Steve Borthwick takes Leicester training

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Leicester’s opening match of the new Gallagher Premiership season against Gloucester will go ahead but team selection will be affected by self-isolation, head coach Steve Borthwick has confirmed.

There had been doubts over whether the Tigers would be able to fulfil Saturday’s fixture after having to suspend team training and close their Oval Park base due to a coronavirus outbreak in their camp on November 5, a fortnight out from the new Premiership season.

A statement explained that “the club returned several positive tests for Covid-19… including members of the playing group and support staff" and while Oval Park is now back open and the team are back training, preparations for this Saturday’s match have been hampered.

"We had enough positive cases that meant that the right thing to do was to close the training ground and players isolate," Borthwick said on Wednesday night ahead of the club’s 2,500th match at Welford Road. "It was the right decision to ensure that immediately we clamped down as quickly as we could on any spread of the virus.

"And, yes, there will be players missing this weekend for various reasons – including unavailability due to [the outbreak].

“But we’re fortunate here that we have a great strength and conditioning team. Aled Walters oversaw that and he is tremendous. Is this ideal? No. Did we want to not train for two weeks? No. But it was the right way to handle it. The players have been very diligent on the programmes they did when they weren’t in team training."

The coronavirus setback contributed to a turbulent two weeks for England’s biggest club, as director of rugby Geordan Murphy’s 23-year association ended last Friday. Borthwick paid tribute to his former colleague, saying that he "enjoyed the time" he had working with Murphy, "a tremendous person".

"Geordan requested clarity on the plan going forward beyond the end of the season, and the club’s board came to the decision they came to, and Geordan wanted to leave now rather than at the end of the season," Borthwick added.

"Our relationship was good and after the phone calls I’ve had with Geordan over the past few days, it continues to be.

"I know how deeply he cares about Leicester Tigers and I’m sure he will continue to support Leicester Tigers."

Regarding Murphy’s successor, as well as those for attack coach Rob Taylor and scrum coach Boris Stankovich, Borthwick said the process is still "ongoing". He added that the priority this week had not been on filling those roles, but more on maintaining focus ahead of the new season, as Leicester look to right the wrongs of a 2019-20 campaign that saw them only avoid relegation due to Saracens’ points deduction.

"From a coaching perspective, I feel very fortunate that we have two very good, young coaches (Matt Smith and Tom Harrison) who have joined the 1st XV and have been around the 1st XV since I came in on July 1.

"That’s what we will continue with now while the processes [of recruitment] are in place.

"The club has struggled for a number of years now on the field. This is about the process of getting that right and turning that around.

"The decline has been over a period of time and there have been some decisions made over a period of time that have not helped the team’s performances on the field. What we’re doing now is ensuring that every decision made going forward is one that helps us progress.

"We are under no illusions of how much work we have to do. That takes time but we continue every day to try and move forward.

"It’s a big old ship and it’s been heading in the wrong direction for a period of time. So what we’ve been doing is making sure that every on-field decision we make helps us move in the right direction."