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Surprises add to overall strength

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This time last year we were looking forward to welcoming back Leicester Tigers' big-name players, especially those who'd just earned their Lions colours.

Confidence plays a big part in a successful sportsman, and you can’t get much more confident than a man who has just pulled on a Lions shirt in a Test series down under, especially on a victorious tour.
Tom Youngs, for instance, had seen his star rise and rise over an 18-month spell, establishing himself as the first-choice hooker for Tigers, then taking his England shirt, then a place on a Lions tour and a Test place to go with it.
Youngs had earned his place among the senior internationals, a group of players who are expected to lead the way on and off the field at the club.
Add fellow Lions caps Dan Cole, Tom Croft, Geoff Parling, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs, plus the experience of Ayerza, Crane, Deacon and Goneva, and the consistency of Allen, Salvi and Slater and that is a top-class core to any squad.
But at Tigers we’ve become accustomed to finding huge contributions from other sources too.

Over the last five seasons or so that bracket would include Ed Slater, Matt Smith, Steve Mafi and Niall Morris.

There is always a place for unsung heroes here to stand up and make their mark, and last season was no exception.
Jamie Gibson had been a Saxons cap as a London Irish player, but how many supporters genuinely expected him to become such an important figure in his first year at Tigers in an equation featuring the likes of Croft, Mafi, Salvi, Crane and Waldrom?
Circumstances, though, provided Gibson with an opportunity - and he certainly took it.
What about fly-half, where Toby Flood was named Tigers captain and had a place as the most-capped member of the England squad? His back-up came in the form of the experience Ryan Lamb, so where would Owen Williams get a game?
Wind the clock forward slightly and Williams made the most of his opportunity. So much so that he started a crunch league game at Northampton and a week later had a game to remember in a European quarter-final against Clermont in a strong final third to the season.
Or how about Blaine Scully, who arrived as a trialist and ended the season with 20 first-team appearances at the biggest club in the country?
The biggest impression of them all, both literally and figuratively, came from a prop who started the year as back-up to internationals Ayerza and Cole. By the end of the season, Logovi’i Mulipola had added his name to that list of players appreciated fully by colleagues and fans at Tigers and recognised by the rugby world at large.

Law of averages say there will be another one in 2014/15. Whoever it is, we look forward to seeing their contribution. Roll on September.