Key clash at Kingston Park
April 21, 2011
Leicester centre Alesana Tuilagi scored a sensational hat-trick against Gloucester last weekend © Getty Images
Newcastle Falcons and Leicester Tigers meet at Kingston Park on Friday evening in a game which will have a big impact on both ends of the table - regardless of the outcome.
The Falcons currently stand 11th in the Aviva Premiership table, level on points with but, crucially, with a game in hand on the side currently occupying bottom place, Leeds Carnegie. Worryingly, though, for the hosts, they appear to be in freefall, having lost their last five games in all competitions.
So, this is not the time to be facing a Tigers side intent on sealing a home draw in the play-offs and which is still smarting after blowing a 14-point lead midway through the second half of their epic 41-41 draw with Gloucester last weekend.
Newcastle Falcons - Player to Watch: Jimmy Gopperth is Newcastle's talisman and it is essential that he maintains his deadly accuracy off the kicking tee if the hosts are to have any chance of upsetting Leicester.
Newcastle Falcons - Team News: The Falcons make three changes to the side which suffered an agonising defeat at home to Northampton last weekend. Filipo Levi gets the nod ahead of Tim Swinson in the second-row, Rob Vickerman is preferred to Tane Tu'ipulotu in midfield and Luke Fielden returns in place of Gcobani Bobo on the left wing.
Leicester Tigers - Player to Watch: Midfield ace Anthony Allen has been in fine form for Leicester this season - he was recently named the club's player of the year by his team-mates - and he will be champing at the bit after being left out for last weekend's clash with Gloucester.
Leicester Tigers - Team News: Leicester boss Richard Cockerill makes a number of changes to the side held at home by Gloucester. As well as the return of Allen, there are three other changes to the Tigers back-line, with Matt Smith returning on the wing and Jeremy Staunton and James Grindal taking over in the half-backs from Toby Flood and Ben Youngs respectively. In the pack, Marcos Ayerza and George Chuter come into the front-row, there is a recall for lock Ed Slater and Craig Newby is back at openside.
Key Battle: One has to imagine that Leicester's back-row trio of Tom Croft, Craig Newby and Thomas Waldrom will dominate their counterparts Mark Wilson, Will Welch and Ally Hogg at the breakdown, thus laying the foundations for decisive away win.
Trivia: Leicester are bidding for the seventh successive away win in the league this weekend. The previous best is eight, a record they themselves set during the 1999-00 season.
Stats: Newcastle have won more scrums (101) than any other side in the Premiership this season.
"It doesn't get any easier, but it's all exciting when you get the real top sides coming up to you home ground. It is a good challenge for us, and one that we have been looking forward to. That was the case last week against Northampton and, like that game, we will give it a good crack." - Falcons fly-half Jimmy Gopperth is relishing the visit of league-leading Leicester
"A couple of the guys have been nursing little niggling injuries and we have to look after ones like Toby and Ben, who have played a lot of rugby recently, as we did with Craig Newby and Anthony Allen last week. Newcastle is a tough trip but we have been very consistent through the season and we want to maintain those high standards." - Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill explains his selection
Fantasy: Scott Hamilton is the top points-scoring back in this season's ESPNscrum Fantasy Rugby Game with 103 points, just one clear of his Leicester team-mate Alesana Tuilagi.
Prediction: Newcastle will put up a brave fight but Leicester will prevail to set up a home semi-final for themselves in the play-offs.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The rolling maul is becoming an increasingly potent attacking weapon. Conor O'Shea looks at the difficulties of stopping it
The news of James Horwill, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Dan Carter's respective transfers will open the floodgates, writes Tom Hamilton
Kiwi coaches can be found far and wide across the globe, and Murray Mexted believes the All Blacks benefit every bit as much as their rivals
Clermont, Toulon, player burnout, Sam Burgess and a farewell to Adams Park - Monday Maul looks back at the weekend's action