Steve Borthwick faces up to his biggest challenge at crisis-hit Leicester Tigers

Leicester boss Steve Borthwick faced up to the toughest challenge of his career and admitted: “This is a big old ship and it’s been heading in the wrong direction for a period of time”.

The former England captain and Red Rose coach starts the new Premiership season at home to Gloucester on Saturday with the nation’s biggest club in turmoil.

Tigers, who finished last season bottom but one, losing seven of nine games following the first lockdown, have only just returned to training after their ground was closed for 12 days due to a Covid outbreak.

They have parted company with director of rugby Geordan Murphy, star trio Manu Tuilagi, Kyle Eastmond and Telusa Veainu have left along with coaches Boris Stankovich and Rob Taylor, while England legend Rory Underwood has given up his role as non-executive director.

Borthwick said: “Is it ideal? No. Did we want to be not training for two weeks? No. But that’s the situation. We have to embrace the challenge in front of us.

“We had enough Covid cases that meant the right thing to do was immediately close the ground, to clamp down as quickly as we could on any spread of the virus.

“There will be players missing for various reasons, including unavailability due to Covid.

“Everyone is desperate to get this club heading in the right direction but this is a big old ship and it’s been heading in the wrong direction for a period of time.”

Bristol are another club with huge personnel problems, just weeks after finishing last season by winning the European Challenge Cup.

Pat Lam has 16 first team regulars unavailable because of either injury or international call-ups – and stars Luke Morahan and Harry Thacker are both sidelined until January.

Bears go to Premiership runners-up Wasps on Sunday and Lam said: "You look at that list and some people might think wow, but I think great.

“We are going to be the team we want to be. We always said we don’t rely on the individual despite how good they are, it is about the next guy stepping up.”

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