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Lots of landmarks packed into Cup run

An away win over Bayonne proved pivotal to progress to the knockout stages
An away win over Bayonne proved pivotal to progress to the knockout stages

Even before the Final on Friday evening, the European Challenge Cup has produced its memorable moments for players throughout the Leicester Tigers squad this season.

In the approach to kick-off at Twickenham and a first-ever appearance in a Challenge Cup Final, The Tig has been taking stock of just what the tournament has brought and what it has meant to the team so far.

With so many experiences packed into a short period of time, the tournament provides its own snapshot of the Tigers journey under Steve Borthwick.

The Final with Montpellier will be the club’s 33rd game in the nine months since the restart last August for a squad being reshaped while also trying to improve on a weekly basis.

There have been an incredible number of landmarks for a tournament played over just five rounds before the Final.

Matías Moroni has been a stand-out performer as he has settled into a new culture, become a key member of the backline in terms of influence and endeavour, but only made his debut in the bonus-point win over Brive in Round 1 in a first meeting of the teams since the 1997 Champions Cup Final.

On the same day, Luan de Bruin came off the bench for his first appearance for the club and has been literally immoveable since.

A week later, Tigers won in France for the first time in more than seven years, and they did it with a largely inexperienced team on a first competitive trip to Bayonne.

Jaco Taute captained the team for the first time after just a handful of games for the club,

Dan Kelly and Kini Murimurivalu celebrated their first tries for Tigers and prop James Whitcombe made his senior debut just weeks after his 20th birthday.

Cameron Henderson and Ollie Chessum were among the others who came of age there, too, in a gritty contest after making their debuts in that restart phase last season.

The points proved vital in gaining home advantage at the start of the knockout rounds when the tournament had to adjust after losing two preliminary round weekends to the impact of Covid and, there, Tigers welcomed Connacht for the first time ever.

As well as beating a good team to make further progress, mid-season arrivals Nic Dolly and Will Hurd got off the bench for their debuts while Moroni, Guy Porter and Zack Henry all claimed their first tries for the club, with Zack’s effort winning the supporters’ poll to find the try of the month with club partner Topps Tiles.

A week later, young forward George Martin was named as Challenge Cup man of the match in the win over Newcastle Falcons which set up a home date with Ulster in the last four.

Bouncing back from successive league losses to Bath and Saints, Tigers turned on the power in the second half to overturn an early deficit on the way to a 33-24 against more-fancied opposition.  

No matters what happens on Friday, getting to the Final has been built on the backs of an entire squad effort and, hopefully, the experiences can do nothing but help in moving forward.