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Graduate thread spun through senior squad

It was perhaps an overlooked statistic among all of the facts and figures behind the performance against Bath last weekend that eight of the starting line-up came from the Leicester Tigers academy.

Just glancing down a teamsheet which featured international names like Nemani Nadolo, Kini Murimurivalu, Ellis Genge and Jaco Taute, it may have escaped some supporters’ notice that more than half of that winning team was homegrown. And that there were another three among the replacements.

There is no way of knowing exactly how many would have been included if the coaching team had everyone available for selection, but having them there and knowing they are in the first-team picture will have supplied a big boost as another important stage in the journey back to where everyone wants to see the club.

Led by club captain Tom Youngs, the top end in terms of experience in that team also boasted his brother Ben and fellow front-rower Dan Cole, men who have seen it all in the game and who account for 700 first-team appearances for their only top-flight club.

Throw in Harry Wells and George Ford, who are both around the 100 games mark, and those five have more appearances for Tigers than all of the remaining members of the squad added together.

Wells and Calum Green were a few years apart in academy intake terms but are cast in the same mould of the traditional Tigers second-rower, the latter-day Louis Deacons, going about their work with the minimum of fuss and maximum of effort.

While Wells has just topped 100 games, Green gained the bulk of his first-team experience elsewhere before returning to green, white and red. Ford and Charlie Clare in the current crop did likewise, which shows the pull the club has for players who have come through the ranks.

George Martin is another Deacon, Wells or Green, a forward who has come through to make an early impression and who, it is hoped, will be wearing the colours for many more years to come.

In the backline, Freddie Steward is taking his chance to shine. He is yet to reach 20 appearances in senior rugby and, while he was a master in the air against Bath, his feet will remain firmly on the floor as he continues his development, recently saying he didn’t want to be a player who “played 10 games and faded” but rather wanted to kick-on with top-class coaching and company.

For good measure, the replacements included hooker Clare who has played his way into the matchday 23 since restart last summer and 21-year-old Joe Heyes who has just passed 50 games at prop. Alongside them, the emerging Jack Van Poortvliet made his European debut during a win in France and followed up with his first Premiership outing of the season in another winning team.

There are others, too, most notably Tommy Reffell, Ben White and Harry Simmons, and now young prop James Whitcombe has had his senior debut to provide hope of continued generations of the Bens, Toms, Dans, Calums and Harrys that all supporters crave alongside the signings from elsewhere.