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Writing Chapter Two: Scouting

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This is the fourth part of a multi-part series on the evolution of Leicester Tigers Women from Year 1 to Year 2 as they prepare for their first season in Premiership Women's Rugby. This is the writing of a new history.

On February 9, 1964, 60% of the total television watching audience in the USA, equivelant to 73 million people, tuned in to the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ to witness The Beatles. 

They were the first entertainment act to stage a concert in a sports stadium in 1965 and ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ remains the highest selling studio album of all time.     

The Liverpudlian quartet, although not the first musicians to achieve worldwide recognition, took on a global audience the likes of which had never been seen before, creating a cultural phenomenon of ‘Beatlemania’ and ‘pop music’s big bang moment’ in an incredibly short space of time

The Leicester Tigers women’s team have also seen the club achieve a sense of ‘going global’ at a rate perhaps not anticipated after only taking to the field for the first time as a collective less than 12 months ago. 

The team can now boast players with international honours across four continents, a national team captain and multiple World Cup finalists, a global expansion with a trajectory that takes on a similar verticality to that of the Cavern Club to the a primetime US talk show. It remains to be seen whether the team will end up ‘bigger than Jesus.

Here we analyse the way that this international team has been assembled and exactly how this year will see players making the journey from their homes in Washington state near the West Coast of the USA to come be a part of a new history in Leicester. 

What was the process prior to this year?

We first set up the team two years ago by partnering with Lichfield.

The ‘ground-breaking’ agreement, signed in August 2021, saw the team’s first incarnation play the 2021/22 season as Lichfield-Leicester Tigers prior to last year’s Championship North 1 campaign. 

Tigers Chief Executive Officer Andrea Pinchen, speaking in 2021 talked of how ““We have had a good relationship with Lichfield over many years and their influence on the women’s game has been massive, not least in developing numerous internationals including Vicky Macqueen, Emily Scarratt and Heather Fisher.”

“Lichfield will be fantastic advisors on our journey and we will work with them at all levels to ensure their legacy continues and more women and girls take up the game”.

Vicky Macqueen, in an article with BBC Sport surrounding the team’s creation, talked about how "Lichfield have such a historic place in the game. It would have been criminal for them not to have something to do with this.”

A club with such historic roots in helping women’s rugby gather the momentum it enjoys today, with records being broken and glass ceilings shattered across the game, it’s only right that Lichfield were a key pillar in the team’s embryonic stages.  

Therefore, when the two teams separated into individual entity’s, it made sense to draw largely from that team, with the likes of Roisin McBrien*** and Katie Childs*** coming in, eager to buy in to the fledgling Tigers project. 

The club also held a pair of open training session which invited both rugby players and established athletes with high potential, from across the Midlands to come to Oval Park and Mattioli Woods Welford Road and stake their claim for a place in the squad. 

Management estimates that there was around a 50/50 split for those who had come through Lichfield and who had tried out through our open sessions. 

A key underlying element to all of this is that Tigers didn’t want to just raid other clubs: we wanted to create this top talent ourselves or help bring them back into rugby altogether. Core tenants of this team from last year were Jade Jones and Ofure Ugiagbe, both of whom had become disillusioned with the sport due to a myriad of factors but both started in the Championship play-off final this year and have become key players in the squad.  

However, despite the continued belief that there was, and still is, huge pools of talent that can be brought back into rugby, with the team heading for a landmark Premiership season,  the first attempt at the elite level of rugby for the vast majority of the squad, it was clear that the recruitment process must evolve.

After all, this is Leicester Tigers. It was time to go global. 

How has the process evolved?

There is a fine art to scouting women’s rugby online as there is simply a substantial dearth of content.

Even at the level of the Red Roses; aside from highlight videos from World Cups there is simply a distinct lack of video footage from these games. 

Consequently, the eventual scouting process became an amalgamation of factors underlined by a certain meticulousness to ensure these were the correct moves for the club. 

