Geordan Murphy needs Tigers to wear hearts on sleeves
Former Ireland international was appointed Leicester’s full-time coach on Tuesday
By Leicester appointing Murphy, who has been at Welford Road for 21 years as player and coach, they have gone back to the future and are seeking redemption in core values.
Leicester announced Geordan Murphy had been promoted from interim to permanent coach hours just after Manchester United had sacked José Mourinho. The two clubs, dominant forces in the Premiership eras of their sports, were moving in the same direction, despite the contrasting decisions.
United and Leicester were last champions in 2012-13, for the 13th and eighth time respectively, but both started the week on their fourth manager/coach since then. United have made their worst start to a Premier League campaign, while the Tigers are on their longest losing run since 1975: eight matches.
By Leicester appointing Murphy, who has been at Welford Road for 21 years as player and coach, and the football club sacking a manager whose pragmatic approach conflicted with their attacking ethos, they were both going back to the future and seeking redemption in core values.
“We are probably at our lowest ebb since I arrived here,” said Murphy, who joined in 1997, after Sunday’s home defeat by Racing 92 in the Champions Cup. Leicester could be at the bottom of the table at the close of the weekend should they lose at home to Harlequins on Saturday, although that would need the defeated side when Worcester and Northampton meet on Friday picking up at least one bonus point.
Bleddyn Jones was an outhalf for Leicester in the 1970s, a period when they were not even the leading team in the Midlands with Coventry and Moseley then strong. He joined on the same day as Peter Wheeler, the former England and Lions hooker, and has commentated on the club for BBC Radio Leicester since 1987.
He finds the club’s fall hard to explain. “Looking back, the sacking of Paul Burke as backs coach in 2014 after a defeat at Scarlets in Europe was probably the start,” he said. “Many others have followed, including two in one season when Richard Cockerill and Aaron Mauger went, but recruitment has been an issue for a club that used to attract the best players in the world and youngsters are not coming through the system in the numbers they used to.
“Chalkie White was the coach when I played for Leicester and he moulded the club’s image, turning it from one that lost almost as many matches in a season as it won and played before crowds of a couple of thousand to cup winners who attracted a large following and became the Manchester United of rugby. He instilled the work ethic the Tigers became renowned for and stressed virtues like loyalty. He hated losing and for years that was something Leicester did not have to put up with very much. It is different now.”
They are stepping into the unknown and that is the concern
The former Leicester outhalf Andy Goode said this week that too many of the squad were not showing what it meant to play for Leicester and described recent recruitment as “abysmal”, blaming management for the decline. If the Tigers’ board reacted to unaccustomed failure by hiring and firing with increasing rapidity, so players who are used to competing at the top find themselves in a relegation scrap for the first time.
“They are stepping into the unknown and that is the concern,” Jones said. “Most of the other clubs in the bottom half of the table have been in this position before and know what it takes to survive. I think Geordan is a good appointment because he knows the club inside out and what being a Tiger means, but go back to the years of success and the person in charge always had a strong back-up team. It is important they bring in someone of calibre to help him.”
When Leicester last played Harlequins at home, in February, victory prompted a revival after five defeats in six league matches threatened the club’s record of always qualifying for the European Cup, never mind the customary top-four finish. Home defeats at the end of the campaign to Northampton and Newcastle saw the Tigers miss out on the play-offs. Matt O’Connor survived as the coach but he was sacked after a 40-6 defeat at Exeter.
“In some ways, he was a surprise appointment, despite working successfully before with Richard Cockerill,” Jones said. “He had a reputation at Leinster of not giving youth a chance. Geordan rectified that immediately but in days past the likes of Manu Tuilagi, Tom Croft, Dan Cole and the Youngs brothers were blooded in a successful team, not one that was struggling.”
Leicester, like United, remain the best-supported club in their league, but, worringly for the Tigers, the attendance figure is dropping. Last season, all 11 Premiership matches at Welford Road attracted more than 20,000 spectators but only two out of four this campaign have attracted that figure and it is estimated 1,500 members did not renew last summer.
“I understand the frustration of our supporters because they expect us to win every game,” Murphy said on Wednesday. “This is my dream job and a huge honour. It is daunting given recent results but I want to get it right because this is a special place. My message to people is to keep the faith. The league is designed to be more of an even playing field and you are seeing that with teams knocking each other over on a weekly basis, with the exception of the top two.
“A consistent trait in successful Tigers teams was huge passion. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and showed what it meant to be a Leicester player. That is key in all our performances.”