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Preview - Leicester v Northampton

23rd February 2007 12:19

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The Leicester Tigers starting XV to face Northampton Saints at Welford Road in the Guinness Premiership this Saturday shows five changes in personnel to the team that recorded a 13-6 victory over Worcester Warriors at Sixways last weekend.

Head coach Pat Howard sticks with the same outside backs but brings in a new half-back partnership in Paul Burke and Scott Bemand.

Gavin Hickie and Alex Moreno replace James Buckland and Julian White in the front row, with the latter on international duty with England at Croke Park.

Having been a part of two successive England Saxons Six Nations victories, Jordan Crane returns to the Tigers line-up at number eight, with Brett Deacon moving to the blindside flank and Tom Croft dropping to the bench.

"Paul Burke gets the nod at fly-half this week as a reward for his performance in the win over Newcastle and also because I want to keep competition high for the position," said Howard.

"Andy Goode is recovering from his hamstring injury and Ian Humphreys had a great couple of games in Europe but I want to keep the competition strong there.

"The competition is also fierce at scrum-half and Scott Bemand has had to wait to get his chance over the past couple of weeks. I have three good guys in there and I want to make sure I give them all a chance to put their case forward.

"With the internationals away, we do not have a huge number of options in the pack, but the back row is changed this week. Tom Croft is on the bench but that is not a reflection of how he played against Worcester last week.

"Jordan Crane had been playing well and we were also looking for a back row to play against Northampton's combinations there.

Luke Abraham has had a shoulder injury for a little while but I am happy to welcome him back into the 22 this weekend."

Meanwhile, Northampton Saints' former Scotland and British Lions prop Tom Smith is aware of the need for victory in the East Midlands derby.

With the injuries to Steve Thompson and Pat Barnard, Smith is the most experienced member of the Saints front row that will face Leicester, and with Saints in need of points to help ease relegation worries, Smith knows that the team as a whole need to up their game, regardless of the Tigers' missing their international contingent.

"Obviously it's not good to be involved in a relegation dogfight," he said. "It's time to stand up and be counted.

"We have to hang on to the ball, clear out properly and build pressure. Leicester have a strong squad and it's always going to be a tough game.

"They have a big ground and certain expectations so it's down to us to put a different slant on it.

"We're at the wrong end of the table but we know that if we work hard, striving to play the way we want to we'll click eventually.

Smith starts at loosehead prop alongside Dylan Harley and Soane Tonga'uiha, who comes into the side for Barnard. The only other change in the pack sees Mark Hopley make his first Guinness Premiership start of the season at number eight. Paul Tupai resumes his normal position at blindside and Alex Rae drops to the bench.

The call-ups of Sean Lamont and Robbie Kydd to the Scotland and Scotland 'A' side respectively mean the backline contains new personnel. Paul Diggin wears the 14 shirt and Seamus Mallon comes in for Kydd.

Carlos Spencer also misses the trip having succumbed to a calf injury he's been carrying for two weeks. He is replaced by Stephen Myler at fly half who recently returned from injury in the match against Argentina.

Form: Leicester Tigers have won their last four matches in all competitions since Newcastle beat them at Kingston Park in the Guinness Premiership on 7 January. The Tigers have not lost at Welford Road to an English team since Gloucester won there 20-13 in the 6th round of the Powergen Cup in December 2004. Northampton's only victory in their last six games was 29-19 over Border Reivers at Murrayfield in the European Cup on 14 January, whilst the Saints have won just once on the road in the Premiership this campaign: 23-18 at Worcester on 11 November. The two sides have already met twice this season at Franklin's Gardens with Leicester winning 15-10 in the Guinness Premiership and the Saints taking the EDF Energy Cup clash 18-5. Northampton's last win at Welford Road was 32-15 in the Premiership on 25 October 2003.

Leicester Tigers: 15 Sam Vesty, 14 Seru Rabeni, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Ollie Smith, 11 Alesana Tuilagi, 10 Paul Burke, 9 Scott Bemand, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Shane Jennings, 6 Brett Deacon, 5 Ben Kay, 4 Leo Cullen (capt), 3 Alex Moreno, 2 Gavin Hickie, 1 Marcos Ayerza.

Replacements: 16 James Buckland, 17 Michael Holford, 18 Tom Croft, 19 Luke Abraham, 20 Frank Murphy, 21 Ian Humphreys, 22 Daryl Gibson.

Northampton Saints: 15 Bruce Reihana (c), 14 Paul Diggin, 13 Seamus Mallon, 12 David Quinlan, 11 Ben Cohen, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Mark Robinson, 8 Mark Hopley, 7 Darren Fox, 6 Paul Tupai, 5 Christian Short, 4 Damien Browne, 3 Soane Tonga'uiha, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Tom Smith.

Replacements: 16 Matias Cortese, 17 Chris Budgen, 18 Matt Lord, 19 Alex Rae, 20 Johnny Howard, 21 Vaughan Going, 22 Matthieu Bourret.

Date: Saturday 24th February 2007

Time: 13.00 (GMT)

Venue: Welford Road

Referee: Sean Davey

Touch judges: Bob Mullis, Stuart Terheege

Television match official: Brian Abrahams, Chris Rees

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