Leicester Tigers are a breed apart in the Aviva Premiership. Their 37-17 victory over Northampton Saints in last year’s final marked their ninth consecutive appearance at finals day.
In that time they have topped the league table four times and won the showpiece event, Finals Day, four times. Those nine appearances in the final have seen them face seven different opponents.
Surely that means there is some pressure on their new captain, England fly-half Toby Flood, as he starts his new job?
“This is not a tough job, I think most people could do it,” jokes Flood in an exclusive interview with GiveMeSport. The number 10 appears is in bullish mood ahead of the club’s opening fixture against Worcester next weekend.
“To be honest, you’re looking after a very well maintained, very well managed and extremely motivated group of guys. They’re driven, they get on with their work and all they want to do is succeed. I’m also joined in the squad by some great blokes and some outstanding leaders. That makes it pretty simple for me!”
Flood has endured a strange summer; overlooked for the Lions tour (unlike six of his Welford Road team-mates), he then led Leicester to the Premiership title in the absence of club legend Geordan Murphy before being rested for England’s summer tour to Argentina, as Stuart Lancaster looked to give youngsters a chance. Since then, he has been appointed Leicester skipper on a full-time basis as Murphy hung up his boots to join the club’s coaching staff.
“It’s nice actually, because it’s been a while since I’ve not been on a summer tour,” adds Flood, nursing a black eye that tells the story of a gruelling pre-season. “There’s two sides to it - it means that pre-season is normal which is really tough, lots of gym time and that’s not ideal! But at the same time, I went on holiday for three weeks which was great, although that feels a long time ago now!”
Despite his absence from the summer touring party, Flood has retained his place in Lancaster’s Elite Performance Squad for the 2013/14 season and, with 57 caps, is the most experienced man in the England camp.
As with the national team, having just turned 28, and entering his sixth season with the Tigers, Flood is one of the club’s oldest and wisest heads and feels that his summer off has had another advantage - it provided him with an opportunity to mix with some of the club’s newest and youngest staff before the season kicked off. Despite being a relative veteran of nearly 100 Premiership appearances for the Tigers, Flood believes that the club’s young tyros are keeping him on his toes.
“It’s great to have seen the young guys and the new guys come in and been with them since the start, listening to them and see what their thoughts are on whats happening at the club,” says Flood, with the enthusiasm of a kid straight out of school.
“Bringing young guys in drives us older guys forward! For instance, in my position, we’ve brought Ryan Lamb and Owen Williams in. Owen is desperately hungry to learn and has a huge desire to improve and seeing that at my age because it just encourages you to get better and keep working.”
On the new season, Flood is certain that Leicester are not going to be a club resting on their laurels.
“We’ve brought in a couple of French boys which will be interesting. David Mélé looks a cracking footballer and will push Ben Youngs very hard at scrum-half - that shows how highly we rate him,” he adds.
“We set ourselves levels and standards: you’re never late, you always give 100%. That’s the continuity we talk about. Not continuity of results but continuity of getting it right on and off the field and setting standards. Those standards are not for the benefit of anybody outside the club, they are entirely for us.
“We had six guys away with the Lions who joined up late with us after having a month off. They came back and knew they had to be on the money and perform by those standards that we set. Five of them are former academy boys and the one who isn’t (Geoff Parling) has been here a long time and works as hard as anyone - they’ve come back and set an example, just by their actions, as to how important it is to be a Leicester player and do the right thing.”
Now, however, with just a week to go and with a long pre-season behind him, Flood cannot wait to kick off Leicester’s 2013/14 season at Welford Road next weekend against a new-look Worcester.
Unsurprisingly, Flood’s not taking anything for granted and is in a typically bullish mood.
“Saturday will be absolutely outstanding. To have Worcester at home, to get in front of our crowd and work hard. But Worcester will be really interesting this year, the Director of Rugby (Dean Ryan), it’s going to be tough - people have been talking about a real shift in dynamic there,” he concludes as GMS is ushered away from the player.
“But in some ways that makes you makes you concentrate even more on yourself because we can’t manage what’s going on there. We’ll just deal with ourselves and make sure we are firing from the word go.
“Every club is saying they’ve had a great pre-season but ultimately, six games in, we’ll find out who has had a great pre-season and who is in the right shape. That’s exactly where we are.”
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