It’s been a fair few weeks since I last updated my blog, so many apologies for that. As soon as we finished our World Cup campaign, I had about a moment’s respite before getting to grips in my life as a professional player with Leicester Tigers, so it really has been non-stop.
Obviously we were devastated not to squeeze past New Zealand in the final and I truly believe that on another day, we may have turned that result around, and we’ll learn from that experience. However, if you look back at what we achieved, there are some big plusses to take forward for the future. Most of all, it was HOW we played. We wanted to play attractive, expansive rugby, but without jeopardising the basics of defence, retention and control, and I honestly believe our brand of rugby was as good as any on view in the competition. Rugby is about winning, and without those basics in place, you will never string a series of results together, and that’s what we will take with us for the future.
Fundamentally, the whole event was the most wonderful and humbling experience of my career thus far; without doubt the best standard of international rugby I could play at my current age, and I would like to think that not only did I contribute, but I developed as both a person and a player, which is all you can ask of yourself.
Coming back to Tigers has re-focused me on what I now need to do to further progress. The professional senior game is certainly more physical than the U20’s and group standard, and whilst I am confident in my skill level, I realise I have to maintain and improve my physicality, both to compete, but importantly to stay fit and available.
At the moment, I am around 82 kgs, and I’m working very hard with Alex Martin, the Tigers’ conditioning coach (or Specialist Torture Manager as I like to think of him!), just to bulk up a little and maybe gain a few more kilos. I’m a similar height to Jonny Wilkinson, so getting to around 85 to 88 kilos would be my benchmark moving forward, so it looks like a lot of hard anaerobic power work for me in the weeks to come, although I would caution that by saying I’m very congniscent of the need also to maintain my flexibility whilst gaining muscle, as that is the key to a lot of the skill set a fly half needs. Many young pro’s forget the detail of stretching and flexing, and I am determined to do both to build strength and retain skill.
Looking forward to the pre season and Premiership, I’m obviously aware that Tigers will be without Floody for a good part of the early season, and I hope that may give me a few chances to play in the senior side. My Head Coach, Richard Cockerill, has suggested that there will be opportunities for me, but equally, in true Leicester style, I realise that it’s up to me to seize them as and when I can.
There is no such thing as a free meal at Welford Road, and I also know Billy Twelvetrees and Jerry Staunton will be equally keen to impress. My rationale is to nail the basics- my re-starts, goal kicking, distribution and tackle completion. Anything else after that is a bonus to me and the team, but unless those core roles are executed well, with 95% or better completion rates, I realise that the breaks, the jinks and all the other bell and whistle activities are immaterial to a large extent.
It’s safe to say that, at Tigers overall, there is an air of dissatisfaction regarding our achievements last season. Second and third are not words found in the vocabulary of the Tigers’ players (unless it’s Dan Cole and Castro at the lunch table!) and we feel that, with our history, heritage and squad, we did not acquit ourselves as we would have liked. There is an air of determination to turn things around this year, and a realisation that new faces will have to be integrated, some re-building needs to take place and we need to challenge hard to turn opportunities into silverware.
We do believe that the sheer size and depth of our squad will leave us in better shape in the early part of the season compared to other clubs. Certainly there’s a few of our close rivals that we consider will be much harder hit by World Cup call ups than we will be, but that is conjecture right now, and it does not mean we will take our foot off the gas pedal in any way shape or form. We know what we need to do and there’s a steely-eyed focus around the players right now, which is great to be part of.
So, in closing, here’s to the new season and the hope that we’ll right the underachievement of last year.
Thanks for following my blogs, and I’ll speak to you soon.