Guinness Premiership - Game of the Week
Tigers call on international trio for Exiles clash
March 5, 2010
Leicester's Toby Flood will be back in action © Getty Images
The business end of the Guinness Premiership season is fast approaching and both Leicester and London Irish will be fighting for an unblemished run-in to the semi-finals.
They meet at Welford Road on Saturday evening with plenty to play for given their recent form. Leicester slipped to a 19-3 defeat to Northampton last weekend but remain in pole position thanks to powerful recent victories, while London Irish found a much-needed victory over Harlequins after losses to Bath and the Saints as well as a dour draw with Newcastle.
The Exiles have a four-point cushion in fourth place, with Wasps just behind and Bath mounting a late surge for the play-offs. They have been boosted by the return of England duo Paul Hodgson and Steffon Armitage at scrum-half and openside respectively and both will need to be at their best.
Hodgson goes up against the exciting Ben Youngs while Armitage will need to combat the grunt of the Tigers' back-row. Ben Woods, Craig Newby and Jordan Crane will be smarting after the beating handed out by Phil Dowson and Co. last weekend but the Exiles have plenty of power in their back-row combination as George Stowers and Chris Hala'Ufia pack down at blindside and No.8.
The Tigers have also benefited from players being released by England as Toby Flood is named at fly-half. He will lock horns with Ryan Lamb in what will be a vital tussle. Lote Tuqiri starts his final game for Leicester at outside-centre, with the former Wallaby soon returning to Australia to join NRL side Wests Tigers.
Geordan Murphy starts at fullback after being released from the Ireland squad, with Scott Hamilton and Alesana Tuilagi named on the wings. Dan Cole has been retained by Martin Johnson and England, but there is a major boost as Martin Castrogiovanni has been released by Italy. On the Tigers' bench there is a return for England and British & Irish Lions flanker Tom Croft.
"We played poorly at Northampton last week, our standards are higher than that, and the manner of the defeat hurts. But we move on and we are still a good team, we are still the defending champions," Leicester head coach Richard Cockerill said. "We didn't like losing last week and we have to do everything we can to bounce back.
"Irish are a good side, they play with some width, their back-rowers are very direct and very good over the ball, and they have some stand-out performers across the pitch. If you make mistakes or if you are not on top of your game, they can punish you."
Leicester: Geordan Murphy (capt); Scott Hamilton, Lote Tuqiri, Anthony Allen, Alesana Tuilagi; Toby Flood, Ben Youngs; Marcos Ayerza, Mefin Davies, Martin Castrogiovanni, Calum Green, Geoff Parling, Craig Newby, Ben Woods, Jordan Crane
Replacements: George Chuter, Boris Stankovich, Julian White, Brett Deacon, Tom Croft, James Grindal, Jeremy Staunton, Matt Smith
London Irish: Tom Homer; John Rudd; Elvis Seveali'i; Seilala Mapusua; Peter Hewat; Ryan Lamb; Paul Hodgson; Dan Murphy; James Buckland, Faan Rautenbach; Nick Kennedy; Bob Casey (capt); George Stowers; Steffon Armitage; Chris Hala'Ufia.
Replacements: Danie Coetzee; Max Lahiff; Paulica Ion; Kieran Roche; Jamie Gibson; Chris Malone; Mike Catt; Jamie Lennard