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Rugby News

Proud Wigglesworth praises tight Tigers group

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After a weekend without a fixture, Richard Wigglesworth’s Leicester Tigers side return to action in the Gallagher Premiership against an in-form Bristol Bears side on Saturday (March 25) at Mattioli Woods Welford Road.

Both sides come into the battle on the back of four successive league wins and will welcome back internationals following the completion of this season’s Guinness Six Nations.

However, while Wigglesworth is pleased to be seeing more bodies back in the Oval Park changing room and welcomes the selection headache ahead of Round 21, the Had Coach knows the challenges remain aplenty for he and his players.

“It’s great to have a handful of guys back in the mix this week after a few months, but we’re not overflowing with depth given the injury list and equally aware that those coming back are doing so on the back of a testing couple of weeks,” said Wigglesworth.

“The four guys who featured in Dublin, as well as Tommy with Wales, have had a testing period and aren’t necessarily walking back in fresh from a holiday.

“In fact, it’s quite the opposite and we’ll need the manage them properly to get the best out of them in this next few weeks.

Ollie Chessum, who had his season ended with a training injury in camp with the national side last week, is just one of several players Wigglesworth cannot pick from on top of making calls on those back from international duty.

While disappointed Chessum won’t be on the training paddock preparing for Bristol, Wigglesworth added that it was another challenge for the group to overcome.

“It’s disappointing for not just us, but Ollie as well that his season is over, but he’ll be back bigger and better in the summer,” said the Tigers Head Coach.

“His nature is one that is about getting on with it. We all know he’ll work hard to be better when he gets back on the field.

“In fact, that’s just the nature of this group, they face challenges head on. I don’t know that in all my years I have experienced a season like this, where new challenges seem to be thrown at us every week.

“Whether that be the unique changes we have experienced, in the middle of a campaign, or an unavailable list in the double figures since the very first week of the season, this group has continually been tested.

“We haven’t had the luxury in these past few months of giving guys a rest; I’ve had to call on guys to get themselves ready for a game when in other situations we may have given them time to get over bumps and bruises they have.

“All I’ll say about that though is that nobody has made an excuse for any of it, they have just kept turning up - every day, not just on the weekend - for one another, for the club.”

While missing as many as a dozen Test players at times since the New Year could have seen standards dip in performance or effort, Wigglesworth said it has been the opposite.

“There are standards they have established at this club among each other which are non negotiable and as of late they have been tested,” he said.

“The players that have been here, whether they’re 100 Test veterans or young guys with single digit appearances in senior rugby, have never dipped.

“That is down to every single one of them, they have just not allowed any of it to dip and continually driven what we expect to the levels we expect them. I cannot fault the effort of this group and I don’t think anyone would disagree with me when you look at the way they have gone about their work on the field.”

Off the pitch, players have also shown a level of support that Wigglesworth says is a testament to their commitment to one another.

Injured players car-pooling to away games to add their voices to the travelling Tigers fans in the stands, doubling up commercial activities with numbers stretched or, on their weekend off, spending the night on bikes alongside Will Findlay during his #250in50 Challenge.

These are just some of the examples of a Leicester squad who have got each other's backs.

“When we went to London Irish and Gloucester, blokes who weren’t selected or sidelined through injury made their way to each game to cheer on their mates,” the Head Coach said.

“They aren’t required to be there and have to make their own way, sort their tickets and just did it. No fuss, no advertising it, just got themselves there and we saw them post-match.

“People think lads train and play, but there’s more that goes on and with those commitments still required with less players around, players were sorting out themselves to cover for one another and meet the requirements we have as a club.

“Then, you just look at the amount of players and staff that gave up their weekend off to either run with Will [Findlay] or joined his support team, it’s nothing short of incredible.

“Nobody is asked to do it, the people at this club just get on with it and they do that off the field as much as they do on it.

James Whitcombe, for example, basically spent Friday night up until Sunday afternoon at the stadium to be a part of Will’s challenge. Joe Browning did the same and players like Charlie Clare, Harry Potter, Harry Wells, Guy Porter, Julián Montoya, Ben Youngs, Eli Snyman, Francois van Wyk, as well as plenty of young guys, were all there on multiple times throughout the 50 hours.

“I am sure I am missing some too, as there were dozens that got themselves down there at ridiculous hours and stayed for several hours or even longer to support their mate and support each other.”

Wigglesworth’s side will now have to come together ahead of a crucial clash against a side who, in their past four matches, have averaged almost 40 points per win.

Speaking about Saturday’s showdown with Bristol, he added: “They’re flying, no two ways about it.”

“We know the class individuals they have within their squad and have seen what they’re capable of doing to opposition teams this past few months.

“It’s another big test, another big challenge, and I’ll be asking the same I have of this group since I took over a few months ago - work as hard as we can to be better this week, so when the game comes around we’re prepared to put in a performance that we can be proud of at full-time.”