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Hungry pack provide perfect platform

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After five defeats in a row, any win would have been warmly welcomed, never mind a cup win against Saints at Welford Road.

The nearest and dearest would have, no doubt, smelled blood in the build-up to the second derby of the season last Saturday. We’d have been the same if the boot had been on the other foot. Sympathy is not a quality you expect from rugby rivals, especially local ones.
Both sets of coaches fielded teams in the spirit of the tournament, mixing youth with experience, building gametime for those who needed it while also giving opportunities to younger talent from within the ranks. There were, though, Tigers supporters who saw the experience included on the Saints bench and wondered how much of a psychological blow that would strike if the scores were still tight around the hour mark.
But a win is a win, and a win after a run of five defeats is worth its weight in gold.
Those defeats – including the raw and painful losses to Racing and Glasgow – weighed heavy around the necks of all at Welford Road and a date with Saints in an unpredictable competition only added to the tension.
Thankfully, mercifully, Tigers came through with a 27-20 win. The semi-final slot that came with it, for once, was less important than breaking the run and potentially providing a fresh start for the rest of the season.
In context, it is just one game and there is still the possibility of a tricky semi-final away from home if the team cannot back up that performance with another at Saracens on Sunday. But positives from the day were not restricted solely to the scoreline.
For The Tig, the biggest positive was the contribution of a number of players who have had very little rugby. Five of the pack, for instance, had to blow the cobwebs from their boots before the warm-up.
To see Michele Rizzo in his first competitive appearance since the 2015 World Cup was very welcome in the absence of other senior props, and Fraser Balmain got through a great shift for a player with just one first-team game to his name since last May.
In the second row, Dom Barrow and Harry Wells had an amazing appetite for the battle, one after a three-month injury absence and the other making his third start of the season, his first since November. Top marks to them both.
Tom Croft is an international veteran with a decade of experience at the top end of the game but he was still playing just his fourth game of the season in the back row.
From that quintet, Rizzo was the first to make way, after just short of 70 minutes gametime (minus 10 for a sin bin) which is a tremendous tribute to every one of them. The adrenalin of playing in a derby win helped to keep tired legs moving and overworked lungs quiet, but it is a tribute to all of them that they came through it so strongly.
We’re going to need every player to make a significant contribution in the remainder of the season and that competition and hunger can only help.