On Sunday, Steve Borthwick will watch Leicester’s game against Bath, the club where he made his name as the second row, on television at home with the volume turned down as he isolates himself after a Covid 19 outbreak at Welford Road to find a cure for a disease that started well before 2020.
“When we won at Bayonne last month, it was the first time Leicester had won in France in seven years,” said Borthwick, who took over as head coach in July when the Tigers were one position off the bottom of the Premiership but spared a relegation battle because of the disgrace of Saracens.
“That reflected the decline of the club. When I started we had a lineout and a scrum that ranked 11th in the Premiership and our attacking and defensive stats were poor. The first priority was to get the team fit, because in the two years before I came Leicester had won 12 times in the last 20 minutes and yet lost. We’ve made some developments, but we’re nowhere near where we need to be.”
Borthwick’s attempts to bring Leicester, once a fixture in the Twickenham Premiership final, back to where the best-supported club in England is likely to be disrupted by the pandemic. Owing to an outbreak of the virus, the Tigers had to close their training ground twice and go into the game against Bath having trained below their capabilities for two days.
Borthwick said, “It’s frustrating, but there are a number of people in the world who are in a worse situation than us,” We need time to improve in the areas we need in the training sector, but it hasn’t been the easiest time to develop.
“We are fortunate to have Aled Walters on the coaching staff: His technical knowledge is excellent and he has the ability to get the players to give more.”
In the lower reaches of the table, Leicester have completed the last two seasons and were on the verge of returning there before the start of the last round, with Worcester likely to collect four points after their match against Harlequins was cancelled. The number of games that were cancelled without time to reschedule prompted some to doubt whether relegation should be suspended.
I concentrate my attention only on things I have power over, and this issue is not one of them,” says Borthwick. “Under difficult conditions, everyone is doing their best, and we’re coping with the circumstances as best we can.
You’ve got to be adaptable in a time like this.
I make a variety of plans so that the one you need can be taken off the shelf.
The games between Leicester and Bath were once the club’s season highlights, but the clubs fell well behind Saracens and then Exeter in the Premiership and in Europe.
On Sunday, we know we have a huge challenge,” Borthwick said. “Look at the squad that Bath has built and the resources that they have invested over the years on it. They’ve invested in their area of training and demonstrated their purchasing strength.
Bruce Craig [Bath’s owner] has high team aspirations and, considering the resources he has spent, they will be disappointed at the beginning of the season.
“I’ll watch the game on TV, without the commentary, because that’s always my habit, and send instant messages to the coaches, but I’ll be back on the training pitch from Tuesday.”