Preview: London Irish v Leicester Tigers

Date published: October 16 2015

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London Irish prop Halani Aulika will start at tighthead for the Exiles after finishing his Rugby World Cup campaign with Tonga.

Aulika will start in the front row alongside Tom Court and David Paice, with George Skivington captaining the side in the second row alongside new signing Matt Symons. Jebb Sinclair, Luke Narraway and Rob McCusker make up the back row.

Another new signing in Brendan McKibbin and Chris Noakes will start at scrum-half and fly-half respectively with Eoin Griffin and Tom Fowlie in the centre. Topsy Ojo, Alex Lewington and Andrew Fenby are named in the back three.

London Irish head coach Tom Coventry said ahead of his first game in charge: “Selection for the first match of the season is always tough and this is no exception.

"The players have trained and prepared well for this match and, after a long pre-season, cannot wait to get out and play in front of our home supporters.  Leicester provide us with a significant challenge and we look forward to representing the club and our supporters with pride.”

Meanwhile, Leicester Tigers give league debuts to five new signings.

New arrivals Peter Betham, Greg Bateman, Mike Williams, Mike Fitzgerald and Lachlan McCaffrey all run out for the first time in a competitive fixture for the club, with Australia international Betham and second-row Fitzgerald starting an Aviva Premiership game for the first time in their careers.

Back-rower Opeti Fonua and young scrum-half Ben White are also looking to make their first Tigers appearance from the bench.

Fonua is included in the squad after reporting back from international duty with Tonga. Marcos Ayerza remains on World Cup duty with Argentina, while the other World Cup players have reported back to Welford Road and have been rested for this weekend.

Mathew Tait leads the team in the absence of club captain Ed Slater.

There is a timely return for Owen Williams who is recalled to the matchday squad for the first time since suffering a knee ligament injury in the Cup victory at Cardiff Blues in February. Tommy Bell starts at fly-half.

Form: London Irish have slipped up in Round 1 of Premiership Rugby for the past four seasons. The Exiles were winless in their last three Premiership Rugby matches, losing at Bath and Gloucester but drawing 40-all at home to Wasp in round 22. London Irish's only defeat at Madejski Stadium in the tournament since last November came at the hands of Leicester Tigers, 6-12 in a try-less encounter in February. Leicester Tigers have been victorious on the opening weekend for the past three seasons, beating London Welsh, Worcester and Newcastle respectively. The Tigers won their last three regular season fixtures in Premiership Rugby before going out of the competition at the semi-final stage at Bath. London Irish have beaten Leicester just once in any tournament since October 2009: 22-19 at Welford Road, in Round 4 of Premiership Rugby last season, whilst the Tigers have won on their last six visits to Reading.

The teams:

Irish: 15 Andrew Fenby, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Topsy Ojo, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Luke Narraway, 6 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Matt Symons, 4 George Skivington (c), 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Tom Smallbone, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 David Sisi, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Fergus Mulchrone

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait (c), 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Seremaia Bai, 11 Matt Smith, 10 Tommy Bell, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Laurence Pearce, 7 Lachlan McCaffrey, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Mike Williams, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Greg Bateman, 1 Logovi'i Mulipola 
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Sebastian de Chaves, 20 Opeti Fonua, 21 Ben White, 22 Owen Williams, 23 George Catchpole

Date: Sunday, October 18
Venue: Madejski Stadium
Kick-off: 15:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Stuart Terheege

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