One of the features of the Leicester Tigers squad recently has been the re-appearance of players enjoying a second spell at the club and who are determined to make the most of it.
Academy graduates George Ford, Calum Green, Ryan Bower and Charlie Clare have all re-joined Tigers as senior players, while Andy Forsyth and David Williams have been back as loan signings.
Clare, a former academy captain, admits the conversation about a return was a short one.
“I’d had a conversation with Leicester probably once a year ever since I first left,” says Clare, now 28 years old and settling back into top-flight rugby.
“There was nothing concrete or anything, but then this time there was call from my agent. It was a very short conversation.”
After a spell with Jersey, he went to Bedford and Northampton before his return.
“Being from Norfolk, my family had that attachment to Tigers,” he says
“In one of my first games for Saints, my dad turned up in his Tigers jacket. Dusty [Hare] was with them at the time and said ‘You might want to take that off’.
“But my family were excited when I told them I was coming back.”
Green, another former academy captain from Norfolk, did make a senior breakthrough in his first stint, including starting the famous win over world champions South Africa in 2009.
When he returned last summer, former team-mates Geordan Murphy, Boris Stankovich and Brett Deacon were among the coach staff while he had gained a reputation as one of the unsung stars of Premiership rugby.
“I’ve got a lot of the same standards that were hammered into me from the academy side and when I first moved into the first-team here,” he said on his return. “And I’ve tried to keep that through my whole career.
“This has always been my club. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy playing for other clubs, but when you grow up with the academy here, it stays with you.
“They are the years you learn a lot about yourself and grow up, and you keep that.
“When the opportunity came to come back it was a no-brainer for me.”
Forsyth also played on that historic night against the Springboks while still a teenager and he has now had a couple of spells back in Leicester.
After playing eight times for Tigers at the start of this season, he returned to Coventry before donning Leicester kit again with the Championship campaign in suspension.
After the early-season Cup win over Exeter Chiefs, he said he was “loving every minute” of being back in the city where he made his professional debut a decade ago.
Among the group to follow Forsyth through the academy, local-born wing Williams had to wait patiently for his Tigers debut, at Exeter in August, but thought his chance had gone when he graduated from the academy.
Brought up in Aylestone, he played junior rugby at Vipers and Lutterworth. After leaving thr academy, he went to Ebbw Vale and then became a key part of the team at Nottingham while also studying for a degree at Nottingham Trent University. Now he’s back and determined to make the most of the opportunity.
“This is where I grew up, it’s the team I’ve always supported, and it was always the ultimate goal to get back here,” Williams said.
“I’m thrilled to be back and I’m glad everything that I put into my work and my training has come off so far.”
In previous years, the list of players signing for a second time includes Richard Cockerill, Dorian West and Jamie Hamilton; Matt Cornwell, Michael Holford and Jimmy Stevens; and, earlier, Bob Rowell.
Andy Goode and James Grindal, who arrived as teenagers and shared great success, also both returned later in their careers.
Their former team-mate Brett Deacon is now on the coaching staff after two spells as a player here.
He followed older brother Louis into the first-team, played in Premiership and European Finals for his hometown club, and returned after a spell at Gloucester.
He captained Gloucester at Welford Road in an epic 41-41 draw and recalls: “My grandad wore a Gloucester shirt with a Leicester shirt over the top that day. It was a sweltering day and he probably regretted doing it, but the draw would have been the perfect result for him!”
At that point, Deacon could not have contemplated that he would return for the final years of his playing career.
“One of the hardest parts of the decision to leave was thinking I’d never get a chance to wear the shirt again,” he says now.
“When you think back to when you first have that dream of playing for Tigers and think about all the effort and hard work it took to get there, and then you get the opportunity in the first-team and you think of it as your shirt.
“You want to keep that shirt. I never really thought about it as someone else’s shirt, I wanted to think it was mine. That’s the way to make it your own.”
This is an extract from a feature which first appeared in the Tigers programme for the game against Northampton Saints. The programme is available to view and download online free