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ABC Club profile

By IanC
July 18 2002

The ABC club

The ABC Club. We like them so much we named a bar after them! Graham Rowntree a product of the Leicester youth system moving smoothly into the first team during the 1990/91 season, Darren Garforth the tubular technician joining the club from Nuneaton in 1991/92, then the following season Richard Cockerill, a hooker joining from Coventry.

That 1992/93 season our, and the ABC Club's, first home match was against an England XV, who selected Tony Underwood and Neil Back from the Leicester ranks. The match went exceptionally well for the Tigers, eventually losing only 11 - 18, with a great try for Tigers scored by Steve Hackney. The England win seemed to owe more to the RFU referee than the superiority of the England side. The Tigers forwards in particular were the real surprise, taking on the supposedly superior pack in both the tight and the loose.

A front row revelation

The Tiger's new front row was a revelation, and the legend of the ABC Club was born. The fans immediately took the combination to their hearts. Graham Rowntree, effective, speedy in the loose and appearing almost intellectual in his play (I said almost, he is a prop after all.) Darren Garforth, solid in the scrummage, athletic in his loose play (Yes, athletic - watch him play sometime!) Richard Cockerill, the player you hate if he's on the other side, but a favourite if he's in your colours. During the game it appeared that Cockers realised that he'd found his spirtual home, with a crowd big enough to respond to his exhortations for more noise, or to join in the chat about the opposition hooker, or basically to do whatever he wanted! The day seemed to have been a long one for Brian Moore, the England hooker, who was out-psyched at his own game by the upstart youngster. (An early precursor of the Norm Hewitt incident!)

The Tigers finally had a pack to fear, and we lost only once more at home that season, crucially to Bath, but a third place in the league nevertheless. In the cup Tigers progress was stately. Easy wins in the early rounds took us to a semi-final against the old enemy Northampton at home. The Tigers played the best single half of rugby I had seen up to then. The game was as good as finished at half-time, and Tigers ran out as "easy" 28 - 6 winners.

The final was against Harlequins. On the day of the game, Brian Moore was unable to play because of a groin injury. The Tigers faithful thought that this was probably code for not having the balls to play against our front row after the mauling he'd received in an England jersey earlier in the season! The game arrived, and, as you would expect, it was a nervy affair. Not a great match, but very much the right result for Leicester, winning 23 - 16. The result relaunched the club to the dominant position we hold today, and could not have been achieved without the three crowd pleasers in the front row.

Real club men

We've already mentioned the famous Cockerill - Hewitt confrontation when the two hookers faced up before the England - New Zealand game, which typified so much about Cockerill's pugnacious play and attitude - and really illustrated the fact that you wanted him on your side - I'm sure the press were far kinder to him after the incident because he was wearing an England shirt - if he'd been playing for Leicester he'd probably still be serving the ban! Then there's Darren Garforth - still desperate to play every game for the Tigers, despite being held together with sticking plaster and spit, and how can you measure the achievement of Graham in proving Woody wrong and forcing out the living legend Jason Leonard from the England team? But also don't forget that all three are genuine club men, with a professional atitude, but an amateur ethos - all turned down more money to stay at Leicester when the cheque books were flying at the start of professionalism, and with all his international honours Graham still rates his highest rugby achievement as winning the Heineken Cup with the Tigers.

The incredible record of these three great Tigers will undoubtedly stand the test of time and the legend will live on wherever Tigers fans gather to discuss the heroes of the game. We've all seen the pride with which these guys wear our colours, and the intensity with which they play every time they are called upon.

During this, their benefit year I hope you can all buy a T-shirt, attend a function, get a brochure in order to ensure that they get the rewards they deserve, I'm sure you will all join me in wishing the ABC a record breaking benefit year, and that they reap the rewards owed to them by every one of the Tigers faithful.

ABC Club Statistics:
Graham Rowntree - 270 + 24 appearances, 16 tries - 33 England caps
Richard Cockerill - 203 + 39 appearances, 14 tries - 27 England caps
Darren Garforth - 293+9 appearances, 18 tries - 25 England caps

(Correct to 16th December 2001)

Written:15/1/2002 by IanC

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