Experimental feature

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00
Experimental feature
or

Leon Lloyd carries the curse of those who start their careers early. "I'm sure there are a lot of people who think, 'He must be at least 30 - he's been around for ages'," says the Leicester Tigers back.

In reality Lloyd, who plays on the wing in Sunday's European Heineken Cup semi-final against Toulouse at Walkers Stadium is, in his own words, "the oldest 27 year old around", a veteran of 212 games and 71 tries since his debut in 1996.

The ageing process appears to be operating gently. "I'm told that you lose enthusiasm as you get older, but that isn't happening to me yet," he says. There was, he admits, a low patch three seasons ago when he wondered about trying a change of scene, but says: "I'm glad I didn't. I've never been anywhere else and I like it here."

There has been plenty to like about the Tigers' season. They lead the English Premiership and will be pitching for a record fourth Heineken final appearance, their way barred by the only other three-time finalists and two-time winners. Lloyd also earned a recall to the England squad after a four-year hiatus.

A team man in the Leicester mould, he credits this revival in fortune to backs coach Pat Howard. "It is no coincidence that it has happened since Pat came back here. When he was here as a player he said, 'I'll get you into the England squad', and he did."

Lloyd has spent the season swapping places with Ollie Smith. Both prefer playing at centre, each can be highly effective on the wing. "We've been moved back and forth according to who the coaches think is in form, or which they think will be more effective against that particular opponent. That has made life difficult, but I also think it has made me a better, more versatile player," he says.

He is well aware of Toulouse's immense qualities. "Cedric Heymans is one of the best wings in the world and they have forwards who can play like backs, and backs with the qualities of forwards."

Victory on Sunday would summon up more French opponents, with Biarritz and Stade Français contesting the other semi-final in Paris on Saturday, but this pleases rather than alarms him. "Games against French teams are always very fast. They're much more backs' games and this one won't be any different."

French matches also evoke good memories: a spectacular try against Pau when he was 19, Leicester's previous semi-final against Toulouse in 1997 and becoming only the second player to score two tries in a Heineken final in the Tigers' remarkable 34-30 victory over Stade Français in Paris in 2001.

The Toulouse game would have been memorable for Lloyd even if Tigers had not won 37-11 at an icy Welford Road. "I was playing against Emile Ntamack, who was my hero", and he will certainly settle for a repetition of that result.

Walkers Stadium, Leicester City's home, is an unknown quantity as a rugby venue, but Lloyd believes it may suit the team even better than Welford Road. "Nobody in this competition comes to Welford Road beaten before they start - we've lost Heineken games there in the last three seasons. At Walkers Stadium we can't get into a comfort zone and we know we have to be at our very best - but we still have our crowd with us."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
myFT

Follow the topics mentioned in this article

Comments have not been enabled for this article.