Gloucester and Exiles to fight out top spot
January 29, 2009
Gareth Delve will return to action for Gloucester © Getty Images
Gloucester host London Irish at Kingsholm on Saturday with the winner taking top spot in the Premiership tree.
Gloucester will need to bounce back from their recent European agony at the hands of Cardiff and Biarritz if they are to get their season back-on-track and once again finish top of the table.
The Exiles have been bolstered by the returns of Nick Kennedy and Delon Armitage from the England camp, with Toby Booth's men looking to maintain their position at the top against a Gloucester side that will be out for revenge following a 42-12 drubbing at the Madejski earlier in the season.
Gloucester will welcome back Gareth Delve and Greg Somerville from lengthy injury layoffs, with Welsh international Delve providing timely cover as Luke Narraway is missing on England duty. Somerville has recovered from a detached retina to take his place for only the third time this season.
"I have been through a whole range of emotions over the last few weeks," said Delve. "There has been a lot of nervous energy, a bit of apprehension but tons of energy and enthusiasm - I cannot wait to get back out there again.
"It will be a special feeling to pull that Gloucester shirt over my head again and experience that match day togetherness with the squad. My rehabilitation has gone as well as I could have hoped for and now I have to put that into a game situation.
"I am not expecting miracles but I just want to contribute to the team - we understand just how big this game is for us and that calls for big hearts, lots of emotion and hard work - it will be very special to run out of that tunnel again."
The back-row is completed by Alasdair Strokosch and Apo Satala, while there is more bad news for the under-fire Ryan Lamb. With Olly Morgan on England duty Willie Walker slots in at fullback and Olly Barkley takes the outside-half jersey. Anthony Allen comes in to the centre in place of Mike Tindall whjo is also away with England.
London Irish have been boosted ahead of the game by the return of Delon Armitage, Nick Kennedy and Bob Casey from international duty. Armitage and Kennedy have been asked to get extra game-time by the England management at fullback and lock respectively, while Casey also lines up in the second-row after returning from Ireland.
Peter Hewat partners Paul Hodgson at half-back, with Seilala Mapusua and Elvis Seviali'i starting in the centre.
"We go into tomorrow's match with plenty of confidence," said London Irish head coach Toby Booth. "We've performed well in the past fortnight in the European Challenge Cup and qualified for the knock-out stages. We want to take that good form back into the Premiership.
"Playing Gloucester at Kingsholm is as tough an away fixture as there is in the season. Dean Ryan's squad is full of talent. There are all sorts of attacking combinations in midfield with players like Ryan Lamb, Anthony Allen and Olly Barkley and there is plenty of gas out wide with the likes of James Simpson-Daniel. They have a streetwise pack that push the letter of the law to the limit and includes key men like Olivier Azam and Peter Buxton. On top of that they are well coached and capable of playing some terrific rugby.
"We will have to produce an outstanding performance to maintain our momentum in the Premiership. With the enthusiastic backing of our travelling supporters I'm confident that we can do so."
Gloucester: Willie Walker; Iain Balshaw, Henry Trinder, Anthony Allen, James Simpson-Daniel; Olly Barkley, Rory Lawson; Alasdair Dickinson, Olivier Azam (capt), Greg Somerville, Adam Eustace, Alex Brown, Alasdair Strokosch, Apo Satala, Gareth Delve.
Replacements: Andy Titterrell, Nick Wood, Marco Bortolami, Andy Hazell, Dave Lewis, Ryan Lamb, Mark Foster
London Irish: Delon Armitage; Topsy Ojo; Elvis Seveali'i; Seilala Mapusua; Adam Thompstone; Peter Hewat; Paul Hodgson; Clarke Dermody; David Paice, Tonga Lea'aetoa; Nick Kennedy; Bob Casey (capt); Richard Thorpe; Declan Danaher; Chris Hala'Ufia.
Replacements: Alex Corbisiero; Danie Coetzee; Richard Skuse; James Hudson; Gary Johnson; Alfredo Lalanne; Mike Catt
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September