Leicester Tigers academy manager Dave Wilks claimed his side are under no pressure to succeed on Sunday in the Premiership Rugby Under-18s Academy League Finals Day despite being defending Champions.
The Tigers will compete against Gloucester Rugby this Sunday in the Grand Final after five wins out of six games placed them firmly at the summit of the Northern Conference.
And now Wilks’ side will defend their title at Allianz Park against a Gloucester side who squeezed into the final after a bonus points victory over Exeter Chiefs on the final day of the league season.
But, despite his side’s coveted status, Wilks believes the players won’t be feeling the burden of expectation.
“It’s very difficult to ignore the final and becoming back-to-back champions – but only some of the players are the same,” he said.
“This year provides a different challenge because players have moved on and it’s a different squad. There is no pressure to repeat what we did last year.”
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Though Gloucester ended up with the same record as his team, Wilks is confident that his squad will pull off a victory after passing all the tests the regular season presented.
The Tigers were on form on both ends of the pitch throughout the season, recording huge wins against Newcastle Falcons, Northampton Saints and Wasps in their first three fixtures.
Wilks added: “We haven’t played against them this year but we are confident. We haven’t had it easy in the league and we have had different challenges thrown at us.
“But if we take the lessons into the performance on Sunday we can come out with a win.”
As is the norm with young players, victory will inevitably come second to player development in the academy manager’s eyes, with Wilks tipping several of his side for a place in the national team. Seven already have youth caps under their belt.
“I am pleased that quite a few boys have got the recognition and a place in the England side because that’s part of their ambition when they come here.
“I have seen huge progress with this squad – there have been some dramatic improvements from the new players coming into the team.”
Injuries and a subsequent lack of numbers compelled the club to recruit more players during the last few months – but a lack of pre-season didn’t affect their performance.
“The players that have come into the side this season have done exceptionally well in such a short space of time,” he said.
“We’re very pleased we managed to include them and they have worked so hard over the last few months to develop as players.”