By Neale Harvey
New Leicester forwards guru Mark Bakewell has vowed to create a Tigers pack fit for the modern era rather than reinventing the heavyweight monster of old.
Leicester fans critical of the current team yearn for the ruthless era when Martin Johnson and Ben Kay ruled the air and, in tandem with Julian White, George Chuter and Graham Rowntree, squeezed their opponents’ pips at scrum time and mauls.
However, New Zealander Bakewell insists those days are over and says law changes dictate a fresh approach to ensuring toothless Tigers regain their bite.
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Bakewell, below, told The Rugby Paper: “One of the biggest mistakes Leicester can make is measuring themselves against what was here. When I was at Bath ten years ago ourselves and Leicester were the Premiership’s two most brutal packs, but there’s a ‘use it or lose it’ rule now and there’s not the engagement force in the scrum there once was.
“You could maul for minutes on end in those days and hold the ball in the scrum until someone buckled, but those two factors are gone now and everyone’s looking to use more width, run more kilometres and get off the ground much quicker.
“Slowing games down and altering tempo is not as prevalent, it’s a far more dynamic game now and if anyone’s unfit you simply can’t carry them. If you look at a guy like Ellis Genge, who’s extremely powerful and quick, that’s the new generation prop.
“There’s an element of negativity in people trying to measure us against what guys like Johnson, Kay and the rest did. What they achieved was outstanding, but don’t think by jumping into a Leicester jersey now you’re jumping in on the back of that. This pack has to create its own identity and adjust to the technical differences we all face now.”
Bakewell, 54, insists his conscience is clear after quitting Bristol with a third of the season to run.
He said: “It wasn’t easy leaving because it’s not in my DNA to move before the end of a season, but Pat Lam and I had a pretty frank conversation and, at 13 points ahead, nobody’s going to catch Bristol in the Championship now so it’s job done.
“I could have stayed until the end of the season but I had a three-year offer from Leicester on the table and for a forwards coach of my age and experience, it was a pretty damned good offer. Bristol can move on now and I’m honoured to be here.”
Having coached in Super Rugby, Japan, France, the Premiership and in international rugby with Tonga, Bakewell intends making his experience count.
He added: “Leicester have a good pack and 80 per cent of it is there, we’ve just got to tweak the other 20 per cent. There are two good coaches here in Boris Stankovich and Brett Deacon but as young coaches they haven’t been through the experiences I have, so I’ll bring a different pair of eyes and look to make a significant impact there.”
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