Planet Rugby

Preview: London Irish v Exeter

25th March 2011 12:07

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Delon Armitage london irish v harlequins

Timely return: Delon Armitage

London Irish have made two personnel changes and two positional changes for Saturday's Aviva Premiership clash against Exeter Chiefs.

Delon Armitage makes his return along with hooker David Paice, who is back in the squad after recovering from injury. Alex Corbisiero also returns from his successful England debut in the Six Nations.

Delon Armitage comes in at full-back in place of Tom Homer who moves onto the wing. Daniel Bowden moves into the fly-half position from inside centre, with Elvis Seveali'i coming into the centres to join fellow Samoan, Seilala Mapusua.

"We have key personnel returning for the fixture and have prepared well leading into the game, so we are all geared up to come away from the fixture with a positive result," said London Irish Head Coach Toby Booth.

Meanwhile, Exeter Head Coach Rob Baxter is hoping his side can pick up from where they left off a fortnight ago.

Exeter's impressive 30-9 victory at home to Northampton Saints in their last league fixture ensured the Premiership newcomers finished their recent four-game block with three victories under their belt - their sole defeat coming against Westcountry rivals Bath in a tense encounter at Sandy Park.

That run of results, though, allowed Baxter's side to notch up a plethora of points and heading into this weekend's tussle, they find themselves just seven points adrift of fourth-placed Northampton and four off a potential Heineken Cup place.

Talk of Europe and final league placings, however, has been noted by those in and around Sandy Park, but the focus - as it has been all season - is simply on the next game. So, for the Chiefs that focus is their latest date with the Reading-based Exiles.

"We've avoided looking too far ahead so far. The nice thing is we're out of the relegation dogfight so we can look at the few teams above us," said Baxter.

Chiefs will be keen to demonstrate just how far they have come since the sides last met back in October. Irish are one of just three league sides to have triumphed in Devon this term and came away that day with a 12-9.

They have, however, struggled to hit top form since and a record of five wins from 19 games. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have flourished recently and Baxter has been left to bemoan slightly the recent two-week break.

"We would have liked to have kept on rolling through, but that's not how it works in the Premiership. You've got to get used to these experiences," said Baxter.

"We feel we were on quite good form before the break, so our challenge is to continue that form. I think London Irish would have liked to have been playing a bit better, so for them the break is a chance to re-ignite their season.

"We'll only know tomorrow if we've managed the last three weeks well. That's what you do in your first season in the Premiership: You learn from these things, and it may well be that what we've done in the last three weeks was good and we perform well, it may be that we have done a couple of things wrong."

Although victorious against the Saints, Baxter has opted to change his winning formula by making three changes for this latest encounter.

The sole change in the pack sees James Hanks return after injury in place of Chad Slade, who drops to the bench; whilst in the back division Jason Shoemark and Matt Jess are both recalled at the expense of Phil Dollman and Fijian powerhouse Nemani Nadolo.

Form: The two teams have met on three previous occasions in all competitions with London Irish victorious on each occasion. The last nine matches that London Irish have played have all been won by the home side on the day. The Exiles are unbeaten at Madejski Stadium since New Year's Day where they lost there to Bath in Aviva Premiership Rugby. Exeter Chiefs' only defeat in their last four Premiership matches was 9-12 at home to Bath on 26 February. The Chiefs have won twice away from home in the Premiership this season: at Saracens on 30 October and at Newcastle on 18 February.

The teams:

London Irish:15 Delon Armitage, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Elvis Seveali'i, 12 Seilala Mapusua, 11 Tom Homer, 10 Daniel Bowden, 9 Paul Hodgson, 8 George Stowers, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Bob Casey, 4 Nick Kennedy, 3 Faan Rautenbach, 2 James Buckland, 1 Clarke Dermody (c).
Replacements: 16 David Paice 17 Alex Corbisiero 18 Paulica Ion 19 Gary Johnson 20 Richard Thorpe 21 Adam Thompstone 22 Ryan Lamb 23 Darren Allinson

Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Matt Jess, 13 Jason Shoemark, 12 Sireli Naqelevuki, 11 Nic Sestaret, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 HaydnThomas, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 James Hanks, 4 Tom Hayes (c), 3 Chris Budgen, 2 Neil Clark, 1 Brett Sturgess,
Replacements: 16 Simon Alcott, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Hoani Tui, 19 Chad Slade, 20 James Phillips, 21 Junior Poluleuligaga, 22 Nemani Nadolo, 23 Ignacio Mieres.

Date: Saturday, March 26
Venue: Madejski Stadium
Kick-off: 15.00 GMT
Referee: Greg Garner

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