EXCLUSIVE: England legend and World Cup winner Lewis Moody talks Leicester’s ‘meteoric change’, Steve Borthwick’s ‘big impact’ and Ellis Genge’s ‘bulldog-style figure’ ahead of a blockbuster Premiership final against Saracens on Saturday
- Leicester Tigers face Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership Final on Saturday
- Both sides have enjoyed a fairytale return to bounce back in the last two years
- World Cup winner Lewis Moody won seven Premiership titles with the Tigers
- He talks about the ‘big impact’ head coach Steve Borthwick has had on Leicester
- The former flanker has hailed the ‘inspirational leadership’ of prop Ellis Genge
With seven Premiership titles in his locker, former Leicester and England flanker Lewis Moody knows a thing or two about what it takes to win English rugby’s biggest domestic prize.
Moody helped England to World Cup glory in 2003, captained his country, and also made three Test appearances for the British & Irish Lions in a glittering career.
But it was in a 14-year stint at Leicester that Moody became most used to the sweet taste of victory.
‘I’ve absolutely loved watching Leicester’: Lewis Moody was in full praise of his former club
He was part of an all-conquering Tigers side that swept all before them not only on the Premiership stage, but in Europe too. That team was led by the great Martin Johnson.
Leicester’s class of 2022 is captained by Ellis Genge. On Saturday, they will face Saracens in the Premiership final at Twickenham just 80 minutes away from what would be an 11th title.
Such a prospect would have been unthinkable two years ago.
Were it not for Saracens’ mammoth points deduction for salary cap breaches, Leicester would have been relegated in the 2019/20 season. Both clubs are now back at the right end of the table.
‘It’s been a remarkable season. I’ve absolutely loved watching Leicester,’ Moody, now 44, told Sportsmail. ‘There has not been a huge change in the playing personnel this year but there has been a meteoric change in the performance.
‘Some of that has got to be down to the fact that in a couple of tough years, young players like Freddie Steward were given the opportunity to play.
‘Back in the days of the 1990’s and 2000’s when we were winning left, right and centre, opportunities arose for players like myself and Ben Kay when the internationals were away.
‘It feels like the same has happened now.’
Moody’s ex-England team-mate Steve Borthwick masterminded Leicester’s resurgence
In the highest of compliments, Moody believes Leicester’s current crop possesses many of the same attributes his Tigers team did a decade or more ago.
‘For me it’s epitomised by the captain who has taken over from Tom Youngs. Ellis is just that terrier or bulldog-style figure,’ Moody added.
‘He can be reckless and it makes us all a little bit nervous because you never quite know what he’s going to do next. But what you do know is he’ll give 100 per cent commitment.
‘There is an element of Ellis that reminds me of Johnno who was also reckless at times because he was so bloody committed to the cause.
‘He was so hyped up and determined to lead by example, yet at the same time he developed a cool, calm head when it was needed.
‘It was inspirational leadership. There was no need for words from Johnno. He was someone you followed and wanted to follow.
‘Ellis is just that terrier or bulldog-style figure’: Moody believes Ellis Genge is a superb leader
‘I’ve loved watching Ellis play this year. He’s been brilliant and I’m genuinely really gutted he’s leaving. It feels like the old Leicester dog is returning.
‘Having seen them finish top of every single round it’s been remarkable, but none of that matters unless they win at the weekend.’
Moody’s former England team-mate Steve Borthwick has been the man to mastermind Leicester’s resurgence, taking them from the wrong end of the table to the top as head coach.
This season, the Tigers finished at the summit for each round of the campaign, becoming the first team in Premiership history to do so.
Borthwick worked under England head coach Eddie Jones and is the leading candidate to succeed the Australian when he departs after next year’s World Cup in France.
‘Anyone who played with Steve knew he would have a future in coaching because of the level of attention he delivered to his game, particularly in the line-out which he led for so long,’ Moody added.
‘He was an England captain for a reason and has had a big impact at Leicester.
