28 February 2006
Issued on behalf of London Wasps
Josh Lewsey believes that Saturday's Powergen Cup semi-final opponents Leicester are currently undergoing a period of transition, but insists that Tigers are still London Wasps' biggest rivals.
Despite finishing last season in pole position, Leicester are currently fifth in the Premiership table and have only won three league matches in 2006. But Lions full-back Lewsey still feels that Leicester are the team to beat in English rugby and the 29-year-old is looking forward to rekindle the rivalry in Cardiff.
Lewsey said: "It is a strong rivalry to say the least and it is difficult to put it into words.
"I was quoted before as saying that they know us inside-out and we know them. There have been so many games over the past two years where we've got to know each other a little bit more.
"When you lose to someone you know so well it is like losing to your brother in the back garden - it hurts more than anything because there are bragging rights at stake.
"When you beat your main rival you feel a couple inches taller - especially when you meet up with the England camp. You feel as if you can go in there with your head held high, so the rivalry is very much alive."
Wasps' nearest neighbours are Watford-based Saracens but Lewsey explains that, unlike in football, rugby rivalries are determined by success and not geography, which justifies why fixtures against Leicester are so hotly-contested.
He said: "People talk a lot about London derbies, but realistically we play in Wycombe and Saracens play in Watford - it isn't exactly a tribal thing.
"Derbies are to do with success and Leicester and Wasps are the two best teams in the professional era by quite a margin.
"That is why there is such a large degree of mutual respect."
One of the most memorable meetings between the two clubs was last season's Heineken Cup clash at the Causeway Stadium. In a contest of Test match-intensity, Leicester narrowly won 37-31 with Lewsey crossing the whitewash in vain.
He recalled: "I remember it being quite a wet and dark day. I also remember it being a massively intense game.
"Although the whistle went and we'd lost the game, I thought bring on next week. I could've gone on for another 80 minutes straight away. Obviously, I was exhausted, but I had a lot of adrenaline left.
"It was such a nip-and-tuck game. The intensity was there as much any international I've played in.
"In both of those Heineken Cup games we gifted Leicester soft scores in the first 20 minutes. You can't afford to do that against quality teams because you will always have to play catch-up."
Lewsey forecasts that Leicester's form will improve significantly over the next two months and he thinks that the class of 2006 will maintain the standards set by their illustrious predecessors.
He added: "Any team goes through an evolution - England has done for example.
"The front-five of Leicester was the crux of the England side from a few years ago. To lose some of the playing members they have lost over the last couple of years - it does take a little time to replace that.
"They certainly had an aura about them - especially with Johnno (Martin Johnson) and Backy (Neil Back) there. Don't get me wrong, they've still got Cozza (Martin Corry) and Lewis (Moody), Ben Kay, Chutes (George Chuter) and Julian White. You've got a fantastic squad there and a platform.
"Every team goes through a natural period of change and if this Leicester's down-period and they're only fifth then that shows how strong the club is."
The champions will need to nullify the threat of Tigers' three-quarter Tom Varndell if they plan to progress through to the Powergen Cup Final next month. But Lewsey believes that the Tigers' secret weapon is their coach Pat Howard.
He said: "I think that Pat Howard has a lot to be credited for in terms of Tom Varndell's development and Leicester's development. There aren't that many coaches around in the game these days.
"A lot of people organise, but Pat Howard is a coach. I think the fact that he played for 12 years gave him a fairly good indication of what it takes to get the best out of a team.
"Goodey (Andy Goode) is a fantastic player and they've got the players in the midfield to create space for the guys out wide. And if you put players like Tom Varndell away then it is try-time.
"I think that we've shown in glimpses this season when we actually get quick ball then we are dangerous too. When you look at the pace amongst our backs - not just in the starting XV but throughout the squad - it is a frightening line-up, if we all deliver. But you need the platform to play off."
The England No15 is still hurting in the aftermath of last weekend's Calcutta Cup loss at the hands of Scotland and he thinks that the only remedy to ease the pain is to experience a big win at the expense of Leicester.
He stated: "Last weekend was a massive disappointment losing in Scotland.
"When you lose, emotionally you do come down from that and you hit a bit of a low for three or four days afterwards. Then you are more susceptible in your immune system to pick up bugs and chest infections. So you've got to be really careful what you do and who you mix with.
"I've had a couple of sleepless nights - demons going through my head. The best thing to get your mind off a game of rugby like that is to play again as soon as possible. It would've been nice to have played against Sale on Sunday because at least it gets your mind off things.
"But I'll have to wait a week - that is what happens in sport - and then there will be a chance to rectify and banish those demons the following weekend."