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Young Sam set for European opportunity

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When Sam Lewis ran out at Welford Road on November 4, 2017 to face Gloucester in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, he was still wet behind the ears.

Then a 19-year-old fresh out of the Tigers Academy, the game marked Lewis’ first-team debut in Tigers colours.

Harry Simmons also started in the win over the Cherry and Whites, while Tom Hardwick, Jordan Olowofela and Tommy Reffell – all regular inclusions in this season’s matchday squad – were included among the replacements.

This weekend, Lewis is handed a second start in front of the Tigers Family, with the rest of the 21-year-old’s 13 appearances to date all coming off the bench or away from home.

“I’ve been keeping my head down and doing what I’ve been practicing all pre-season, so to be handed a chance to do it on the pitch is good for me,” says the modest forward, who packs down in the second row alongside the experienced Calum Green against Calvisano.

“To be able to convert what we’ve been doing in training onto the pitch is a really good opportunity, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary; it’s just my job.”

‘Doing his job’ and fulfilling his role is a recurring theme of the chat with the young man, who also started in the win away to Cardiff in Tigers’ most recent European game, and featured off the bench last time out in Northampton.

Sam Lewis Pre-Season
Lewis stepped up into the senior squad for the new season.

The opportunities come as another vote of confidence in the Stafford-born player, who stepped up from development squad to senior company over the summer.

“Pre-season for me was all about getting fit and being the best you can be,” he continues.

“About doing what the coaches ask of you – focusing on kick-chase, speed in [defence] – the little things that don’t necessarily require skill, but effort.

“Thinking about it, most of being a loose forward or second row doesn’t necessarily involve lots of skill, just hard work. And it’s about giving it loads of that.”

Tigers look to make it three European wins out of three when they face Pool 5’s Italian representatives on Saturday, and would become the first English side to record more than two consecutive wins in the competition for 17 years.

Lewis – who hadn’t quite reached his 6’5” frame back in 2002 – says the team can build on their opening European wins with a strong performance on Saturday.

Sam Lewis Gloucester AWC
Saturday's match is Lewis' first start at Welford Road since an Anglo-Welsh Cup win over Gloucester in 2017.

He adds: “It’s a good confidence-booster knowing a young group of boys can go down there [to Cardiff] and play well. That gives us confidence going into this week at home, and hopefully next week away as well.

“The game at Cardiff was about hard work, and working hard for each other. Now, these next two games [against Calvisano] are about taking our opportunities.

“We’ve had a little look at them, but it’s more a case of looking at what we’re going to do at home at Welford Road. We want to focus on our jobs.

“Winning is key, really. A bonus point would be the icing on top.”

A strong performance would also offer head coach Geordan Murphy some selection headaches for the return fixture next Saturday (December 14) ahead of the final two Gallagher Premiership games in 2019.

“This competition is a different challenge,” Lewis says. “It allows us to spend some time away from the Prem and go to some places we might not have been before, so it’s a nice fresh slate.”

And for young Sam, the challenge is one he is ready to rip into.