Parling: ‘Leicester are underdogs’

Date published: May 23 2015

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One of England's rare players over the age of 30, Geoff Parling is in contention for the Rugby World Cup but has club business to deal with first of all.

Injury has robbed Parling of the chance to take on Bath in Saturday's Premiership semi-final which means the former Newcastle second-row may have played his last game for Leicester after six years at Welford Road.

Every one of Parling's 23 caps for England have come under Stuart Lancaster, right from the head coach's first game in charge against Scotland in 2012.

It seems fitting therefore that Parling, much like Chris Robshaw and Owen Farrell, should be involved come this September having been such an integral part of the Lancaster era.

Now 31, Parling however is more than aware that in this sport there are no guarantees, with the real hard work yet to start.

"First of all I’ve got the play-offs with Leicester and that’s the main thing on my mind," Parling told Planet Rugby.

"I hadn’t really thought that much about the England squad announcement and I think that would have been the same for a lot of the players involved in play-off games now.

"Nothing has been achieved yet – it’s just the start of cracking on, so I don’t have any major emotion about it. If you asked an uncapped player then their are emotions are going to be different, but if you’ve got a bit more experience it just feels like time to work.

"That said it’s still a big honour, and what’s happened over the last few years has built towards this moment. This World Cup feels extra special as it’s in England, but this is just the beginning."

Parling is right, England haven't achieved anything yet, but the microscope will now be on every single one of the 50-man squad from now until August 31, when 19 players will be left out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several from that squad will be out in action at The Rec as Bath's young guns look to make a first Premiership final since 2004. Since that game Leicester have been in a remarkable nine straight finals, missing out last year after defeat to champions Northampton in the final four.

There's an unquestionable gap in play-off experience between the two sides, which carries its own value, but at the same time Bath thrashed the Tigers on their home turf 45-0 early in the season. 

"We haven’t really talked about the last game. We’ve analysed Bath like we would do with any side, but we’ve played them enough times and know their players really well," he said.

"We’re probably underdogs for the game being away from home, but we have a lot of experience in semi-finals.

"I’ve been here six years and every year we’ve been in the last four. But they’re a very good team and are favourites. We’ve snuck in the back door a little bit with the play-offs and improved over the last month, so we’re keen to get stuck in."

Yes, Leicester's form. We're used to discussing the ten-time champions only in terms of home semi-finals, yet it took until the final day for Leicester to know they would be in the play-offs.

Such has been their erratic form that they finished the season with a points difference of just 32, compared Northampton's 221, Bath's 211 and Saracens' 246.

Yet here they are again. Rather than having a fight to secure a home semi-final at Welford Road, they're only just in the hunt at all. In many ways it's been a refreshing challenge for Parling and the squad. That extra bit of nous and pressure – being Leicester after all is all about winning – might have been the difference and could actually be the difference this weekend.

"When I was at Newcastle the pressure was to avoid relegation, whereas with Leicester it’s been more expectation – completely different. That mainly comes from the players but also the culture and the fans, and the minimum I guess here is top four every season. 

"Arguably the difference when we faced Wasps a couple of weeks ago was for us as players, missing the top four would be such a failure, whereas for Wasps given that they have been building back up over the last few years, it wasn’t necessarily a failure for them not to make it. In that case the kind of expectation on us does make a difference in a game.

"In high pressure situations, if you have a bit of experience and you can look at your team-mates and see players that have been there and done it before, then it’s going to give you a bit of confidence.

"Likewise when things aren’t going as well, if you can come out the other side, it’s going to be make you a bit tighter as a group. This season has tested our character and our resilience, but even when we’ve played poorly we’re still ground out wins.

"We should be proud of getting to the play-offs, despite how we played, and if we can put in two good performances then we are champions – who would have thought that five months ago?"

Parling might be on the move again this off-season but had it not been for leaving Newcastle then he might not be in a position to represent England at the World Cup at all, let alone make the enlarged squad.

Often there's a suggestion that players at clubs lower down the league are ignored by the national setup, but Parling's move was all about improving as a player, with international rugby a bonus.

"If you’re playing against Toulon or Clermont instead of El Salvador in Spain, you’re obviously going to improve and it will put you under the spotlight," he added.

"It wasn’t a case of that I didn’t think I was getting a fair chance to be selected at Newcastle, my game to kick on by making the move."

He will move this year from an established force to a rising one. Exeter were squeezed out of the play-offs by Leicester and Saracens in the final round on points difference and the aim for Parling is to change that outcome for the better.

The prospect of going overseas was there but the decision to move to Devon was easy.

"Going there and trying to get Exeter into the top four is an exciting challenge. We’ve seen this year how good they can be, they’ve been more consistent, made good signings for next year and want to break into the top and then solidify their spot," he said.

"Once I had gone down there to speak to Rob Baxter and spoken to Thomas Waldrom, it seems like a good fit."

Parling will be joined by another Tiger in Julian Salvi at Sandy Park but both will have a lot of work to do to match the impact of Waldrom in his first season, after finishing as the Premiership's top try scorer with 16. The target has been set.

"My record for a season is one, and I remember being gutted in one season because I thought I’d scored a second but it was disallowed in the corner! I thought that was the start of my try-scoring run," the lock added.

"I never though being quite slow would be a strong point, but I’ve got no pace to lose!"

If he can match Waldrom's impressive form in his own first season with the Chiefs, Parling's personal best will tumble.

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by Ben Coles

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