“If you open to me, I’ll bleed the green, white and red from Leicester Tigers.
This statement was not made by Tom Young, the recently retired hooker who represented the East Midlands club 215 times. Nor were they spoken by his brother Ben, who played 63 more games for the runaway Premiership leaders. They weren’t delivered as a eulogy by george ford before his transfer to Sale, either by the captain Ellis Genge who proved so many skeptics wrong this campaign with its composed leadership.
As you might have guessed from the title, these moving words were shared by Jasper Wiese. The huge, loose South African striker only arrived at Leicester 20 months ago and has played just 40 games for a club he admits he didn’t know how to grow up in the small town of Upington, La Northern Cape Province. Superficially, it reads like friendly public relations hyperbole, a chance to win over fans and curry favor with his coaches. But it should be taken at its word.
“My game has developed so much since I arrived here,” he says in a thick Afrikaans accent that conjures up images of meaty braais, high veld and uncompromising rugby. “I can’t thank the coaching staff enough. The fans have been amazing. I’m really so invested in this club and what we’re trying to achieve.
When he joined Steve Borthwick’s rebuilding project, Wiese was a relatively unknown puncher. He played provincial rugby for Griquas at the under-16 and under-18 levels, and played for the Free State under-19 team after moving to Bloemfontein. And although he was invited to train with the South Africa under 20 before the 2015 Junior World Cup, he did not make the trip to Italy.
After a season with the comparative minnows, the Griffons, he settled with the Cheetahs, gaining experience in the Currie Cup and Pro 14 over three seasons. But with Duane Vermeulen firmly in control of the No.8 Springbok shirt, and with the Free State franchise hijacked from the rebranded United Rugby Championship, he jumped at the chance to work with a once powerful institution in England.
“When I found out they were looking to sign me, I started watching old games and reading about the club,” Wiese said. “I also knew they were struggling a bit. But the passion and the story were clear. I didn’t need too much conviction to join.
“When I got here I was blown away. You go out on a Saturday and you have 24,000 people, sometimes in the rain, in the cold. You go out and play with 40 other guys who all want it as much as you do. That certainly makes it easier to bleed for Leicester.
Standing 6’2” and weighing 243 pounds, Wiese offers a physical threat on either side of the ball. But he has an erratic side. Five yellow cards and one red – for a shoulder kick to the head by Wasps Ben Morris last year – suggests that his exuberance requires some moderation.
Steve is an amazing trainer. He holds us to a test match standard. There is no difference between Leicester training and the Springboks. He focuses on the small details
“It’s a part of my game that the coaches here have helped me with,” he said. “Some of the cards I picked are because I got unlucky. But some were definitely me being too excited at a time when I should have thought more logically. When I look back, I might have – could have been more measured to control me.
Wiese credits Borthwick’s calming influence with a recent change in his state of mind. “He’s an intense character on the training ground,” he says of the Leicester head coach who took the club from 11th place in the Premiership on his arrival in 2020, unless five matches of a continental and national double.
“He’s an incredible coach,” adds Wiese. “He holds us to a test match standard. There is no difference between Leicester training and the Springboks. He focuses on the small details.
“The way he helped me position myself to get into effective ball-carrying positions, to carry the ball more and more effectively, to move around the court, to put me in position to make a dominant shot.
“We’re working on how I carry the ball so the tacklers can’t take it away from me. I am constantly reminded of my grip, to place the ball with one hand and not with two. It looks like small details, but he constantly insists on them and eventually they become second nature.
The expansion of his game saw him win Leicester’s Newcomer of the Year award last season with a further nomination for the corresponding Premiership award. After another great performance in the Challenge Cup final at Twickenham, in which he scored a try in a one-point loss to Montpellier, Borthwick hinted that a Springbok call-up was not far off.
Ellis [Genge] is huge. He is the life of the team. His love for the team cannot be questioned. If you don’t know him, you might think he’s a weird character. And it is intense. But I know I could call him at five in the morning and he’d jump in to help me
The Leicester coach was right. Wiese made his Test debut in the 40-9 tune-up win over Georgia in preparation for the British and Irish Lions. With Vermeulen wounded, and Kwagga Smith failing to exert the kind of physical dominance required at the back of the Bok squad, Wiese started both games South Africa won and played every minute of the series to secure the 19-16 triumph in Cape Town .
He now has 11 Test caps but won’t be drawn into a conversation about the Springboks. Vermeulen regains control of the n°8 jersey and the youngsters Elrigh Louw and Evan Roos appeared as suitors. Although Wiese says the competition for places sets its own standards, he explains that no one demands more of him than his club captain.
“Ellis [Genge] is huge. He is the life of the team. His love for the team cannot be questioned. If you don’t know him, you might think he’s a weird character. And it is intense. But I know I could call him at five in the morning and he would rush over to help me. He’s just an exceptional guy and he’s the glue of the team.
But despite all the sentimental talk and the transmission of camaraderie, Wiese knows that the only currency that matters in this world is success. This Leicester side haven’t achieved anything yet. And before their supporters can plan a Premiership final in London or a Champions Cup final in Marseille, the team must first navigate what is arguably the most exciting club game of the season so far. .
“There’s not much to say, they’re a brilliant team,” says Wiese of four-time European champions Leinster, who travel to Welford Road this weekend for a quarter-final that looks too good for a round of 16. “They are so well trained. We have to disrupt them physically, win collisions. We need to pull that force out in melee time and in maul time.
We face it and make it personal. They’ve already said they think they can beat us. It may have been said in a different spirit but I choose to take it personally
“We face it and make it personal. They’ve already said they think they can beat us. It may have been said in a different spirit but I choose to take it personally. If you don’t make it all personal, especially against a top team like Leinster, you’re going to be outplayed.
There’s this bastard. There is this fire that Borthwick helped control rather than extinguish. There’s the promise of shaking bones, raging thighs and meaty forearms. There’s this warm blood running through his body with a mixture of green, white and red.