New boy learns Tigers' craft

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While Saracens went to Biarritz for their pre-season warm-up Leicester stayed in an army barracks in Omagh, the town that will forever be scarred with the memory of the bomb blast of two years ago. The Tigers played Ulster in a charity match and the whole experience was an eye opener for Winston Stanley. "I'd never been in such an environment," the Canadian said. "I was so tired after training I stayed in my little army cot. There were not a lot of frills, I can tell you."

While Saracens went to Biarritz for their pre-season warm-up Leicester stayed in an army barracks in Omagh, the town that will forever be scarred with the memory of the bomb blast of two years ago. The Tigers played Ulster in a charity match and the whole experience was an eye opener for Winston Stanley. "I'd never been in such an environment," the Canadian said. "I was so tired after training I stayed in my little army cot. There were not a lot of frills, I can tell you."

Perhaps only Leicester would choose Omagh as a training base; only Leicester would sign a Canadian wing, Dave Lougheed, and replace him with another, Stanley, who today resumes his odyssey in one of the biggest confrontations in the Premiership so far, against Saracens at Vicarage Road. This could be a classic of offence against defence, high risk against low risk. Tim Horan has arrived from Australia for the north London club but will be on the sidelines.

Stanley has a tough act to follow. In two seasons at Welford Road, Lougheed, a large, powerful wing (no frills but plenty of tries), savoured successive championship titles. "I don't know why he left," Stanley said, "although I'm not complaining. He's become a bit of a legend in Leicester. Everybody loves him."

In fact Lougheed, who returned home in the summer to study for a masters' degree in business, flew back to England last week to help out injury- stricken Gloucester. He played in the midweek victory at Newcastle and again against Bath yesterday at Kingsholm.

During the World Cup last autumn Stanley, who has 44 caps and is Canada's leading try scorer with 20, questioned Lougheed about life with Leicester. "I wanted to know what it was like playing with Austin Healey, Martin Johnson and Neil Back. Dave was so positive. The club had a family atmosphere, the reception at Welford Road was amazing, the fans were fanatical and it was easy to hang out with the guys. There were such good vibes I thought he was very lucky to be where he was."

Lougheed put in a good word for Stanley, who in the summer continued to score tries for Canada, against Ireland, South Africa and Tonga. As he was preparing to play in the Pacific Rim Tournament, Stanley, who has also spent a lot of time playing sevens, received a call from an agent asking if he would be interested in playing for Leicester.

"I thought 'Oh yeah, some chance'. I didn't have a British passport and I was a wing and that's a double handicap. When a club is restricted to two foreign players they go for New Zealanders or whatever with British or European passports. And their overseas players always fill the most important positions. A tight-head prop or a line-out jumper or a half-back. Not a wing. I'm the only Canadian over here without a British passport. On the other hand if they didn't have a lot of money to spare within the salary cap then I was the sort of guy they could get at a good rate."

Stanley signed a one-year contract and, as Leicester sit on top of the Zurich Premiership with four wins out of four, marked his debut with a smart try against Wasps, beating the cover with a change of pace.

The difference between him and Lougheed is that the latter would have gone through a defender rather than around him. "This is a Godsend for me," Stanley said. "I've been taking this game seriously for 10 years and now, instead of me setting the pace, I'm with players who are on a higher level. I'm learning more than I ever have." After the Wasps game, which Leicester won with a converted try in injury time, he had a chat with the biggest Canadian of all, Gareth Rees, who had left him a welcome note in the changing-room at Loftus Road.

"Players like Gareth and Dave have paved the way," Stanley said. "Before then I think Canadians were looked at over here as suspect rugby players. You had the southern hemisphere, then Europe with Canada a few tiers below. I've been given half a chance and my goal is to play as many first-team games as possible and get my contract renewed at the end of the season. So far it's been amazing."

As a member of the pride of Tigers, what makes them so dangerous? "A key element is the tenacity with which they approach everything they do. They've created a winning tradition and no one wants to let that down. From first to last you have to do the best you can. It's full on all the time which is sort of new for me. There is not that sort of pressure in other teams, who tend to joke around in practice or be semi-serious in training. Here everything is done with a high degree of professionalism. The unspoken rule is to do the right thing. You don't have burgers and chips and you don't miss training. I'm 26 and I'm one of the older guys in the back line but although there are England players sprinkled all over the place there's no elitism. It's a dynamic and competitive team and to be accepted is tremendous. When the spectators told me I was part of the family it wasn't just words. It's how it is."

Stanley's first taste of league rugby in England was slightly different. Three seasons ago he joined Blackheath. When he arrived at Heathrow there was nobody to meet him. He'd never been to London before and didn't have a clue where Blackheath was. Laden with three bags, he took the tube and ended up in Trafalgar Square in the rush hour. "I thought 'Jesus Christ, where am I and what am I doing here?'" Within months Blackheath went bankrupt and he returned to Canada and his club James Bay AA.

Stanley was born in Victoria after his parents - his father, Bruce, is a journalist working in Thailand - left San Diego in California for Canada in protest at the Vietnam War.

"I dreamed of playing gridiron and I was a basketball junky," Stanley, a product of the University of British Columbia, said. "When I was 14 I laced my first pair of rugby boots and that was it. I was small but I was quick and being able to make somebody bigger look silly when you've got the ball in your hands is a good feeling."

The boot was on the other foot last Wednesday night when he moved from wing to full-back as Leicester scraped home against Rotherham. "I was pretty excited. I believe I can play full-back and here was my chance. I dropped three high balls in a row. I shat the bed, as they say in Canada. I'll probably never get another chance to play there. It was so bad the players tried to make me feel better."

So nobody was tempted to remark that that was another fine mess you've gotten us into Stanley. "It was very disappointing but I didn't do it on purpose." Today, with Tim Stimpson returning to full-back, Stanley's back on the left wing, back with the family.

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