Meyer's appetite is rekindled after dabbling with nutrients

Click to follow

Welford Road – nobody likes visiting there except Tigers supporters – is billed as the self-styled home of "world- class rugby". A tad pretentious, perhaps, but then Leicester, the biggest club in England, have never lacked ambition in the professional era. Their high-powered board, who are pushing ahead with plans to develop the ground in spite of the economic turmoil, feel they have a kindred spirit in the South African coach Heyneke Meyer.

Leicester were delighted to get him after they had ruthlessly jettisoned the Argentinian Marcelo Loffreda, who had only been their head coach for less than a season. When Meyer spoke to the club last summer about taking over at Welford Road, he told the directors exactly what they wanted to hear. "I said I wanted to establish Leicester as the leading club team in world rugby," he said. "They were coming at things from the same direction so the deal was struck. I want to be the best I can be and my aim for the team is the same."

Meyer, 40, has spent half his life coaching. Leicester made their move after he failed in his ambition to succeed Jake White as coach of the Springboks. The job went to Peter de Villiers, the first black man to fill the post. Meyer's response was to quit the game.

He is the only man to have won the Vodacom Cup, the Currie Cup and the Super 14 title. The latter was achieved last year with his beloved Bulls, and they are the only South African side to have done so.

Clearly Meyer, a former assistant coach with South Africa, felt he had nothing else to offer after his rejection by the Boks and he pursued an alternative career, selling sports nutrition products. However, he received a tonic when he watched last season's Heineken Cup final between Munster and Toulouse. It was far from being a classic, but it made Meyer sit up.

"More and more people in my country have been watching broadcasts of the big games and I was taken aback by the passion of it. It rekindled my enthusiasm. I didn't expect to coach again but when the Leicester job came up I forgot all about sports nutrients."

The Tigers have an excellent record in the Heineken Cup, appearing in four finals and winning two of them. Today Leicester open their campaign in Pool Three with a home tie against the Ospreys, the biggest team in Wales.

All is not well with the South Wales outfit, who scraped a last-minute, single-point victory against a second- string Harlequins in the EDF Energy Cup last week. Despite winning that competition last season – they beat Leicester in the final – the Ospreys parted company with coach Lyn Jones.

After the flat performance against Quins, the stand-in coach, Sean Holley, talked about the bruised egos of his star-studded squad and a lack of genuine teamwork. Then came the two-match suspension of Gavin Henson for missing training – he now misses the matches against the Tigers and Perpignan.

In total contrast to the Ospreys, Leicester's victory at Bath in the EDF was praised by Meyer for being a "great team effort". The South African stand-off Derick Hougaard scored 14 points on his debut but today finds himself on the bench, Toby Flood forming a half-back partnership with Harry Ellis.

"I realise the importance of the Heineken Cup to the people of Leicester," said Meyer, " but I would say that winning this is probably a greater challenge than that posed by the Super 14. In Pretoria I had the time I needed to build my empire. The culture here is different in that people expect results quickly. It's for me to fit in with that culture. The level in Super 14 is high but planning was easy. You had a full pre-season's preparation and then went at it for 16 weeks without any distractions. The European season is much more complicated and players have to be managed in a different way."

Although Leicester have made a winning start to the season Meyer says that, with injuries to key players, they are not "even 50 per cent of the way towards the place I want to take them".

"There's a toughness and competitiveness about the Heineken Cup and I will take a while to come to terms with it. I have no predictions and the only promise I'll make is to do whatever it takes in terms of work in making Leicester successful. To achieve that you have to give 100 per cent, 100 per cent of the time. That's hard to do."

Comments