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Diamonds are forever

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Searching for hidden treasure has become an annual challenge for the Tigers management, but they still unearth a diamond with relentless regularity.

Building a competitive playing squad is a tough task and, within the conditions of Premiership Rugby, there is minimal room for expensive mistakes.

In the small world of professional rugby, everyone just about knows everyone else’s business – agents certainly know who is in the market and where they could go – and it must be difficult to keep your cards close to your chest when it comes to completing the full hand of your first-team squad.

But Tigers have a record of achievement over many years when it comes to finding, developing and improving young players into real gems at Welford Road.

In the past few weeks Ed Slater has certainly stood up and made himself known in some of the toughest matches of the season so far, deputising for Mr Leicester Louis Deacon.

To be fair, the supporters have known about Slater’s qualities for the last three years and he has reached Saxons status with England as well as playing an important part at Tigers.

But since his two-try show against Sale and the sheer defiance of performances in away games against Exeter and Saints, it seems his is the name on everyone’s lips.

For every Toby Flood, or Jordan Crane, or Graham Kitchener, the young and obviously talented Englishmen who are ripe for a move to the largest stage and join Tigers in the name of bettering themselves and pushing as far as they can, there are those players whose names are not well known to the outside, who arrive unheralded but go on to forge successful careers at the biggest club in the country.

Two seasons ago the Ed Slater role was filled by Steve Mafi, a former centre who played club rugby in Australia but became one of the most eye-catching back-five forwards in the Premiership. More than once Richard Cockerill told the Press that this young man was already a star and if he was English we would be reading page after page about his abilities as a 21 or 22-year-old.

Last season the role was filled by the long-haired runaway train that is Logovi’i Mulipola. A brief appearance in the World Cup with Samoa aside, the furthest Logo had got was a contract in New Zealand club rugby and the world was hardly beating a track to his front door. But Tigers liked what they saw and, as they say, look at him now.

In the current squad the likes of Boris Stankovich and Marcos Ayerza also fall into this category, with Stanko establishing himself firmly in the hearts of colleagues and fans alike while Marcos is rated among the best looseheads in the world.

Finding diamonds is never an easy task, or we’d all have one and they’d be worth next to nothing. But the effort to find one is certainly rewarded many times over.