Preview: Leicester v Saracens

Date published: May 11 2012

Leicester and Saracens re-ignite the flames of their fiery rivalry when they meet in the Aviva Premiership semi-final at Welford Road.

Leicester and Saracens will re-ignite the flames of their fiery rivalry when they meet in the Aviva Premiership semi at Welford Road on Saturday.

In a repeat of last year's final when the Tigers fell 22-18, there is more than a feeling that revenge will be on the mind of the hosts in this clash.

Leicester will again start as slight favourites as their injury issues are not as severe as their visitors from Watford, particularly in the back-row. Losing Jacques Burger and Kelly Brown a few months ago was a titanic blow to Mark McCall while Tom Croft's absence also stung the Tigers.

However, Richard Cockerill's side have not let the England flanker's absence halt their form as they go into this on the back of ten successive wins.

In team news ahead of the game, George Chuter will make his 200th starting appearance for Leicester. England international hooker Chuter became the first player to reach 250 Premiership appearances in the recent win over Bath, and reaches another personal landmark on Saturday.

Ben Youngs, George Skivington and Graham Kitchener return to the squad this week.

Meanwhile, Charlie Hodgson returns to start at fly-half for Saracens with Owen Farrell named at centre for the knockout clash. Will Fraser returns to the line-up while Matt Stevens and Carlos Nieto swap places with the England prop starting and Nieto on the bench.

Chris Wyles moves to the wing with James Short on the bench along with the likes of hooker/prop John Smit, scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and second-row Hugh Vyvyan.

Justin Melck has been ruled out after suffering a knee injury in the final minute of the match against Exeter Chiefs last weekend. The flanker underwent surgery on a damaged ACL on Thursday and is set to be ruled out for up to nine months.

“It's a massive match,” explained Saracens Director of Rugby Mark McCall.

“We've had a very good week of preparation but we know it is going to be a very tough game and we will have to be at our best to get the result we want.

“Leicester have a phenomenal semi-final record but we have had some excellent performances in recent weeks with wins against London Irish, Newcastle Falcons and Exeter Chiefs so we are really looking forward to the match.”

Form: Leicester have reeled off ten straight wins in all competitions and have not lost at Welford Road since Harlequins were the visitors on 8 October. This is the Tigers eighth straight appearance in the Premiership play-offs and the East Midlanders have won their last eleven semis in all competitions. Defending Aviva Premiership champions Saracens participate in their fourth Premiership semi-final encounter and their third in succession. Sarries are already one of just three sides to have won an away Premiership semi, doing so at Northampton in 2010. Leicester and Saracens have played out the Premiership final for the past two seasons, but they have never clashed before in any semi-final. Saracens have won on their last three visits to Welford Road – the best run of success at the venue by an English club side since Quins won five games in a row there between 1973-78.

Ones to watch:

For Leicester: England success story Geoff Parling has been a stand-out this season for both the Tigers and in international colours. He faces England colleague Mouritz Botha this weekend in what should be an interesting battle for the hard-working Parling. He prides himself on the line-out, therefore if he can upset the Saracens set-piece, Richard Cockerill will be a happy coach. Anthony Allen is also worth looking at ahead of June's internationals.

For Saracens: One player possibly unhappy with missing out on a seat on the plane to South Africa will be Richard Wigglesworth. The scrum-half maybe has been told to enjoy an off-season of continued rehabilitation following his comeback from a long-term knee injury, but there is no doubt a feeling from Wigglesworth that he would rather be playing Test match rugby. But, as always, hooker Schalk Brits is certain to be busy for Saracens.

Prediction: We are backing the Tigers for this one. Leicester by 4!

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Leicester: 15 Geordan Murphy (capt), 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 George Skivington, 3 Dan Cole, 2 George Chuter, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Logovi'i Mulipola, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Craig Newby, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Scott Hamilton.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 David Strettle, 13 Owen Farrell, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (capt), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 John Smit, 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 Hugh Vyvyan, 20 George Kruis, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Adam Powell, 23 James Short.

Date: Saturday, May 12
Kick-off: 17:30 BST
Venue: Welford Road
Referee: Dave Pearson