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Graduation day for breakthrough boys

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The return of our international heroes to club colours for the rest of the season is reason for cheer, though it is worth remembering we've done pretty well without them over the last couple of months.Tigers fans will have celebrated the form of Ben Youngs, the return to top-flight fitness of Dan Cole and Geoff Parling, the consistent impact of Tom Youngs, as well as seeing Leonardo Ghiraldini lead his country, and Michele Rizzo and Robert Barbieri returning for the Azzurri of Italy.   They will be back at Oval Park in varying shades of battered and bruised, but determined to take momentum from the Six Nations into the five-game run-in to the end of the league season.   In their absence, as is the aim every year, other players have stepped up into the Tigers frontline and they have certainly made an impression.   The Six Nations period featured a cleansweep of Aviva Premiership wins – against Gloucester and Sale at Welford Road, and on the road to London Irish and Newcastle Falcons. There was also a win double in the LV= Cup, against Saints and Cardiff Blues, before ultimately that defeat to cup holders Exeter in the semi-finals.   One defeat in seven games since the heavy loss at Ulster in the European Champions Cup is just what we had all wished for. The fixture list may have been generous with games against three teams in the bottom half of the Aviva Premiership table, but make no mistake, all three would have been eyeing the chance to lower Leicester colours in the absence of some top-flight talent.   The international periods provided the original opportunities for men like Ben Kay and Louis Deacon in the past, and look what they went on to achieve in the game. Look how their graduation as first-team players helped to provide the real strength in depth to take Tigers onwards and upwards.   That is the target now for the team and for men like de Chaves, Bell, Catchpole, Pearce, Roberts and Thacker.