But all that has changed since the arrival at Welford Road of Bob Dwyer this season. The man who steered Australia to the 1991 World Cup has taken over as Leicester's director of rugby and the players have undergone something of a culture shock. The regime in the new professional era has tightened. Instead of three or four organised sessions per week Dwyer has his charges attending no fewer than eight work-outs.
"They are not all demanding," insists Dwyer, who is now preparing his league leaders for Saturday's European Cup semi-final against the defending champions Toulouse. "And the players have even been known to laugh during training. I don't want to make them laugh, but I'm happy if they do." In addition to the statutory eight the squad are expected to do a further two sessions on their own for general fitness and strength.
Given all this, it might have been reasonable to expect Richards to announce his retirement. But the old maestro is still there, leading Tigers and attending the sessions, even though they begin at 9am. Even more remarkably he says: "I'm quite enjoying training. A lot of the stuff that Bob has brought in is pretty good. He has introduced new things and he manages to put over the old stuff in an interesting way."
Dwyer has been putting over "stuff" in a revolutionary way since he was coaching the Sydney-based Randwick club back in the 1980s. He is widely recognised as a rugby visionary and is one of the most successful coaches of the modern era.
He has approached his job with Leicester in a typically forthright, fearless way. Earlier this season he even had the temerity to drop England's record- breaking wing Rory Underwood.
"I am not happy about it," Dwyer said at the time, "but I'd like to see an England and Lions winger play like an England and Lions winger."
Harsh words perhaps, but Dwyer, who spent last season coaching the French side Racing Club in Paris, has the record of a man whose judgement can be trusted. When he says: "I think English First Division rugby is of a good standard," it is worth noting. So it is encouraging that he is truly positive about the club game in England. "I think there is now a lot more play with the ball in hand than there was. The quality is improving."
He is, however, rather less glowing when contrasting the club game here with what is happening in the southern hemisphere. "If we compare the Courage League with the Super 12, then I have to say English clubs are not there yet. We are not there in fitness, we're not there in aggression, we're not there in speed, we're not there in urgency. But I have also said a few times that by the end of this season the top clubs - only the top few - will be getting to about the same level as the bottom sides in the Super 12."
Dwyer estimates he needs between 18 months and two years to turn Leicester into a serious rugby force able to compete on southern hemisphere terms. How he goes about it is abundantly clear - hard work and discipline. "What I've tried to do is work really hard on individual skills and then work hard on unit skills. The Tigers have always had fantastic units in the forwards, their communication and combination has been great.
"However we have changed a few things, in particular the scrummaging method. We've moved away from the old English scrum being a wrestling contest between four props and turning it into a proper scrum so that eight people work together to push the other team backwards."
As Dwyer says, it will take time. Other clubs will have to follow before the national game catches on to what is happening at Welford Road. But he remains optimistic about the future: "There is no reason why English clubs should not compete on an equal footing with the southern hemisphere." No reason at all, as long as the game here listens to and learns from the likes of Dwyer.Reuse content