Interview with Jason Leonard: Former Harlequins player and World Cup-winning rugby star talks to Saxo, the club’s official trading partner
England legend discusses Quins’ ‘positive’ foundation work and the team’s ability to play ‘fantastic rugby’
World Cup-winning rugby player Jason Leonard spoke to Saxo on behalf of the investment platform’s partnership with Harlequins, celebrating 30 years of providing services to customers to look after their financial future and promoting the need to Be Invested in our passions.
Leonard, who played 290 times for Harlequins, talks all things rugby with Quins looking to chase down Saracens in the Gallagher Premiership and England getting set to take on Scotland in their first match of this year’s Six Nations on February 4th.
Jason Leonard on Harlequins:
What’s your thoughts on Harlequins prospects this season? Can they challenge the likes of Saracens and Sale to win the Premiership this year?
It’s a tough one for Quins. It’s hit and miss. They either play like champions or they lose a couple of players, then they struggle.
Conditions also have an impact as well even though they love to throw the ball around, if it’s pouring with rain, it’s not the best thing to do. I think they can compete with Saracens and Sale but it’s about being able to beat these teams on a weekly basis, I don’t think they can do that at this moment in time.
Some of their rugby, particularly from last season, it’s been fantastic. However, if they play Saracens 10 times, they might only win three of them with the consistency and strength in depth that Saracens has.
The work of the Harlequins Foundation is making rugby more accessible to youngsters, especially those coming from underprivileged backgrounds. How important is it for clubs to invest in this development?
It’s fantastic. The club has always been good in their foundation work. In Twickenham and Richmond, the area is quite affluent but the surrounding areas like Staines and Hounslow aren't affluent but the club uses rugby to help kids avoid getting into trouble and getting them off the streets to live a healthy lifestyle.
Quins has always been very positive about doing this type of work and to see it coming through at this moment in time is brilliant for the community.
When you go to a Quins game now, every game is almost a sell out and you can see supporters from everywhere, Dads and sons from Kent and Hampshire, people are travelling up to support Quins and to see an exciting game.
Jason Leonard on the upcoming Six Nations:
Who do you think will win the Six Nations? Can you see this nation completing the Grand Slam?
I think Ireland is going to be the favourites because of how the games have been scheduled. Ireland has got their two hardest games at home, France and England.
France has also got to come to Twickenham, which historically has been a tough place for them. Ireland will probably play down their chances but I’d suspect they’ll be the favourites. They play great Rugby and they’ve had some impressive wins. Their set-up right now is possibly the blueprint for international rugby, the only other set-up that comes close to it is New Zealand.
They can actually manage the players’ workload and their training, making them peak for certain games in certain times of the season. The English and the French seasons are a battle from the first game to the last game, where their players play the majority of the games for their club.
In Ireland, they can pull players out. They’ll have a word with the clubs to make sure they’re rested for a couple of weeks. Everything is there for Ireland.
Is a Grand Slam possible? I think they’ll fancy their chances, having England and France at home and getting results on the road, I think they could do it.
Who will be the standout player for Ireland?
As a front row forward, I would always pick the props, Andrew Porter and Tadhg Furlong, they are two of the best props at this moment in time.
What is central to Ireland is Johnny Sexton. They’ll want to keep him fit and make sure he’s ok. If he plays well, Ireland will win matches because he’s a clever, canny, experienced player.
Which country do you think can cause the biggest challenge to Ireland?
It can only be France really. They’ve got a couple of injuries but they’ve got lots of squad depth, they never used to have strength in depth. Now, they could put three teams out that would do themselves justice this year.
What does it take to win a Grand Slam?
It’s very hard. It’s not rocket science. Everyone thinks it’s easy. The away games are hard and the home games are tougher as well when people would think certain games are a banker. It’s a collective will.
The coaches have got to be good. You won’t be thinking about a Grand Slam until you’re getting close to completing it. You’ve just got to concentrate on the performance. That’s been a problem for England, we haven’t seen a performance yet in recent internationals against Argentina, Japan, New Zealand or South Africa.
As a fan but also as an ex-player, England are due a performance by the law of averages, they’ve got to get a good couple of games in them at some point, that’s what we want to see at the Six Nations. With Steve Borthwick as the new coach, I think they can do that.
Everyone will be excited for a new coach, looking to impress. If England is going to have a good Six Nations they’ve got to start well and this game against Scotland is not an easy first game for them.
England face Scotland next weekend, how do you think England can cope with Finn Russell?
Finn Russell is a box of tricks. He’s a great player to watch. The back row of England have got to nullify Scotland’s ability to be on the front foot. With Russell, he’s a wonderful player, but any fly half will tell you that if they’re going backwards and he’s on the back foot, even though Russell is special, it would make his job so much harder.
Having said that, it’s not all about one player, Scotland has got other good players too, but the match-ups, the two fly-halfs on the day, that will be exciting. All England will be concentrating on is to try to nullify Finn Russell.
You played with Steve Borthwick for England on several occasions, how do you think he will do as England manager and from knowing him, what was he like as a teammate in the dressing room?
As a coach, he’s very technical. He’s very good. A lot of the players that have worked with him previously have said how focused and technical he is but he’s also a great guy.
He knows the pride of putting on an England jersey because he’s done it himself and has been captain of his country. It’s a good time for the players to play themselves into the side with a World Cup just around the corner with players trying to impress in this Six Nations.
That’s what Steve will want from the players is giving it 100%, collectively all together going forward, the World Cup is important, but it’s months down the line, it’s a cliché, but it’s one game at the time and Steve will know this. Steve has been there as a player and now he’s doing it as a coach, I think that puts England in a good place.
Prediction for each first round match?
England will beat Scotland. It will be a close game. Scotland always poses us questions and challenges us in different ways but I think England will win being at home.
Wales is still rebuilding like England and facing an inform side like Ireland, I think that will be a tough game for Wales.
France has got some injuries but they’ve got strength in depth for a number of years, Italy is improving every year but the problem they have is all the other nations are improving so it’s a large gap between themselves and the rest of the teams. France will want to start the championship as defending champions with a big win to boost their confidence and that winning momentum moving forward.