Leicester Tigers vs Toulon preview: Endangered Tigers

Leicester hope a rich team spirit will prove its worth against big-spending Toulon

Hugh Godwin@HughGodwin_
Saturday 06 December 2014 19:46
Break away: The loss of Billy Twelvetrees and George Ford is ‘all tied to the salary cap’, says Geordan Murphy (centre)
Break away: The loss of Billy Twelvetrees and George Ford is ‘all tied to the salary cap’, says Geordan Murphy (centre)

If money were no object, England’s Billy Twelvetrees and George Ford would still be Leicester players, instead of turning out for Gloucester and Bath respectively, according to the Tigers’ backs coach Geordan Murphy.

“It is all tied to the salary cap,” said the former full-back, whose seven Premiership titles and two European Cups won as a player with Leicester is a record. “Ideally we wouldn’t have liked them to leave [and] if you didn’t have a salary cap those blokes would still be at Leicester.

“Billy’s salary has probably quadrupled, and it’s difficult for us to compete with that when other teams are offering big bucks. With George, it was always going to be difficult to keep him after his dad [Mike Ford] took over as head coach at Bath.”

The subject of money was always likely to crop up with the arch- big spenders of Toulon coming to Leicester today in the European Champions Cup. In salary terms, experts reckon the French club’s player budget is £10million, twice that of Leicester’s, but the picture is muddied by ancillary benefits.

What is clear is that Toulon will be fielding an all-international XV. They have also won the Heineken Cup for the last two years – replicating what Leicester did in 2001 and 2002 when the brilliant Murphy was in the team for both finals.

Now 18 months into his new coaching career, Murphy was asked whether Toulon have moved beyond what the Leicester team led by Martin Johnson were capable of. “It’s difficult to compare,” he said. “You’d faint if I told you how much I was earning when I played those European finals. For the first one I was on, I think, £12,000 a year. Pro rata, I was probably ‘slave labour’. I doubt there’s anyone in Toulon today who is on less than £12,000 a month. They can buy the best in the world. We can’t, we have to build a team.”

And one that Murphy insisted it would be pure folly to write off. Twelvetrees, Ford and Toby Flood may have departed, with Leicester failing last season to reach the Premiership final for the first time in 10 years. But they have also had to contend with a cruel run of injuries. The No 12 jersey, always considered so crucial at Welford Road and to be worn today by first-choice Anthony Allen, has been passed around the out-of-position Owen Williams and Niki Goneva among others.

Toulon have won both their European pool matches this season. But Murphy remains defiant, as might be expected of a remarkable one-club man who joined Leicester in 1997 and has been mentioned by Richard Cockerill as his possible successor as director of rugby.

In his autobiography, The Outsider, Murphy wrote of “an aura [Leicester] tapped into whenever defeat is staring us in the face”. So does that “aura” still exist? “I think so, it’s just about the guys buying into it. A lot of teams still worry about playing us, about coming to Welford Road. Even Toulon. I hear James O’Connor [the Australia back] is saying they are really targeting this game.” The Murphy motto, it seems, is: money still can’t buy you everything.

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