Leicester coach Paul Burke keen to showcase young talent and keep up the momentum
It’s 11 years since the Tigers lifted the Heineken Cup, when victory over Munster in Cardiff saw them retain a title they won against all odds by defeating Parisians Stade Francais
Leicester’s backs’ coach Paul Burke.
The small rugby gene pool ensures that what goes round 10 years ago comes round again in a different guise. Paul Burke of Cork Constitution, London Irish, Munster, Bristol, Cardiff, Harlequins and Ireland arrives in Belfast as equally determined to undermine the home side as he was when playing outhalf in a red jersey.
Burke worked under Matt O’Connor when the current Leinster coach was in Leicester and is now the backs coach under Richard Cockerill at Welford Road. Ulster tonight marks a return, if you like, to the scene of the crime of a 41-7 defeat last season.
“One or two players in the squad have not experienced a Friday night at Ravenhill,” he says. “Having played with Munster I know this is the competition where all of the Irish Provinces want to do well and they play well above how they played in recent competitions. It’s going to be intimidating, loud.
“We’ve had big tussles but Belfast has not been a happy hunting ground. We’ve been beaten heavily twice there and were well and truly beaten last time. The fact that happened is a reverse positive. You can’t turn up if your set-piece doesn’t function.”
But tonight is a little different in context, with Leicester currently joint second in the Premiership and arriving with momentum. Burke believes that despite last year’s heavy score they are in a good place.
“We want to come and play,” he says. “We’ve extremely talented players including six Lions. We want to showpiece what we have and also the good young players coming through. But we are very aware of every game and know that travelling away is key.”
Now 40 yeas of age, Burke has completed the transition that Geordan Murphy is now making from player to coach, one that Conor O’Shea and Saracens coach Mark McCall have also made. The Irish playing tradition at the club, though, still lives.
“We’ve had seven or eight Irish guys and Niall Morris is here now,” adds Burke. “There’s been a real crop and Niall is playing outstanding. He was part of the Irish squad when they recently met for the international series coming up.”
Eyes then on Morris, who will start tonight at fullback opposite Ulster’s 15, Jared Payne, soon to be Irish qualified in a matter of months.