Preview: Worcester v London Irish

Date published: March 25 2016

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Worcester wing Cooper Vuna returns to the starting line-up for Saturday's all-important clash with London Irish at Sixways.

The Australia international is the only change to the starting 15 as Warriors go in search of a club-record fourth consecutive Premiership win. 

Vuna, Warriors' joint-top tryscorer this season, is reinstated in the side to join Bryce Heem and Chris Pennell in the back three. 

Wynand Olivier and Ryan Mills start in midfield for Warriors while Francois Hougaard and Tom Heathcote continue their half-back partnership.

GJ van Velze, who signed a new deal with the club this week, will again lead the side at number eight in a back row with Phil Dowson and Carl Kirwan. 

The experienced Donncha O'Callaghan, who has featured in every Premiership game this term, keeps his place in the second row alongside Darren Barry, while Val Rapava Ruskin, Niall Annett and Nick Schonert occupy the front row. 

Centre Alex Grove has returned from a loan spell at London Scottish and could make his first appearance since January if he shows from the replacements bench. 

Jaba Bregvadze also returns to the squad after international duties with Georgia and Matt Cox is called up to the replacements having not featured since Warriors' trip to the Madejski Stadium back in early February. 

Director of Rugby Dean Ryan said: "We haven't targeted games, we've just targeted playing well every week, learning and getting better.

"Irish are on a decent run of form in terms of where they have started from. They're a dangerous opponent.

"We've got to make sure we get our bits right and give ourselves a chance to come home again.

"Wins on the road have really helped us but it's here that we've set the bedrock of this decent league position by consistently getting wins at home.”

Meanwhile, London Irish have made one change. Elliott Stooke returns to the pack, partnering Matt Symons in the second row, while back-row Ofisa Treviranus is named amongst the replacements after recovering from a knee injury.

“Elliott has done a good job since joining the club and we like his physicality and effort around the field,” said head coach Tom Coventry, who is also pleased to welcome back Samoa international captain Treviranus to the matchday squad.

“Ofisa brings an x-factor, and we are looking forward to bringing him off the bench at some point in the game. He’s had a very fluctuating season with injuries on the back of the World Cup, and it’s great to have him back in the side,” added Coventry.  

The Exiles take on an in form Warriors outfit buoyed by a run of four wins out of five games, a sequence that has moved Dean Ryan’s men up to tenth in the table.

Coventry said: “Worcester are clearly one of the form teams in the competition at the moment, and they have picked up some valuable wins in the last few games.

“They have recruited well of late and their scrum and lineout is strong, so they will offer us a real threat.”

Form: The Warriors have won their last three Premiership matches against Harlequins, Gloucester and Newcastle Falcons, but have never won four in a row in the history of the tournament – a statistic they are looking to change against the Exiles. They have won their last two matches in Premiership Rugby at Sixways, against Sale Sharks and Gloucester. London Irish's 23-18 victory at home to Gloucester on Sunday ended an unwanted run of five successive defeats. The Exiles have not won successive encounters in Premiership Rugby since February 2014, while London Irish's solitary away win in any competition this season came on a trip to Agen in the European Challenge Cup in January. London Irish's only defeat in their last 16 league encounters with the Warriors was 35-11 at Sixways in September 2012.

The teams:

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Tom Heathcote, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Carl Kirwan, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Donncha O'Callaghan, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin
Replacements: 
16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Na'ama Leleimalefaga, 18 James Johnston, 19 Dan Sanderson, 20 Matt Cox , 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Alex Grove 

London Irish:15 Sean Maitland, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Topsy Ojo, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Luke Narraway (c), 5 Matt Symons, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Tom Court 
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Tom Smallbone, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Jerry Sexton, 20 Ofisa Treviranus, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Theo Brophy Clews, 23 Fergus Mulchrone

Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: Sixways
Kick-off: 17:30 GMT
Referee: Gregory Garner
Assistant Referees: Robin Goodliffe, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Sean Davey

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