The team were combing through full matches and analysing highlight videos to the nth degree. 

But, with such a struggle for substantial footage, a key part of this recruitment is using the contacts accrued by the management team over the years. 

There’s the old adage that it’s not what you know it’s who you know and it’s never rung truer than when Vicky Macqueen gets out ‘the little black book’. A more old-school method of scouting, the former Red Rose has accrued a litany of knowledgeable contacts across her years in the game, whether through playing, coaching or as the owner of didi Rugby. 

Through Macqueen’s connections (as well as those of the coaching team and Head of Global Partnerships Scott Clark), we were able back up our analysis of a players skillset or mindset with first-hand testimonials from coaches or fellow teammates. 

This is where a full world of signings truly opened up, with international coaches keen for their stars to have regular gametime at the top level. National players from Scotland and the USA both feature heavily in the team’s incomings as the coaches were keen to see what positions we needed to fill and how both parties could mutually benefit as a result. The club also works with the International medical teams in order to design bespoke programmes for players and ensure synchronisation across all of their rugby.

Keia Mae Sagapolu is a perfect example of this process in action. The team were already extremely enticed by a selection of thrilling highlights, a try from your own half by a prop will always excite a rugby fan, and exceptional accolades and this initial analysis was supported by the Eagles’ top brass, eager for the tighthead to continue her upward trajectory by testing herself against the best. 

The management team would hold regular meetings to present names they had discovered on their international missions and an extensive depth chart was created to ensure a balanced squad. This meant talent (both proven and pending polish) across all positions, with priorities established and then evolving as players agreed contracts.

A massive part of any successful venture is a slice of luck and in this instance, it came in the form of Amy Cokayne

The 72-cap England international was the proverbial first domino for the club. With one of her first steps in rugby being at Lichfield at Under-10’s level and it being her club of choice upon her return to the UK from New Zealand, Cokayne’s desire to come home coupled with genuine excitement around the burgeoning women’s programme at Tigers meant the club were able to secure one of the best in the world right as the summer began.

When you sign a world-class player with the credentials in rugby that Amy Cokayne possess’, it shows you mean business. Not only did the signing mean that the club were able to lock down one of the most key positions on the field, it meant it emboldened both players looking to join as to the viability of this project but, it also emboldened the scouts to open talks with top-level talent.  

It was an exciting process. 

Trying to build a Premiership squad to take on the established elite of the league is like something out of a video game and the sense of satisfaction of landing a key target, especially over league rivals, can be a real thrill, despite the sleepless nights the chase may have caused. 

The final squad, forged from the fires of those victorious in Championship North 1, players wanting to establish themselves at the elite level of the game and the oft-quoted ‘sprinkle of stardust’, is a bubbling cauldron of talent united by a singular goal: hunger.

Across all levels of the scouting process, it was stressed that the underlying consistency to all players must be that they possess a hunger to succeed, an unyielding commitment to buy-in to a programme that is still finding its feet amongst the elite. 

Senior coach Tom Hudson has been keen to stress from Day 1 of pre-season that things will not be perfect at Leicester Tigers: it’s a learning process and one that will only get better but one that will still falter at times. Oaks Park, our new facility, hadn’t even begun to be renovated. We had never played in the Premiership and were lead by a coach who had never managed there. 

However, this means those who have bought in are able to help shape the club, to steer its path; we wanted trailblazers who were had the desire to pull Leicester Tigers from nothing into something that, over time, we believe will become very special. 

This programme belongs to the players as much as it does anyone else. 

Tickets to our first game of the 2023/24 season are on sale now!

Our Allianz Cup fixture against Exeter Chiefs is confirmed for Saturday, October 28 (kick-off: 2pm).

Our first home games of the Premiership Women's Rugby season, with another huge matchup against Exeter Chiefs (w/e 18 November) and a local derby with Loughborough Lightning (w/e 02 December) on the horizon, will be confirmed shortly. Please check back on our social channels and LeicesterTigers.com for more information.