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George Ford believes Leicester are moving in the right direction under Steve Borthwick and has urged his team-mates to write a new chapter in the club’s history ahead of Friday’s European Challenge Cup Final.
Top 14 outfit Montpellier stand in their way at Twickenham, where 10,000 spectators will attend, and it was at HQ in 2013 when Tigers clinched their last major silverware.
Ford starred on that occasion to help seal a Premiership play-off final triumph, but more recent years have been leaner and since the England fly-half returned four seasons ago, Leicester have finished fifth and disappointingly 11th in back-to-back campaigns.
Borthwick’s arrival at Mattioli Woods Welford Road in the summer has already turned the tide and while a top-four finish seems unlikely, Tigers will hope to be in the Heineken Champions Cup next term and go in as winners of Europe’s second-tier competition.
“It is a big club in English rugby because of the tradition, history and how successful they have been in the past, but we’re a different team, different coaches, personnel and a different era I suppose, so we have got to work hard to keep improving to try and go on to win some things ourselves,” Ford said.
“I don’t know what it is like for you guys watching, but the feel and the way we are playing, we are going in the right direction and we are improving.
“We have improved in a lot of areas this year but there is a lot more growth in us at the same time. For me, I feel it more because I am on the field and it is a massive difference to where we were last year and the year before.
“The belief and foundations of our game, we just feel we are getting better and on the right track, so that’s the biggest thing for me.
“All you want to feel as a player is you’re improving yourself but you are part of a team that is improving as well because you know if you are doing that and keep doing that, you will give yourselves a chance to go on and win some things and be in the mix at the very least which is what we want to do.”
Richard Wigglesworth, despite being set to celebrate his 38th birthday next month, has been a shrewd addition and influenced a number of inexperienced members of Borthwick’s squad.
A serial winner with Saracens, the ex-England international has got the nod at scrum-half over Ben Youngs, the current Red Roses number nine, against a star-studded Montpellier side who have won eight of their last nine games.
Ford added: “Wiggy has been brilliant, absolutely brilliant. His career and what he has achieved speaks for itself, but the most impressive thing since seeing him here at the club is how he wants to help and bring other players on around him, especially the younger lads.
“He can bring a huge amount of expertise from the way they played at Saracens and all those things where you understand why they were the best team for a number of years in terms of what they value and the way they play the game. He has brought that here in the way we want to play.”
The 28-year-old pointed out Youngs has a similar impact on the group at Tigers and backed the England centurion to make his mark as a replacement.
“I don’t think I could pick a better combination at scrum-half to fulfil 80 minutes of rugby, whichever way they are going to do it,” Ford insisted.
“Wiggy’s experience and knowhow to win trophies and Ben’s energy, threat and influence off bench will be crucial, so hopefully that works out well.”
Head coach Borthwick has referenced Montpellier being the favourites given their spending power and the strength in depth to leave three World Cup winners on the bench, but the Tigers are drawing inspiration from close to home.
Leicester City clinched cup glory in London last weekend with a 1-0 win over big-spending Chelsea in the FA Cup final at Wembley and the final exchanges were watched by their rugby union neighbours.
Ford said: “I don’t think there is extra pressure, but we as Leicester Tigers were unbelievably proud of what Leicester City did in the FA Cup.
“They went in as underdogs, we are as well I suppose, and the way they produced the performance they did, you could see their courage, their work-rate, effort and the skill in a big game on the big stage.
“It was incredible to watch and if anything it inspires us seeing the football team, Leicester City, go and beat a massive team like Chelsea in the FA Cup final, which they had never done before, so it was incredible.”