July 19 2002
The Tigers Bar was packed to see Tudor Thomas compere an evening with Andy Key and Dean Richards. For those of you who could not make it here is a run-down of what went on.
Before the main event, Managing Director, David Clayton, took the opportunity to welcome people to the meeting, and to update those present on the current situation regarding Heineken Cup Semi-final tickets. Apparently the organisers were keen to have the game a sell out, and to that end have told the Tigers to sell as many tickets as they can manage.
An initial allocation of 8,000 was nominally provided (nominally because they're still waiting to get the tickets printed), but David was then told that the allocation could be expanded to match demand. As at 6pm last night the Tigers had sold 12,500 and David was beginning to worry that the organisers hadn't taken his estimate of 20,000 seriously! Watch this space.
The evening proper began with Andy Key updating us on the Academy. He and Dusty have now been confirmed as Director and Assistant Director - just as well, since they wrote the book on the rugby academy system, after starting four years ago following on from analyses of best practice in other sports - Manchester United, etc.
Kiwi is justifiably proud of the set up, and of the lads in his care. Particularly noteworthy is the determination of the club to make sure that the boys who don't quite make the grade have a sound grounding and education to ensure that they have a life after rugby. Partnerships with schools and other educational institutions play a key part in this. (This was a refreshing attitude for people who attended the earlier meeting which featured the debut of Steve (Northern Lad) Booth. Who told the story of his early days in league where he was told he could get an education or be a player, but not both.)
With the academy system now part of the team England set up, the Tigers have a large region to deal with, and Dusty is involved in overseeing the establishment of various centres of excellence around the region. At the same time, he's still busily travelling all over the country to ensure that we get the best of all talent, not just the local area. It was also hinted that a few young rugby league academy players may be switching codes soon!
In a later question and answer session Kiwi pointed out that the young lads who look to be good enough train with the first team squad to really push them on. Names to look out for include Adam Billig (centre), James Hamilton (Lock), Luke Abraham (No 8) and Matt Hampton (Tight Head prop - only 17!)
Currently the club have no intention of recruiting at an earlier stage (soccer starts at age 9), because they want to help the junior clubs in coaching the basics, but make sure that the kids actually enjoy the game - something that Andy feels doesn't necessarily happen with the young soccer players.
The master looked back on the start of his coaching career and paid generous tribute to Bob Dwyer, who he said was the only man who could have taken Tigers into the professional era, to John Wells - the finest forwards coach in the Northern Hemisphere and to Andy Key, whose work with the Academy has been exceptional.
Recruitment has also been vital to the teams progress - Joel Stransky helped the backs, then Pat Howard asked them different questions and moved them on. Now Rod provides a further challenge and keeps the team striving to improve. When his time is over Dean will look again for someone to move them forwards again.
At the start of his first full season in charge the squad went away to France for pre-season training - at the base of the Alps, where the pitch was a 1 in 2 climb every day - so absolutely perfect. Towards the end of the stay the squad was asked to set goals for the season - they were left to do this on their own, with the coaches absent. The result was that they wanted to win everything! Every year they do the same exercise - and guess what? They still want to win everything!
Sometimes luck comes into it - in the European Cup, the squad allowed is only thirty players in the group phase (you can add another two at the quarter finals). If you get two or three key injuries you can be out before you start - look at 1999/2000 when Darren was injured and the group phase was a disaster for us. Equally you, or the referee, can have a bad day. Powergen Cup decided by Tony Spreadbury, who at least had the grace to come to Leicester and go through the video and admit to a stinker.
This year is interesting because of the games limit on players of 35. Given natural wastage like injury or suspension most players will be OK. Ben Kay is the only player we may have a problem with, and (touch wood) he'll hit 36 at the Heineken Cup Final. Nobody's going to stop him playing in the European Cup Final!
Goals feature heavily for the Tigers, throughout the season short term goals are set for groups of matches, number of wins, tackle counts and percentages, line out percentages and others, just to help keep the players focussed.
During the question and answer session Deano addressed the penalty count question. Players who give away penalties are carpeted, but when you study the videos the problem often is that the Tigers players are too quick for the referee and haven't done anything illegal.
Josh Kronfeld and Neil Back are both exceptionally good at changing body position after a tackle to compete legally for the ball, but the referees often miss it. The example of the penalty against Rod for offside near the Harlequins line in the Powergen Cup quarter final was used. On the video it was plain that he had retreated to on side, reacted properly to the move, but the referee had penalised him because of his speed of reaction.
Next we talked about Johnno - big surprise! The first 4 ½ hours of the hearing had been about jurisdiction, after that they pleaded guilty to the incident itself. The appeal has been made as a matter of principle, both in terms of double jeopardy, but also because the authority of referees will be undermined.
Only the referee knows how a game is going, the conditions and the spirit, and therefore they are best placed to make these decisions. The RFU made it clear that Johnno was only there because of who he was, which the club, and the PRP, feels is wrong.
Martin wasn't played against Northampton because the club felt that the appeal was being made as a matter of principle, not as a means of allowing him to play when we were suffering from injuries.
On the subject of the appeal, it was submitted, and the RFU confirmed that it had been accepted, the club were then contacted by the press to say that Robert Horner had said it hadn't been accepted because Martin needed to sign it!
Dean praised the system in rugby league, where the referee puts a matter on report, it's looked at within 24 hours, and you get a result within 72 hours.
Our old lads still keep in touch. Joel was over here at Christmas getting his other knee looked at - it seems that one's going too.
Log has finished his degree in Canada and is considering a move back to England to play some rugby.
Craig Joiner's not having a great time in Scotland and is also looking to get back to this side of Hadrian's Wall.
Fritz has now opened a chain of Pawn (that's pawn) Shops in South Africa.
None have had a hair transplant!
When to play?
The boys apparently enjoy the atmosphere of evening kick offs, but we usually try to play on Saturday afternoons, and since we haven't been beaten for four years we're obviously getting something right!
The "burden" of the home record is seen as very positive, because teams hate coming to Welford Rd - they know whoever plays for the Tigers will be desperate to win and that makes it all the harder for the visitors.
The Leeds game is causing discussion at the moment, the preferred date for English rugby is 20th April, but Dean would like a full weekend off before the Llanelli game - watch this space (and if it is 20th April - watch the team sheet).
The club carefully profile all the referees they come up against to try to ensure that they will play to his interpretation. That doesn't help when the referee completely changes his style for the game, or when the touch judge starts coming in and making bizarre decisions!
Equally in Europe when you've requested a meeting with the referee to ensure your team knows his interpretations, are told that no communication is allowed, then you find out the referee went out for a meal with the opposition coach the night before the game, you begin to worry a little!
The other problem for English clubs in Europe in particular is the fact that the referees in the Premiership don't allow anything to go on, on the floor. This isn't always the case with other nations. Obviously it's difficult for players to change their play for one off matches.
The evening then broke up, and headed for the bar, after expressing thanks to Deano and Kiwi for a really enjoyable evening