Even by the standards of an extraordinary year, both for the Leicester Tigers and for English rugby as a whole, last Friday was quite a frenetic one for Richard Wigglesworth.
That afternoon, he accepted the decision to succeed Steve Borthwick and become interim head coach of Leicester Tigers. But it also meant ending a phenomenal playing career. The 39-year-old was selected on the bench for Clermont’s Champions Cup visit the following day. There was work to do.
Even though Wigglesworth had been sounded out to take over from Borthwick next summer, when the Tigers suspected England would come calling, immediate promotion seemed a bit daunting. He’s not too proud to admit it.
“I think the club expected and planned for Steve to go [to England] after the World Cup or in June, because they were proactive enough to talk to people around it,” says Wigglesworth, who is stepping down with seven Premiership titles and three Champions Cup crowns.
“I was one of them so I knew they saw something in me. As for the timing, it was probably last Friday when I found out and said yes. Ai I thought about saying no? Yeah, absolutely. I was still playing. I was still thinking, ‘Am I good enough for the guys? Am I going to serve them, am I? But Friday afternoon , I took my decision.
“I knew Saturday’s game would be my last,” he added. “Friday night I was calling quickly to make sure my mum and dad, wife and two older kids would be there to watch. They came over so I was a wreck that day because I had everything going on, but the right people were there. I feel like I quit for a very good reason.
Since then, there has been little time for sentiment – even for one of the most decorated players this country has seen. Saturday brings a Premiership contest against Gloucester. As well as a vital contest in the play-off reshuffle, with fifth hosting fourth, it’s the inaugural Slater Cup encounter in honor of Ed Slater, the former lock who was diagnosed with an illness of the motor neuron.
Wigglesworth insists he has “no interest” in “tearing down the foundations” laid by Borthwick and Kevin Sinfield, who also headed for Twickenham. Current Leicester coaches Aled Walters, Brett Deacon, Tom Harrison, Matt Smith and Matt Everard are a resourceful group and have rallied behind their new figurehead.
As for the specifics, Wigglesworth still has a year left on his contract after this one. The Tigers won’t be rushing to find a permanent head coach, but will be hoping to snap up another scrum-half soon, given that Ben Youngs and Jack van Poortvliet are likely to be chosen by Borthwick for the Six Nations. On that note, Wigglesworth could end up being deprived of more players.
“It occurred to me that [Borthwick] can loot a few of our boys,” says Wigglesworth. “He’s always said he wants all our lads to play for England and now he can choose them. We’ll see if he keeps his word. He has a lot to choose from now but I’m considering taking him. a significant number of our players – I know they’re pretty good. He might be thinking the same thing. They need to block his call.
Wigglesworth hopes to be able to allow his coaches to “shut down the laptops” on Christmas Day. That said, another pivotal meeting with the Sale Sharks is scheduled for next Friday. His new role will be relentless. Having cut his teeth in all manner of coaching jobs, from Oxford University to Ealing Trailfinders to Canada, he is prepared.
“Do I understand the size of this club? Yeah. It’s the biggest club in the country, so it’s a very proud moment for me to say yes to this job. It does not change the work, whether it is the smallest or the largest. If you care about the band, you care about the band, and you want to do a good job for them, that job is the same. It’s for the biggest club in the country, and it’s a privilege.