Preview: Leicester v London Irish

Date published: February 26 2016

Jean de Villiers makes his Leicester Tigers home debut this Sunday for the Aviva Premiership Round 14 match against London Irish.

Former Springbok captain de Villiers returned from a calf injury to play against Harlequins last weekend and will run out at Welford Road for the first time since his move to the club, teaming up with Manu Tuilagi in midfield.

The backline also sees a return for Adam Thompstone on the wing and a first start in Tigers colours for scrum-half Jono Kitto.

In the forward pack, Richard Cockerill welcomes back Tom Youngs after a back injury and Dom Barrow after serving a two-match ban. Lachlan McCaffrey returns after missing the game at Quins and club captain Ed Slater is at number eight.

Mike Williams and Tommy Bell return from injury to join the replacements. Williams has not played since suffering a broken arm in the win over his former club Worcester Warriors in December and Bell is back after recovering from a head knock in the match against Sale three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, London Irish have made two changes to their side. 

Scotland internationals Sean Maitland and Blair Cowan return to the Exiles’ ranks as London Irish eye crucial Premiership points on the road. 

Maitland, who made the switch from Edinburgh Rugby last summer, gets the nod at full-back, while Blair Cowan starts at openside flanker with number eight Rob McCusker missing out through injury. 

"We will go up there with a positive mind-set and a positive attitude and get stuck in to Leicester," said assistant coach Clark Laidlaw. 

"We know it’s going to be a tough test for the boys at Welford Road, but if the lads apply themselves well then there is no reason why we can’t come away with a result," he added. 

London Irish lock horns with the Tigers on the back of last weekend’s bonus point defeat at home to title-chasing Exeter Chiefs. Defeat at home to the Chiefs ended a run of three successive home victories, and Laidlaw insists the camp remains upbeat as the business end of the campaign looms large.

"The boys have been pretty positive all week and we have had some honest and open conversations with them in recent weeks about where we are at as a team – the boys are responding well to it," said Laidlaw.

"We have to concentrate on our own game and not be distracted by what is going on around us in the table," added the Scot. 

Irish face a Tigers outfit looking to bounce back from three successive defeats against Sale, Newcastle and Harlequins respectively.

Laidlaw is under no illusion with the task in hand, but insists his troops must relish the occasion at the home of the Tigers.

"Welford Road is one of the iconic grounds in the league with all of the tradition and history that goes with the club," he said.

"I’m certainly looking forward to going there and sampling game day – the boys are excited and we’ve had a good week in training," he added. 

Form: Leicester have lost their last three Premiership fixtures and have not lost four in succession in the tournament since season 2003/04. Tigers were defeated 3-10 by Sale in their most recent encounter at Welford Road, and have not lost back-to-back encounters at the famous venue since January 2014. London Irish’s three victories in the Premiership this season have all come in the last seven rounds, against Northampton, Newcastle and Worcester. The Exiles have failed to gain a single league point from any of their six away games in Premiership Rugby this season. The Tigers have lost just one of their last 14 encounters with London Irish: 19-22 at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby in September 2014. 

The teams:

Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Jean de Villiers, 11 Telusa Veainu, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Jono Kitto, 8 Ed Slater (c), 7 Lachlan McCaffrey, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza. 
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Logovi'i Mulipola, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Matt Smith.

London Irish: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Fergus Mulchrone, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Theo Brophy Clews, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Ofisa Treviranus 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Luke Narraway (c), 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Smallbone,
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Tom Court, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Will Lloyd, 20 Joe Trayfoot, 21 Darren Allinson, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Johnny Williams

Date: Sunday 28 February
Venue: Welford Road
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Peter Allan, Andy Watson
TMO: David Sainsbury