We’re aiming for that pinnacle, and we know we’ll get there. It’s just how our timings go and how quickly we make that happen!”

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