Leicester ready for new challenges

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The Independent Online
Leicester 23 Northampton 17

Leicester have been preparing themselves for some time to cope with survival in rugby's new professional jungle. Last season's top cats are blessed with some far-sighted businessmen, ex-players all, who saw the way their world was going.

The Tigers' administration began sharpening its claws eight years ago in readiness for the shredding of amateurism. They formed a forward planning committee and began to chart the passage of events that has since led to the first, faltering steps into the professional unknown.

Peter Tom, the club chairman, does not expect it to be all plain sailing, and he warned: "The biggest difficulty for clubs is how to fund the payment of players. They have certain expectations but I fear they may be disappointed."

Another area of difficulty for which Leicester are bracing themselves is deciding who to put on the payroll from a senior playing squad of some 60 players. Tony Russ, the club's coaching director, said: "I would not envisage paying that many players. And of those we do keep on the payroll, we cannot avoid putting a price on achievement, so internationals are going to get paid more than other first-team players, and they in turn will be paid more than second-team players."

Russ is not afraid of entering into negotiations with players over contracts, although he acknowledges that the switch to an employer-employee relationship will be a sad one. But at least he does not have to worry about where the money will come from. That is something that Peter Wheeler, the Leicester president, is already working on.

Wheeler said: "Our players are being extremely patient, but they are looking for us to do something. We have talked figures with some but it would be silly to raise expectations because we haven't any money at the moment."

The way their membership is going, that will not be a problem in future. Leicester have had applications for 14,000 tickets for Saturday's League opener against Saracens, but they will have to be a bit sharper than they were against Northampton.

The match was a watershed in two ways. As a friendly, it marked the end of one era and the beginning of another, with Leicester being led on to the pitch by a full-time rugby player - their captain Dean Richards, who has just been granted an 18-month sabbatical from the Leicestershire Constabulary.

Leicester: Tries Penalty try, Becconsall, Potter; Conversion Harris; Penalties Harris 2. Northampton: Tries Dawson, Bell.

Leicester: W Kilford (G Becconsall, 55); S Hackney, S Potter, R Robinson, B Evans; J Harris, J Hamilton; G Rowntree, R Cockerill, D Garforth, M Johnson, M Poole, J Wells (O Wingham, 40), N Back, D Richards (capt).

Northampton: I Hunter; H Thorneycroft, J Bell, M Allen, C Moir; A Hepher, M Dawson (A Gallagher, 77); M Hynes (capt), A Clarke, M Lewis, J Etheridge, J Phillips, D Merlin, G Seely, B Pountney.

Referee: B Campsall (Wakefield).

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