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Cup progress proves its worth

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Seven months into a tough season and we're on our way to the first final of the campaign. There will be some who say "It's only the Anglo-Welsh" but none will deny that passage has been hard earned and thoroughly well deserved.

The defiance of the opening round away to Bath said everything for the group of players involved. The likes of Balmain, Catchpole and Roberts had not enjoyed much gametime by that stage, Wells and Worth made the most of their opportunities, Joe Maksymiw made his first Tigers start and the team’s resilience in the closing stages – especially in playing out time in controlled possession of the ball – was as impressive as the clinical scores earlier on.
Time moves on but there is something about a win at The Rec that will always hark back to the attitude of the ‘good old days’ of blood, thunder and mud. Fitting then that Matt Smith, a thoroughly modern traditional Tiger, captained on the night. His dad ‘Dosser’ would have loved it.
A more senior side brushed the Dragons aside a week later with Roberts and Ellis Genge tryscorers for the first time as a Tigers player.
The third round meeting with Saints could be seen as the pivotal point in the season.   
On the back of five defeats, including heavy losses to Racing and Glasgow, the bruising was clearly visible around Welford Road. Saints would have relished an opportunity to knock another nail in the coffin. Instead, Tigers came out on top and in the end a 27-20 scoreline did not do full justice to the home side with Thacker, Barrow and Evans grabbing priceless tries.
Victory provided a morale boost with a place in the semi-finals booked even before the Round 4 defeat at Saracens which featured an eye-catching try from hooker George McGuigan.
Sarries became the first team in history to beat Tigers three times in a season, though, perversely, the 29-20 final score was greeted with guarded optimism around Tigers as the team had got off to a ropey start and conceded two early tries but came back to cut the gap to just a couple of points before the hosts grabbed a clinching score in the final minutes.
That performance did as much as any to instil the belief that Tigers could go to win at the Allianz in the semi-final. And this time they did not really look in any danger of letting it slip after getting off to a good start. Freddie Burns steered the ship masterfully and the sequence in defence at the death provided even more heart in a group playing with some confidence.
It should not be forgotten either that since that opening round of Anglo-Welsh competition, George Worth has gone on to play in the European Champions Cup and Roberts has taken his Cup form on to the Premiership stage while men like Wells have looked to do likewise. It could be just the springboard we’ve all needed.