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Squad effort secures opening-day win

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Richard Cockerill says the opening-day win at London Irish can provide a boost for the whole of the Leicester Tigers squad.Director of rugby Cockerill chose not to rush back five players who have returned from World Cup duty and was rewarded for his faith in the squad with a 28-16 victory at the Madejski Stadium thanks to a try from debutant Peter Betham and 23 points from fly-half Tommy Bell.   “We have to recognise the efforts of those players today,” said Cockerill.   “There would be people thinking we could get turned over here after deciding to rest our internationals. But we felt it was the right thing to do and this group of players has come through and got the win, so I’m delighted for them. I think we will all be better for it in the long run too.   “Those players have been with us for 15 weeks of pre-season and have got us through to a win here. There were some young combinations and new combinations in the team, and they’ve come to a tough place and against a team looking to impress their new coach, and it all bodes well for us.   “It was a good battle and I think we deserved the win in the end.”   Bell started at fly-half after the loss of Freddie Burns to a fractured jaw last week and responded with eight successful kicks from nine attempts as Tigers won on the Aviva Premiership's opening day for a fourth successive season.   “A lot of those lads came in and they’re doing a great job,” Cockerill added.   “Tommy Bell controlled the game well and kicked his goals, and those young front rows continue to learn with time on the pitch. I thought all the new guys did well too, Peter Betham read the intercept very well for his try, Lachie McCaffrey was fantastic in the back row, Williams and Fitzgerald carried ball well and Opeti Fonua came on and did what he does very well.   “We had three or four young lads came in and we’ve taken four points away from home in the first game, which is great. The only way to learn is at the coalface in big games.   “They’ve done very well in pre-season and that is part of the learning curve. It’s great for us to expose them to that experience and come away with a win at the same time. Developing and winning is the perfect combination. We chose not to use the World Cup guys because these players have earned the right to take that opportunity and thankfully they took it pretty well.”   Further good news for Cockerill and head coach Aaron Mauger came in the return to fitness of Owen Williams, who came off the bench to play the last 15 minutes in his first run-out since suffering a knee ligament injury in February.   Logovi’i Mulipola was replaced midway through the second half, but Cockerill confirmed he had taken nothing more than “a bang on the shin”.     “It was great to get Owen back on the field and Tom Croft got another 80 minutes under his belt too,” said Cockerill. “Logo played 55 minutes after getting through 40 last week so he’s getting better for time on the pitch too.   “Considering we’ve got 20 players to come back into that squad, it is a credit to that whole squad that we put a good 23 out and got the win.”   Matt Smith was a late withdrawal from the team after his wife gave birth to a son on Saturday morning.