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Allen looks back on Shield season

“It’s not always about the results.”

They are not the words you would expect to hear from a coach.

Take in to account that the coach is Ant Allen, regarded as one of the fiercest competitors to have worn a Tigers shirt, and it is an even stranger thought.

However, as he continues on and you learn more about what it is he’s discussing, the comment starts to take shape within the context and why having Allen in a role focused on developing the next generation of Leicester Tigers stars is anything but strange.

Allen’s season however, has been a strange one.

At the start of the year, coming off a successful 2017/18 campaign with the Tigers Academy, Allen was to once again take lead of the Leicester youngsters in their bid to claim back-to-back Under-18 League titles.

That feat was achieved, eventually, but with no part played by Allen except for overseeing the opening weeks of the pre-season programme.

When then Tigers head coach Matt O’Connor departed the club and Geordan Murphy was thrust in to the top job, the domino effect saw Allen promoted from the Academy into the senior coaching team.

With that came the role of taking over as the senior coach for the club’s Premiership Shield campaign, a role occupied by Brett Deacon last season – who would know take on the role of leading the side through the Premiership Cup, which Murphy had been in charge of.

As supporters will recall, it all happened quite quickly and only one round in to the season, but not as quick as it did for Allen and other residents of desks in the coaching room.

“It was all very sudden, I think it actually happened on a Premiership Shield match night,” Allen recalls.

“Obviously the move up for Geordie meant a reshuffle in roles that Matt occupied and Brett took on a different job, then I came in as a support for Geordan with the attack and then Deacs and I got the gigs with the Cup and Shield.”

Now, almost eight months later, Allen is looking back on his debut season in charge of a senior side and reflecting on what he admits has been an 'up and down' year for the development squad.

“It has definitely been an up and down year for those who have featured in the Shield,” agrees Allen.

“But, in this competition, ultimately, it’s not always about the results.”

You can breathe; it all makes sense now.

There is that context we promised around Allen’s remarks, which he follows with even more – justifying the words.

“We don’t ever go out with any other intention than to win, of course, but it’s a development competition and involves a lot of moving parts coming together very quickly before each game,” he adds.

Premiership Shield teams can involve not just only a mix of international players and members of the club’s Academy, including some who are still at school, but can also have team mates meeting for the first time just hours before kick-off.

“Obviously we have a mix of players – first teamers coming back from injury or in need of game time, players on loan from other leagues and clubs and then younger guys who are getting exposed and a first look in to men’s rugby,” says Allen.

“We have been very fortunate this season in that those guys that have come in on loan have been outstanding and contributed a lot when they’ve come in to the group.

“Then, there are those young guys who come in after having a good year for the Academy and that is very pleasing for us to see them make their next step.

“It’s also really healthy for them to step up and experience different standards of play, but mostly to get an exposure of mixed results for their development and understand how they should deal with that – as well as how senior, more experienced guys do.”

The club’s Shield season came to an end with a loss on Easter weekend, away to Northampton, in an exciting affair between two sides embracing the summer-like conditions with an attacking mind set for 80 minutes.

“It’s an interesting dynamic in a group like that, so it’s a good test for me and other coaches in ensuring we’re clear and leading well."

Looking at the match with one eye on the bigger picture, Allen admits it was a reflection of the Shield season as a whole.

“The match against Saints was almost a reflection of the campaign for us,” says Allen.

“In terms of the squad, we had a mix of guys in their early 30s and final years of the game, alongside some of the most exciting talent coming through the Academy at the club and several players as guests for the day.

“Despite the mixing and matching of bodies, we showed some real skill and intent to play the game in an exciting and entertaining way – which led to points.

“Then, unfortunately, a few costly errors and what you could put down to lack of experience as a group, and the Wanderers put enough points on the board to hold on for the win.

“As I said, we went out there to win, but the result itself wasn’t the most important thing on the day.”

The competition doesn’t just provide opportunities for young players, but also young coaches like Allen and the 32-year-old shared exactly what he has taken from the season in the Shield’s top job at Tigers.

“What do I get from it? Hmm...” he ponders.

“I get exposure to not having a lot of prep time, a group of players that don’t know each other that well and then delivering the really important information to them and making sure they get that right.

“It’s an interesting dynamic in a group like that, so it’s a good test for me and other coaches in ensuring we’re clear and leading well.

“We learn a lot at the same time that we’re trying to pass on as much as we can, in that short period of time … it’s a great way to be exposed to the role and to making sure what you say is the right thing at the right time.”