Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs, Aviva Premiership, September 3
Tigers face test of strength
September 2, 2011
England U20 youngster George Ford will take the fly-half reins for Leicester © Getty Images
Leicester Tigers will be out to erase the memory of their Aviva Premiership final defeat just a few short months ago when they embark on the new campaign against Exeter on Saturday.
However, they are unlikely to get everything their own way against a Chiefs side that pushed them to the wire in the corresponding fixture last season in one of a number of highlights from their debut in the top flight. Leicester left it late to defeat Rob Baxter's men with a last minute penalty try proving to be the difference between the two sides in a pulsating 37-27 win but not before the Chiefs had sounded a warning to all their Premiership rivals.
Baxter and co will no doubt be aware of the dreaded 'second-season syndrome' and to counter this the club have recruited heavily over the summer with the likes of Peter Short, Gonzalo Camacho and Craig Mitchell drafted in to bolster the side.
The Tigers must emabrk on the new season without a host of their stellar names due to the World Cup. Fly-half Toby Flood, scrum-half Ben Youngs and props Dan Cole and Martin Castrogiovanni are just some of those that will be missing and as a result the squad's strength in depth will be tested in the opening rounds.
Leicester Tigers - Player to Watch: Mathew Tait will attempt to re-launch his career once again in the Tigers' colours. He lines up on the left wing and should not struggle for ball - but can he find his best fleet-footed form?
Leicester Tigers - Team News: New signings Tait, Kieran Brookes and Julian Salvi are all handed starts while two more newcomers are included among the replacements. George Chuter leads the team as captain for the first time in a competitive match as Geordan Murphy is among 11 Tigers players on Rugby World Cup duty and Craig Newby is sidelined after knee surgery.
Exeter Chiefs - Player to Watch: Flanker Tom Johnson was one of the Premiership's star performers last season and was rewarded with an England call-up. Can he find that level of performance once again?
Exeter Chiefs - Team News: Former Leicester players Chris Whitehead, Ignacio Mieres and Peter Short all start for the Chiefs. Short, who is one of nine new signings the Chiefs have made this summer, is joined in the starting XV by fellow newcomer Josh Tatupu. Named amongst the bench is club captain Tom Hayes, as well as newcomers Ben White and Kevin Barrett, the latter of whom is back enjoying his second spell with the club.
Key Battle: Both these sides boast plenty of back-row talent and the game is likely to turn on whether Leicester's Steve Mafi, Julian Salvi and Thomas Waldrom or Exeter's Tom Johnson, James Scaysbrook and Richard Baxter dominate the breakdown.
Trivia: Exeter Chiefs' 35-10 win over the Tigers in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in January was their first for 45 years.
Stats: The Tigers have a brilliant record at Welford Road having lost just one match in the past two seasons - the defeat coming against Saracens in March 2011
"We've got players away at the World Cup and we wish them all well, but I am concerned only with the guys who are with us and representing Leicester. We will go out and fight for every point because that is what I expect from the players every weekend."
"We feel we're expanding our game and the way we want to play, but the acid test is this weekend. The Premiership is a tough competition and we're very aware you have to play very well for 80 minutes to get anything out of a game of rugby, let alone win them, especially away from home."
Prediction: Despite being without a host of World Cup players, expect the Tigers to be going all out to impress in front of their Welford Road faithful. Exeter will pose a stern test to Richard Cockerill's men but Tigers' Premiership nous will be enough to steer them through.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.