Leicester Tigers fly-half Johnny McPhillips is ‘itching to play’ for his new club after a summer move from Ulster Rugby.
The 22-year-old will be the first of head coach Geordan Murphy’s new arrivals to wear Tigers colours in the new season, as he leads out an exciting young squad at the Premiership Rugby Sevens this weekend.
“Things are shaping up nicely, and the boys are just ready for games now,” he says, when asked about the prospect of leading the side out in the competition.
“Pre-season has been pretty long but good, to be fair. We’ve progressed quite a lot as a team as well as individuals, and it’s been good to get some extra fitness in and have a bit more time to work on rugby content.
“I think it’s got to that stage now – ask any player at any club – where we’re just itching to play.”
“The whole environment is challenging us all to get better.”Johnny McPhillips
Following the Sevens curtain-raiser, the extended game’s season kicks off for Tigers away to Worcester Warriors in the Premiership Rugby Cup, with fixtures to follow against Exeter, Bath and Northampton Saints.
The league campaign gets underway a full month later, on Saturday, October 12.
For McPhillips, two days of Sevens action will help him get back into the game-time groove.
“I suppose it’s a little bit of a case of dusting off the cobwebs of match fitness,” he explains.
“You can expect the lungs to be burning up a bit, but given we have both the Friday and Saturday, it’ll be a good test on the body.
“It’ll give us that good first hit-out which will be needed when the ‘real’ games come around.”
Adaptability is certainly in McPhillips’ repertoire.
Born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Irish parents, McPhillips spent five years in Newcastle United’s academy before turning to rugby at Sedbergh School in Cumbria.
He linked up with Ulster in his father’s native Belfast as a fly-half – with the ability to cover full-back and other spots in the backline – and earned Under-20s caps for Ireland across the park.
He explains: “When you’re young, it’s important to be versatile.
“We’ve got a world-class squad here, especially when everyone’s fit, so it’s certainly a strength if you can play as many different positions as possible.”
Testing himself in different positions, disciplines and environments was a key reason for McPhillips’ move back to England, and he says the opportunity to link up with Tigers was a ‘no-brainer’.
“I was at the stage in my career where a change in environment was what was needed for me,” he continues. “I had a good time at Ulster, I learned a lot in a strong group of players, but I just thought it was time for a fresh start.
“When an opportunity like this arose it was kind of a no-brainer; to challenge myself in a new environment with new coaches, new players, and playing in a different league … I just thought ‘I’ve got to take it’.”
Having played alongside new squad-mates Sam Aspland-Robinson and George Worth at age-grade level, as well as against new house-mate and fellow new arrival Joe Thomas, the versatile back was quick to settle into life in Leicester.
He adds: “It’s been dead easy to fit in, to be fair. All the boys have been dead-on, the coaches have been sound, and it’s a perfect environment to come into.
“Everyone wants to get better, everyone wants to learn, and the coaches have got a clear plan in place which is really good and easy to follow.
“The whole environment is challenging us all to get better. It’s been a really smooth transition and everything that I could have hoped for so far.”