Preview: Leicester Tigers v Bristol

Date published: February 17 2017

International duo Telusa Veainu and JP Pietersen return to the Leicester Tigers back-line for Saturday’s clash with Bristol at Welford Road.

Veainu has not played since suffering a head injury in the autumn international period with Tonga, while South Africa wing Pietersen returns from an arm injury to play for the first time since early December.

French centre Maxime Mermoz starts his first game for the club after a try-scoring appearance from the bench in the bonus-point win over Gloucester last weekend.

Sam Harrison teams up with Owen Williams at half-back after Freddie Burns was replaced in the first half against Gloucester following a knock to the head and there is a return to the forward pack for Mike Williams, with Mike Fitzgerald moving into the second row in place of Ed Slater this week.

Tom Croft is included among the replacements alongside prop Ellis Genge who has been training with the England squad this week.

Tigers head coach Aaron Mauger said: “JP and Telusa have been fully integrated into training during the last couple of weeks, they’ve helped to bring a spark to the training field and it’ll be good to get them back on the pitch.

“The real focus for us in the build-up to the last round was driving the energy and creating a more competitive environment in training and I thought that showed in the match.

“Lots of parts of the performance against Gloucester were very good but there is also work to do and we need to be better.”

Meanwhile, Siale Piutau will make his first competitive start for Bristol. The Tongan international is one of six changes to the side that suffered defeat to Harlequins last weekend.

Thretton Palamo replaces Tom Varndell – who is unavailable with a foot injury – on the wing, while Adrian Jarvis starts at fly-half. In the pack, Mark Sorenson comes into the second row, while Jack Lam and Jordan Crane also return to the starting line-up.

“We have drawn a line under last weekend and go into Saturday’s clash full of confidence and raring to go,” said Bristol head coach Mark Tainton.

“We are under no illusions about the challenge that awaits us at Welford Road, but we are looking forward to what is to come and have prepared well with intensity on the training field.”

Gavin Henson is listed among the replacements and could make his first outing since October, while exciting Academy prospect Sam Jeffries is also included in the 23-man squad and could make his Premiership debut.

Form: Leicester Tigers ended a three game losing run in the Premiership with their maximum point victory over Gloucester in Round 14, just their third try bonus point of the season. Tigers’ only defeat in their last six Premiership games at Welford Road was to Saracens on New Year’s Day. Bristol have lost their last six matches in all competitions since beating Sale Sharks 24-23 at AJ Bell Stadium on 1 January. This is their only away victory in the Premiership since 2008, although they have picked up a losing bonus point in four of their last six defeats on the road. Leicester have won their last six matches against Bristol since their defeat at Ashton Gate in April 2007, whilst Bristol’s only victory at Welford Road since 1987 came in the quarter-final of the Championship in May 2002.

The teams:

Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Jack Roberts, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Tom Youngs (c), 1 Michele Rizzo
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Greg Bateman, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Harry Thacker, 21 Jono Kitto, 22 Mathew Tait, 23 Matt Smith

Bristol: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Jack Wallace, 13 Siale Piutau, 12 Tusi Pisi, 11 Thretton Palamo, 10 Adrian Jarvis, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Jordan Crane (c), 7 Jack Lam, 6 Mitch Eadie, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Ryan Bevington
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 Jack O’Connell, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 James Phillips, 20 Sam Jeffries, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Will Hurrell

Date: Saturday, February 18
Venue: Welford Road
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant Referees: Andrew Jackson, Hamish Smales
TMO: David Sainsbury