A new contract is the perfect way to celebrate the New Year for Graham Kitchener – and the lock believes Leicester Tigers’ 2015 is shaping up similarly to his debut season for the club four years ago.
Leicester’s silverware cabinet is already fit to burst with ten Aviva Premiership Rugby titles, but some quarters have questioned whether their recent slump – by their own lofty standards – could be the start of a gradual decline.
However since a run of three defeats earlier this season which included a painful 45-0 defeat to Bath Rugby, the Tigers have set about reminding everyone that they’ll be in the mix come April.
Richard Cockerill’s troops exacted revenge on Bath last weekend with a gutsy 17-8 win at Welford Road and now travel to Harlequins, themselves on the way to finding their feet, before Aviva Premiership Rugby breaks up for Europe.
Kitchener says he has helped Leicester conquer similar doubts before, when the club hit a pocket of turbulence as a freshly-signed 21-year-old in 2011.
Back then the Tigers were reeling from the absence of internationals during a World Cup year but battled back to take their place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby final, which they eventually lost to Harlequins.
And Kitchener, 25, insists the club are starting to bubble along nicely ahead of a fresh assault on the title later this year.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far, I’ve settled in the area and it was an easy choice to sign a new contract,” he said.
“I certainly feel like I’m getting there, the thing is to try and play as much as you can and I know I’m getting better.
“You’re playing with long-time internationals, British & Irish Lions, and you always want to be working to gain the respect of those type of players as part of this squad.
“I was pretty raw when I first came in as a 21-year-old but after I put on some weight and worked on various bits, particularly the technical parts, I’ve now got an improved understanding of the game.
“The first season I was here, we had players out at the World Cup and a lot of people took pleasure in saying we were not as good as we once were and we’d never get back to our best.
“You don’t pay too much attention but it’s impossible not to hear it being mentioned and it only drives us on as extra motivation, and it’s been like that this time too.
“Some of our games haven’t been the prettiest to watch recently but we know how to grind out a win and that’s always going to be the most important thing.
“We’ve had some good results recently, Toulon was a great one for us and at the weekend against Bath as well.
“We’re getting a few players back now and though you can’t use injury as an excuse, but the understanding is growing in our game and our defence is really improving.”
As far as Kitchener’s own area of expertise goes, the second-row has been replenished by the return of Geoff Parling while the evergreen Brad Thorn is due back soon – though co-captain Ed Slater continues to nurse a serious knee injury.
Kitchener added: “Hopefully Brad Thorn will be back soon, he has been a real leader and the way he talks to you on the pitch and the rest of the team – he has been a really calm influence.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re five or ten points down, he’s got nothing but belief. Seb de Chaves has stepped up, started games and done really well though.
“Geoff’s back and really helps me out, there’s no animosity between the lot of us – we all strive to improve whoever’s playing.”
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