Preview: London Irish v Exeter

Date published: January 9 2015

London Irish have made five changes for this weekend’s Premiership encounter against Exeter Chiefs at the Madejski Stadium.

Halani Aulika returns to the starting line-up, packing down in the front row alongside Tom Court and David Paice with Geoff Cross moving to the bench.

The second row partnership of captain George Skivington and Nic Rouse remains unchanged and Blair Cowan returns to start at openside flanker with Tom Guest starting on the blindside flank and Ofisa Treviranus at number eight.

Scott Steele and Shane Geraghty retain their half-back partnership with Eoin Griffin returning to the side to partner Fergus Mulchrone in the midfield.

Andrew Fenby starts at full-back, with Tom Homer moving onto the bench; Alex Lewington and Topsy Ojo start on the wings.

Director of Rugby Brian Smith said: “We have changed things up a little bit this week. It is great to get Blair back and the other guys who have come in deserve their shot.

“We didn’t start as well as we would have liked at Sandy Park earlier on in the season so the boys are keen to get out there and put it right. Exeter are a top quality side so we are looking for a big performance from the squad.

“We are back at home this week where we have done well the last couple of games so we can’t wait to get out there in front of our supporters.”

Meanwhile, Rob Baxter sticks with an unchanged back division, but up front there are changes with Carl Rimmer and Tomas Francis both coming into the front-row, Damian Welch returns in the second row, whilst Don Armand – who missed last weekend’s game due to the birth of his first son, comes in at openside flanker.

On the bench, England international Tom Johnson gets his first outing with the first team following his neck operation.

He replaces Ben White, who picked up a knee injury in training this week.

Form: London Irish’s only victory in the last eight rounds of the Premiership was at home to London Welsh on Boxing Day. The Exiles have won their last two games at Madejski Stadium, against Cardiff Blues in the Challenge Cup and London Irish and have not won three in a row at the venue since February 2014. Exeter Chiefs have slipped to three straight defeats in the Premiership and have not lost four in a row since last February. The Chiefs only victory in their last four away games in the tournament came at table-topping Northampton in Round 7. Exeter have won their last six fixtures with London Irish since the Exiles 29-22 victory in Reading on 27th December 2011. London Irish have not won at Sandy Park since their inaugural visit in October 2010.

The teams:

For Irish: 15 Andrew Fenby, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Shane Geraghty, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Tom Guest, 5 Nic Rouse, 4 George Skivington, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Harry Allen, 17 Matt Parr, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Dan Leo, 20 Kieran Low, 21 Tom