Leicester are winners but you wouldn't want to get stuck in a lift with them
The Premiership final is upon us: all that hard work and long training sessions come to a head this weekend.
Will it have all been worth it, or will the hard work blow away like a newspaper in the breeze. Rugby, like all professional sports, is a cruel mistress, and unless you list sports trivia as your mastermind special subject, nobody remembers who came second.
Leicester v Harlequins: two different teams in the way they play, but also very different in their ideals. Rugby is always the winner on these final occasions, but something different is at stake this weekend.
Leicester are a tough Midlands club and the most successful side of modern times. They have enjoyed a stranglehold on the Premiership such as has never been seen before. A club full of hard men, serious men, lacking in what I would describe as humorous banter.
"Tom Varndell only had a pair of white Nike boots with him. He was made to colour them in with a black pen"
You wouldn’t want to get stuck in a lift with a lot of them (except perhaps George Chuter, who is very funny. A rose among banter thorns, if you will). If you did get stuck in a lift it would be made doubly worse as they are never normally never more than a metre apart, where there is one Leicester player, there is normally a whole pack of them.
They aren’t flash, they aren’t brash. What they are is a tight knit unit who know how to win.
From the outside it always seems like a tough place to be; as a young player you are made to earn your spurs. There are no super stars and everyone is treated the same. You won't find too many of them wearing white boots.
I remember one Wasps v Leicester game when Tom Varndell, playing for Leicester at the time, only had a pair of white Nike boots with him. He was made to colour them in with a black pen before kick off otherwise he was going to have to wear some ankle-high props' boots.
If you put your head above the parapet, at Leicester it’s going to get punched clean off. Just asked Lewis Moody about what that feels like. During a mauling session (probably In their spare time, as it is the favourite pastime in that part of the world) a young Lewis and a dominant Martin Johnson had a little fracas. Well I say fracas - actually Johno punched Lewis and he fell over. End of.
I think this does create a great winning atmosphere though, you are brought closer together by your desire to work hard and win. If you are part of it, great; if you’re not then stay well clear.
"If I had started my career there I would either be a very different person - or working in the City doing something other than rugby."
Leicester are successful because only the players who believe in this mentality survive the stay.
Many big names have come in, and gone out the backdoor, just as quick.
No one owns the shirts at Welford Road - you sort of rent it for a period, work yourself to your limits and then someone comes in and replaces you, with nothing more than a nod of the head or a firm handshake.
I have always admired Leicester, even if I am the first to give them stick. I think it’s from growing up at London Wasps where there was always a fierce rivalry between the two clubs. I firmly believe if I had started my career there I would either be a very different person - some might say a better person - or working in the City doing something other than rugby.
Harlequins are very different, the perennial playboys of London. I don’t mean that is a harsh way, but compared to Leicester that’s what they are. Swagger, banter, youth and white boots galore. Harlequins have always had a lot of good young talent, but have also brought a lot of players in and out.
Look at the colourful characters that used to wear the shirt: Will Carling, Will Greenwood and Jason Leonard - all top players on and off the field, but very different from Leicester’s old-firm members - Neil Back, Dean Richards and Martin Johnson.
As one club has continued to practice its hard-earned values, the other, Harlequins have struggled to get it consistently right. That was until the last season or two.
For many years they flattered to deceive; one week they would deliver a great running rugby performance with all the skills to pay the bills, and then the next they would get physically dominated.
"Quins boys are far more individual and don’t always toe the party line - just look at Joe Marler's array of haircuts"
All that young talent has now grown up and matured into top players. Guys like Danny Care, Ugo Monye and Chris Robshaw to name a few, have taken things up a notch.
There has been a constant group of players that Conor O’Shea has moulded into a collective successful unit, which now has the flash and the bash.
Also you can't understate the effect of having Dean Richards in charge for a period. He is Leicester in every sense of the word, and no doubt some of the doctrine will have seeped into the brickwork at the Stoop.
You always look at the Quins boys and see they love what they do, are never over serious and always have a story to tell. Whereas the Leicester mentality is forged out of tough love, Quins boys are far more individual and don’t always toe the party line. Just look at Joe Marler's array of haircuts.
Which one of these opposed mentalities will prevail? All I know is Leicester are on their eighth consecutive Premiership final; they know how to win and how to win hard. But Quins if they click can beat anyone.
- Who do you fancy for the final? leave your comments below or Tweet your thoughts to @JamesHaskell
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