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Preview: Leicester v Saracens

09th May 2014 12:17

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Tom Croft Leicester Tigers 2013

Timely return: Tom Croft

Tom Croft returns to the Leicester matchday squad for the first time since the opening day of the season as Tigers host Saracens at Welford Road on Saturday.

International back-rower Croft is named among the replacements and is in line for his first appearance since surgery on a knee injury following the Round 1 win over Worcester Warriors back in September.

Toby Flood, David Mele and Blaine Scully are added to the backline following last week's bonus-point win over Sale Sharks.

In the forward pack, Steve Mafi joins fellow internationals Pablo Matera and Thomas Waldrom in the back row and Louis Deacon partners Geoff Parling in the second row.

Dan Bowden takes a place among the replacements alongside Croft, and tighthead prop Tiziano Pasquali is included in an Aviva Premiership squad for the first time after three appearances in the LV= Cup this season.

"Tom Croft has been training fully and having him back is obviously good news. He's come through all the challenges on his way back to fitness and it's good to see him ready to go again," said Director of rugby Richard Cockerill.

"Steve Mafi, too, has been waiting for his chance and I feel he is ready to be rewarded with a place in the squad.

"Everyone has worked exceptionally hard to get this far but there is still work to do."

Meanwhile, with top spot already wrapped up Saracens have named a below-strength side for the final round of the regular Premiership season.

Jamie George will skipper the side from hooker. The Saracens academy product is joined by Rhys Gill and Petrus Du Plessis in the front row.

At lock, Hayden Smith starts his first Premiership game since returning to the club this season, and is joined by Eoin Sheriff in the second row.

In the back-row, England U20s international Maro Itoje makes his Premiership debut for the club starting at blindside flanker. He is joined in by German international Justin Melck at openside, and Nick Fenton-Wells at number eight.

In the back division, Ben Ransom starts at full back, with Fijian Michael Tagicakibau and New Zealander Jack Wilson named on the wings. In the midfield, Scotland international Duncan Taylor starts at inside centre, and is joined by Tim Streather.

Scrum-half Ben Spencer comes into the side at half-back, and is joined by the experienced Charlie Hodgson who has returned from injury to start at fly-half.

Form: Leicester Tigers have already qualified for a tenth successive play-off spot, but will need a bonus point win to give themselves any chance, dependent upon other results, of a home semi-final. Tigers only defeat at Welford Road in the Premiership since February 2013 was to Harlequins in round 7 this season. Saracens have already ensured a home semi-final and have lost only once in any tournament since early February: 7-26 at Northampton in the semi-final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup on 8th March. Saracens have lost only one away game in the Premiership this season, at Northampton in round 6. Leicester have not beaten Saracens since the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final at Welford Road in 2012. Saracens were victorious over the Tigers at Allianz Park in round 10 but have not done a regular season's double over the East Midlanders since 2010/11.

The teams:

Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Toby Flood, 11 Blaine Scully, 10 Owen Williams, 9 David Mele, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Louis Deacon (c), 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Boris Stankovich.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Tom Croft, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Dan Bowden, 23 Adam Thompstone.

Saracens: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 Michael Tagicakibau, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Jack Wilson, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Nick Fenton-Wells, 7 Justin Melck, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Hayden Smith, 4 Eoin Sheriff, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Jamie George (c), 1 Rhys Gill.
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 James Johnston, 19 Tom Jubb, 20 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Nick Tompkins

Date: Saturday, April 10
Venue: Welford Road
Kick-off: 15.15 BST
Referee: Greg Garner

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