‘Steve is very quiet and knows what he is good at and not so good at. As a person he would be very happy to turn up to work, do his job, and go home.
‘What he is maybe not so good at is energising players and that side of things, so where I think he has been really clever is in the way he has appointed people around him who fill his knowledge gaps and are experts in their areas.
Moody was part of Martin Johnson’s England side which triumphed at the World Cup in 2003
‘Kevin Sinfield and Aled Walters have been really clever appointments. Kevin in particular reminds me a little bit of Andy Farrell in the way he gets a team going.
‘I’ve always been a big believer in the motto that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Steve has done an unbelievable job with Leicester and he has coached at international level with Japan and England so does have experience there.
‘Does Steve want to be the next England head coach? Only he knows that but I think he would do a very good job and would be among the leading contenders to succeed Eddie. There are a lot of good English coaches out there.
‘Rob Baxter is one, but I’m not sure if he wants the job. I think he’s happy at Exeter. It’s a big call for England to make but I think Steve would be a very good choice.’
Like Leicester, Saracens have also had a remarkable turnaround of their own after returning to the Premiership following their relegation for salary cap breaches in 2020.
Both teams will be looking to crown their respective resurgences with silverware.
‘For Leicester to finish as winners would be as great as any of the club’s other achievements. I think it would be huge for the club,’ Moody said.
George Ford scored the opening try in Leicester’s 27-14 semi-final win against Northampton
‘Everyone at Leicester knows nothing has been done until Saturday’s final. It will be a failure if they don’t win.
‘The only caveat to that is they’ve had such an incredible turnaround that I’m sure they will take a huge amount from this season, but it will still end in disappointment if they lose.
‘There have been a lot of changes made and were they to win, it would rank right up there with any of the victories we had in my time in the team. That’s because they’ve had to start again.
‘It feels like Leicester have been at rock bottom for the last two seasons. I remember chatting to my old team-mates and we said it will take years to get back to where we need to be.
‘We said that because it’s what we genuinely believed.
‘To turn it around this quickly in such an impressive style and to be so consistently dominant against the best sides has been amazing to watch.’
Lewis Moody is rugby union ambassador for The Drake Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation committed to funding research into the health effects of head injuries. For more information visit www.drakefoundation.org
The crucial match-ups
Lewis Moody talks Sportsmail through the big match ups in Saturday’s Premiership final between his old club Leicester and Saracens…
George Ford vs Owen Farrell
Both of these guys have been fantastic players for their clubs and for England and they will want to stamp their mark on the game.
Ford and Farrell are good friends and have been international team-mates for a long time, but I think they will want to prove a point on who is best at Twickenham.
Owen has been injured but is back playing some great rugby. Ford has been forgotten by England but will want to show why that shouldn’t be the case. He was on fire in the semi-finals. It’s a great match-up.
Freddie Steward vs Alex Goode
Both Leicester and Saracens play a very similar style of rugby. They don’t take many risks – certainly not in their own half – and kick a lot of possession away looking to force the opposition into mistakes.
I think there will be a lot of kicking at Twickenham which will mean the two full-backs will be very busy. Whoever is best under the high ball will help their team hugely. Steward is exceptional in that area.
Julian Montoya vs Jamie George
Jamie is great to watch! Some of the skills he has are ridiculous for a hooker. You look at him going on Soccer AM and sticking a volley ‘top bins’ and it makes you realise how talented a sportsman he is.
He can do everything! Montoya is more of an old school hooker, really physical and abrasive but those are qualities Jamie has too. I think whoever wins the forward battle will win the game.
What’s your prediction?
It’s so difficult to call. I think the two best teams have made the final because they finished first and second.
Leicester have been top all year but that will mean nothing if they don’t win today. It will be very difficult for them to beat Saracens, but I’ll go with my heart and think they might just sneak it!
Ultimately it’s going to be about who turns up and delivers on the day. You’d like to think that with Leicester having been top all year they’ll be able to do it. But we know how good Saracens are at winning and that makes me really nervous.
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