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Sevens provides a new platform, says Smith

Matt Smith will direct a young Tigers squad at the Premiership Sevens
Matt Smith will direct a young Tigers squad at the Premiership Sevens

Matt Smith says a young group of Leicester Tigers players have the perfect development opportunity in the opening action of the new season at the Premiership Rugby Sevens this weekend.

Academy head coach Smith leads the squad for the traditional season-opener, which is hosted at Northampton’s Franklin’s Gardens over Friday and Saturday.

He has seven members of the Tigers development ranks and new signing Johnny McPhillips in a 12-man squad who face Wasps and Bath on the opening evening before returning on Saturday for the knockout stages.

Smith, who retired as a player last season after 228 appearances for his hometown club and can recall his own playing experience in the Sevens, said: “This is an opportunity to give guys exposure to playing at a Premiership stadium, in front of a decent crowd and the TV cameras – all of that outside ‘noise’ and distraction they are not used to – and that is another step in terms of their own development as players.

“We’ve not had any pre-season games so it’s a first run-out of the year, a first appearance in Tigers colours for Johnny McPhillips, the first time guys like Joe Browning and Ollie Ashworth have been involved in senior rugby with us and a chance for all of the squad to make the most of a new opportunity.”

The core of the squad announced on Wednesday also played in the Bury St Edmunds Sevens at the end of last season, while Henri Lavin and Taylor Gough both featured in the Premiership Sevens last year during their first season in the club’s development set-up.

“None of these guys would be in the development squad if we didn’t think they were capable of taking the step up,” added Smith who will be assisted by David Mélé this weekend.

“They’re all aspiring to play first-team rugby for Tigers so this is a chance for them to benchmark themselves against other good players from the other clubs, whether those teams pick more experienced players or youngsters.”