Leicester Tigers welcome back their international contingent for Saturday's Premiership clash with Exeter at Sandy Park.
Leicester Tigers welcome back their international contingent for Saturday's Premiership clash with Exeter Chiefs at a sold-out Sandy Park.
England players Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling, Tom Croft, Ben Youngs, Toby Flood and Manu Tuilagi all return to the Tigers starting line-up for the trip to Devon.
Martin Castrogiovanni, who captained Italy during this season's Six Nations and now has 95 Test caps, is also in the 23-man squad.
“It's great to have everyone back for the start of the run-in, we've had a good week back together this week and now we just want to get back out on the field,” said Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill.
“Exeter have a very good record at home but every game from now until the end of the season is massive for us and we have to get it right.”
Fly-half Flood will lead out Tigers as captain for the first time in the absence of both Geordan Murphy and Louis Deacon.
Steve Mafi is unavailable due to injury, while Boris Stankovich and Miles Benjamin are also sidelined.
Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter expects his side to fight “tooth and nail” in their bid to get amongst the frontrunners.
Back to back wins over London Welsh and reigning champions Harlequins have propelled the Chiefs back up the table.
However, Baxter wants his team to build on those two successes against English rugby's most successful club side, who themselves will not only be looking to complete a league double over their Devon hosts, but at the same time maintain their play-off aspirations.
“We are at that stage of the season where we have to make it about us and what we want to achieve,” said Baxter.
“We know we are not in danger of relegation, but we are in a group who can push on and achieve things. Whether that's fighting to get into the top four or whether it's fighting to get into the Heineken Cup, those things are still attainable to us right now. And if they are attainable, I expect us to fight tooth and nail to get them.”
Having not played for two Saturdays, the break has proved beneficial to Baxter in that fact that not only was he able to give his players a well-deserved week off, but some of the club's more longer-term casualties have now completed their recoveries and are fit for duty as the season enters into its final furlong.
Prop Brett Sturgess (arm) and Chris Whitehead (neck) both return to the bench alongside Craig Mitchell and James Hanks.
In the starting XV there are recalls for prop Hoani Tui and lock Dean Mumm, both of whom missed out on the recent win at the Twickenham Stoop. Joining Sturgess on the bench – for a first time in the Premiership – will be England U20s starlet Henry Slade, whose impressive displays in the recent Six Nations tournament have not gone unnoticed by Baxter.
Form: The Chiefs suffered one of their heaviest defeats at Welford Road in the reverse fixture pre-Christmas, going down 30-8 as Adam Thompstone romped to a hat-trick. After a four-game winless run Exeter have found their feet with back-to-back victories over London Welsh and Quins, and currently lie eight in the table. The West Country outfit have a good record against Leicester at Sandy Park, with two victories and one defeat in their last three meetings, with Leicester out to right some wrongs of their own having lost their last three games on the road.
Exeter Chiefs:15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Sireli Naqelevuki, 12 Phil Dollman, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter (c), 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Ben White, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Carl Rimmer.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 James Hanks, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Ian Whitten.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Logovi'i Mulipola, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Graham Kitchener, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.
Date: Saturday, 23 March
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Gareth Copsey, Paul Burton
TMO: Geoffrey Warren