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'When you look at that last scrum where Jasper Wiese scored, six of the eight forwards were 21 or under'

By Liam Heagney

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Steve Borthwick has hailed the youth that has started to blossom at Leicester, highlighting how a set-piece late in their European Challenge Cup win last Saturday over Connacht illustrated the change that is ongoing at Tigers since he took charge last July. 

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After years of stagnation at the club, the no-nonsense approach of ex-England assistant Borthwick has started to pay dividends in terms of improved results and the European round of 16 victory was the sixth Leicester win in their last nine league and cup matches. 

However, the coach’s influence hasn’t been restricted to the win/loss column as he has commenced an overhaul of the squad that saw Leicester struggle to successive eleventh position finishes in the Gallagher Premiership in recent seasons.   

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Aside from a plethora of proven name signings, Borthwick has also placed his trust in the talent emerging from the Leicester academy or youngsters brought in from elsewhere on his watch such as ex-Scotland U20s prop Will Hurd.     

This willingness to give youth a fling was brought home to Borthwick when a comment was made post-game last weekend about the make-up of the Leicester pack for the scrum that led to the try that finished off Connacht in the 48-32 win.  

The eight forwards who put the squeeze on for that score were James Whitcombe (20), Nic Dolly (21), Hurd (21), Cameron Henderson (21), Harry Wells (27), George Martin (19), Tommy Reffell (21) and Wiese (25), a youthful collective that left Borthwick beaming.  

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“We are trying to shape a squad that has the right size and has competitiveness throughout. We are trying to push the standards all the way through and we have got a great group of younger players, players who are relatively new to the team and we are developing them.

“When you look at that last scrum where Jasper Wiese scored, six of the eight forwards were 21 or under. That bodes well as long as we coach them well and those players keep working hard and keep striving to be better. We want a competitive squad, we want a squad that is the right size and that means we have got enough cover for injuries, international call-ups, but we want competition in the squad.   

“I was told (the stat) afterwards and good for them. Those boys have earned the opportunity. I keep selection pretty simple. I pick a team that I think can win the game and they went and did that. You look at what a great experience it was for them. Those players are fighting hard for selection every week and it’s a good position to be in. 

“I very, very definitely do not know it all. I am every day trying to improve and trying to learn, trying to get better and that is what I ask of my players, that is what I ask of my assistant coaches and that is what I try and do myself.”

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Borthwick’s salute to Leicester’s youth, though, was no slight on the more experienced operators in his squad. “Some of the older players are the most eager to learn. Age is not determinant of whether you want to learn or not. The very best players are the ones who want to come every single at training and set an example.

“When I mention age, I mention it in the context of the potential for the future. I think I have proven that if a player shows his worth and shows his quality then that player will be selected regardless of their age.” 

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'When you look at that last scrum where Jasper Wiese scored, six of the eight forwards were 21 or under'

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