New Leicester boss Steve Borthwick has insisted the club are moving in the right direction under his baton, the former England assistant this week singling out Aled Walters, the World Cup-winning Springboks conditioning coach, for the influence he has started to wield on the fallen giants of the English club game. 

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It was last May when the Gallagher Premiership strugglers announced that the Welshman – who wound up in South Africa after working under Rassie Erasmus at Munster – would become their head of athletic performance. 

Walters linked up with Leicester during the lockdown around the same time that Borthwick began work as head coach on July 1. The Tigers won just two of their nine Premiership matches when the 2019/20 campaign resumed in August and was played to a finish in October. 

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Wales back row Dan Lydiate guests with Jamie Roberts and Dylan Hartley on the latest RugbyPass Offload

However, they have fared better so far in the 2020/21, winning four of the nine league matches they have managed to play so far in a virus-hit campaign where two of their other games were cancelled. That has been enough to lift Leicester up to eighth in the table heading into this Friday’s round twelve fixture at home to London Irish, an improvement on their successive eleventh place finishes these past two seasons.     

Asked to reflect on his time so far at Leicester, Borthwick made special mention of the role that Walters has played in implementing change. “There are foundation factors you need in rugby. To be able to move forward you need to be able to be fit, you need to be a tough, hard-working team,” explained the head coach.

“Fortunately with Aled Walters I have an incredible coach working alongside who has got the team into a good condition. We have got plenty to do and we are not on the level we need to be. We have got plenty still to develop in the team but he has done a great job to get that foundation element in place. 

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“With that, there is also the foundation elements of you have got to have strong set-piece, you’ve got to have good defence. These are the foundations to help you build. Are we where we want to be right now? Not yet but I’m very clear on where we want to go, I’m very clear on the building blocks that we need to take to be able to get there.”

A particular stumbling block this winter has been the limited time that Borthwick – who has been linked with a 2021 Lions tour assistant’s job – has had with his entire squad at his disposal. “In terms of where we are over this last period, I have been in place about seven months now, you have the plans in place and if you write one plan you are probably a fool because things change very, very quickly so you usually have about three different plans,” said the head coach in a week when Leicester announced the appointment of Leigh Jones as their new general manager of rugby.

“For an example with that when we were planning this season we didn’t know that our internationals were going to be missing for this spell, for this period of time. What are we now, we’re going into round twelve this weekend, played two European games, and out of those 14 games our internationals have played less than a game-and-a-half for us, so you have got some top quality players there who haven’t played. 

“I’m proud of them that they have the opportunity to play for England, I’m delighted for them. Then we have a three-week pre-season before this season and we have a Covid outbreak, so we did a week of it and then during that window when I had the internationals back and I got the squad together, the first time I got the squad together, there was another Covid outbreak. 

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“In the time I have been here I have had this squad together for one week. So what I would say with that is we are constantly trying to keep moving and keep making progress and what we have got to do is keep being adaptable and flexible to the different scenarios we find ourselves in. That is going to be something for some time now. Do I think we are making progress? Yes, we are making progress.”

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