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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 13:23 GMT
A Leicester legend
By Phil Harlow

Leicester legend Dean Richards
Richards led Leicester to fantastic success in his six years in charge
Dean Richards' departure from Leicester is a harsh reminder of the brutal realities of rugby's professional era.

After 23 years' service as player and coach, Richards - the classic "one-club man" - has paid the price for failing to sustain the success of his earlier seasons at the helm.

Taking over as coach in 1998, Richards guided the Tigers to four consecutive Zurich Premiership titles and into the record books as the first club to retain the Heineken Cup.

But a trophy-free 2002-03 has been followed this year by a string of defeats in the Premiership and the failure to make the quarter-finals in Europe.

No matter what the circumstances of his Welford Road exit, Richards' status as a giant of the game is unimpeachable.

After making his Leicester debut in 1982, he slowly emerged as a world-class number eight, developing into one of the sport's pre-eminent forwards.

DEAN RICHARDS FACTFILE
Leicester legend Dean Richards
Date of birth: 11 July 1963
Clubs: Leicester
England caps: 40
Lions caps: 6
His shambling gait and socks-round-the-ankles appearance belied a tremendous rugby brain born of hard-earned experience.

A phenomenally powerful man, Richards - a policeman in his day job - was an awesome presence in the tight able to slow the pace of the game to his choosing.

He became a crucial part of the England pack of the early 1990s, forming a formidable back row alongside Peter Winterbottom and Mike Teague, as they dominated the Five Nations.

And those same qualities were recognised by the Lions selectors, with Richards the first-choice number eight on both the 1989 and 1993 tours.

Just as effective at club level, Richards helped Leicester to league and cup triumphs, cementing his position as a true Leicester legend: the fans' own "Deano".

He was a popular choice when appointed as successor to Bob Dwyer as Tigers coach in 1998 and moulded a side in his own image - hard as nails in the forwards and very difficult to play against.

With the likes of Martin Johnson, Neil Back and Graham Rowntree at the coalface, Leicester captured league titles in 1999 and 2000 to establish themselves as the major force in English rugby.

And unprecedented back-to-back wins in the Heineken Cup - a thrilling last-minute win over Stade Francais in 2001 and a no-nonsense defeat of Munster in 2002 - confirmed Leicester as the best team in Europe.

The fact that both those triumphs were part of domestic league doubles leaves no room for doubt about the scale of Richards' achievements.

Dean Richards and Martin Johnson
But from such heights, the only way to go is down.

Short of declaring itself a republic and winning the World Cup, there was little left for Leicester to aim for and the demands of achieving such high standards began to take their toll.

During their purple patch of relentless trophy accumulation, Leicester started to earn comparisons with Manchester United's domination of football.

But Richards failed to follow United boss Sir Alex Ferguson's example of dismantling and rebuilding successful sides.

Ferguson's record of ruthlessly selling players at the apparent peak of their powers to be replaced with hungry youngsters has brought continued success.

Richards' loyalty to the set of players that brought such glory to Leicester, and a failure to bring in adequate replacements has ultimately cost him dear.

In a sense, the club was a victim of its own success as player after player was called away on international duty. During last year's World Cup, the Tigers were missing virtually their entire first-choice pack.

But in the dog-eat-dog world of professional rugby, excuses - and 23 years at the heart of the club - cut little ice.

Nevertheless, Richards' record of success at his only club will be almost impossible for his eventual successor to emulate.




SEE ALSO
Tigers cool on Johnson link
03 Feb 04  |  English
Bayfield laments Richards exit
03 Feb 04  |  English


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