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Back from the abyss, Bath's revival is gathering steam

Johan van Graan has quietly set about improving every facet of the West Country club and results are starting to come

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'Yes, we don't have the same budget as other teams but...'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Romain Perrocheau/AFP via Getty Images)

Thriving Leicester boss Steve Borthwick has insisted it doesn’t concern him that the reduced Gallagher Premiership £5million salary cap makes it increasingly hard to compete with French and Celtic rivals, adding that he also isn’t envious of other clubs in England that have far more financial clout than the Tigers. 

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Leicester were considered a fallen giant that would take years of great patience to turn around following consecutive eleventh place finishes in the Premiership and the loss of their cherished status as a Heineken Champions Cup team. Legendary back-rower Neil Back claimed as much in an interview with RugbyPass, stating: “The time was right for Borthwick with the coaching experience he has gathered over the years – he is a good fit.

“He has come in and has made everyone at Leicester, including the supporters, be brutally honest about where they were when he came in because there was a lot of heads in the sand. He made everyone understand we are not that great team that once was, this is where we are and then he gave a vision of where he wants to be and, most importantly, how are we going to get there.

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The Shaun Edwards factor in French rugby
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The Shaun Edwards factor in French rugby

“Now you can’t do it on your own, so he has put in the right leadership management, saying the right things and they have got a strategy to get there and he is being realistic… But it’s not going to be overnight. It’s going to be two or three years to get to a point, probably five years until we are anywhere near competing at that top table.”

However, the first full Borthwick season in charge at Leicester laid an encouraging foundation, overhauling the playing roster and strengthening the backroom staff in a campaign that resulted in a sixth-place league finish, a runners-up spot in the Challenge Cup final and qualification for this season’s Champions Cup.   

It was evidence that Leicester could potentially compete with better-resourced rivals, not only in England where the reduced salary cap has made life more difficult but also in Europe. Recent months have demonstrated this exact point, the Tigers winning their opening nine league matches to lead the table from Saracens and that form was brought into Europe last weekend with an impressive away win over Bordeaux, the big-spending Top 14 leaders who were Champions Cup semi-finals last May.

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Asked about the salary cap and added challenge it creates for a club like Leicester that has been carefully watching its bottom line in recent years, Borthwick said: “I absolutely understand the question but with all respect, I actually don’t give it a second thought because I can’t do anything about it.

“I tend to put my energy into things I can do stuff about and that [the salary cap] is nothing I can do something about. I need to coach this team as well as I can and I need to coach the team from the people who have got 112 caps like Ben (Youngs) to the players who are just coming out of the academy and all those in between – I need to coach them as well as I can and we need to be as smart as we can with the resources we have. 

“Other clubs in England have better resources than us, never mind Europe. I can’t do anything about it so I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. 

“That is a constant, how do you manage these resources as well as possible? The stance I take is these are the resources we have got, how can we maximise every little bit of it. That is the attitude I take to it. Yes, we don’t have the same budget as other teams but how do we maximise what we have got? 

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“So that is a consideration in every decision we make, how do we squeeze every bit we can out of what we have got? That does factor into decisions about the academy, about how we bring players through. It factors into decisions around recruitment and retention because there is no doubt that players are offered more money to go and play elsewhere. Then it comes to how can we run the best programme possible.”

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