Just four games into a new Premiership campaign that promised to be a turning point for Leicester Tigers and they appear no nearer to ending the “worst period in the club’s history”.
That was head coach Geordan Murphy’s brutal assessment of last season. But despite an intense 12-week pre-season designed to get the players in better shape, they have mustered just one win in four games and lie 11th in the Premiership table ahead of Saturday’s European Challenge Cup fixture with Cardiff Blues.
The last campaign was one to forget for the 10-time English champions, who finished 11th, narrowly avoiding relegation and losing 15 of 22 matches.
Criticism was aimed at a perceived lack of fitness, which the coaching staff have endeavoured to address, as well as a lack of squad depth.
With England internationals George Ford, Ben Youngs, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May, Ellis Genge and Dan Cole all to be reintegrated following their World Cup exploits, there is reason to believe an upturn in results could be around the corner.
Nonetheless, familiar alarm bells will be ringing for Tigers fans now dreading the start of the Six Nations in just three months time, with the squad desperately missing the quality that those players bring.
A false dawn?
It risks drawing Leicester into another relegation battle, which ultimately saw Newcastle Falcons fall short last season, despite Murphy’s claims the club were aiming to compete for trophies once again.
“I think we are a vastly different side,” the former Tigers player said before the season began. “We’re fitter. We’ve changed the culture. We’re tighter as a unit. If that stays the same, we’ll be at the right end of the league.”
But having suffered defeats to Worcester Warriors and London Irish, who have typically been fighting relegation, Leicester look set to be embroiled in a battle to stay up again.
The 35-point deduction given to Saracens has sent them to the bottom of the league but, with a nine-point advantage on Leicester already, that possibility will offer little comfort in the long term.
The club will be hoping the introduction of Steve Borthwick to the coaching set-up following his involvement with England at the World Cup will bring about improvement.
Lack of stability
The 40-year-old is the latest addition to a backroom line-up that has been overhauled in the last 14 months. Murphy replaced former head coach Matt O’Connor at the start of last season before former England and Ireland coach Mike Ford was brought in to help avoid relegation. He has stayed on as attack coach.
By all accounts, the club appear to have many of the right ingredients for success, but the results on the pitch have not been forthcoming and there remains an air of uncertainty around Welford Road after the club was put up for sale in the summer.
Leicester suffered a fourth successive year of operating losses, but did make a £5.2m profit overall in the year ending June 2019 thanks to CVC Capital Partners’ acquisition of the Premiership’s commercial rights.
This summer they again tried to strengthen the squad with additions such as New Zealand’s Jordan Taufua, Argentina’s Tomas Lavanini and South African trio Jaco Taute, EW Viljoen and Hanro Liebenberg, among others.
They overcame Pau 41-20 in the Challenge Cup last weekend, but domestically a single win over Gloucester, no bonus points and a points difference of -44 have left the Tigers one place off the bottom of the Premiership table with difficult games against Northampton and Exeter Chiefs to follow the trip to Wales.
So far the league has been unpredictable and the battle at both ends looks set to be competitive. The next few fixtures will likely determine whether Leicester are capable of pushing up the table or destined to languish at the wrong end of it once again.