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Preview: Worcester v Leicester

03rd January 2013 11:10

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tom croft

Back at 6: Tom Croft

Leicester welcome back Tom Croft for his first appearance of the season in Friday's match at Worcester Warriors.

Back-rower Croft returns after recovery from a neck injury suffered last season and joins fit-again Steve Mafi and Thomas Waldrom in the Tigers back-row for the opening 2012/13 Aviva Premiership fixture of the new year at Sixways.

Rob Hawkins is joined by Logovi'i Mulipola and Italian Martin Castrogiovanni in the front-row.

Mathew Tait returns at full-back, and there are starting places for Scott Hamilton, Matt Smith and Dan Bowden in the backline, with Toby Flood and Ben Youngs at half-back for the domestic clash.

Warriors expect their biggest crowd of the season so far for the fixture as they defend an unbeaten home record stretching back to September.

Meanwhile, wing Josh Drauniniu makes his first league start since November for the Warriors.

Head coach Richard Hill makes a total of six changes to the XV from the side that lost to Sale as Warriors look to start 2013 with a crucial victory and maintain the club's strong home form.

Scrum-half Jonny Arr will partner Andy Goode at half-back, with former England international Paul Hodgson ruled out of the game with a jaw injury.

Centre Jon Clarke is also named in the back division with Josh Matavesi among the replacements.

Three changes in the pack see a return for hooker Aleki Lutui while Sam Betty plays in the back-row alongside Matt Kvesic and Semisi Taulava. Ex-Ireland ace Neil Best is named on the bench and could make his 50th appearance for Warriors if he features.

Lock Dean Schofield will join James Percival, who retains the captaincy, in the second-row. Fit-again prop Matt Mullan is recalled to the bench alongside scrum half Ollie Frost.

"There are a number of changes to the starting line-up as we look to keep the squad fresh after a run of bruising encounters," said Hill.

"There were a number of battered and bruised bodies after the game at Sale and it is vital the team that starts is in the best physical shape for such a crucial game.

"Paul Hodgson misses out after picking up a jaw injury, but I know Jonny Arr will be keen to grasp this opportunity. We also call-up Aleki Lutui, Dean Schofield, Sam Betty, Jon Clarke and Josh Drauniniu and they will be determined to take advantage of this chance to shine.

"We have a real sense of pride when playing in front of our fans at Sixways, but this will undoubtedly be our toughest challenge yet," added Hill.

"If we want to keep our home record intact we have got to pull out all the stops and raise the bar once more against Leicester Tigers."

Form: Worcester's last nine games in the Aviva Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day. The Warriors are unbeaten in their last eight encounters at Sixways in all competitions since Bath won there, 24-23, on 1 September. Leicester have strung together five successive victories in all competitions since their 12-14 reversal at London Wasps in the Premiership on 25 November. Tigers are the second best away side in the Premiership after Saracens, securing 18 league points from their six away trips so far. The Tigers have won on their last four visits to Sixways including winning the Anglo-Welsh Cup there against Northampton in March. Worcester's only win over Leicester since 2005 remains the 23-19 victory at Sixways in the Premiership on 8 March 2006.

The teams:

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Jon Clarke, 11 David Lemi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Semisi Taulava, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sam Betty, 5 Dean Schofield, 4 James Percival (c), 3 Euan Murray, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 John Andress, 19 Chris Jones, 20 Neil Best, 21 Ollie Frost, 22 Danny Gray, 23 Josh Matavesi.

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Steve Mafi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Ed Slater, 4 Louis Deacon (c), 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Logovi'i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Micky Young, 22 Anthony Allen, 23 Niall Morris.

Date: Friday, January 4
Kick-off: 20:00
Venue: Sixways
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Andrew Pearce, Peter Huckle
Television match official: Trevor Fisher
Timekeeper: Laurie Bryant
Assessor: Tony Spreadbury

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