Aviva Premiership - Round 20 Preview
Saints primed to reel in Tigers
April 14, 2012
Chris Ashton has been a high profile figure in the past East Midlands derbies © Getty Images
Northampton Saints will look to cement their place in the top four and maintain their impressive home record when they take on Leicester Tigers at Franklin's Gardens in front of the ESPN cameras.
Both sides are vying for a spot in the play-offs but the recent tension between the two sides is sure to light the blue touch paper. Tom Wood and Alesana Tuilagi were both shown red cards in their last Premiership meeting while Calum Clark copped a huge 32-week ban for breaking Rob Hawkins' arm in the Anglo-Welsh Cup final. With this in mind, revenge will be on the menu for both sides.
And the Tigers have won their last four meetings with the Saints in all competitions, although travelling to Franklin's Gardens will hold some fear for Richard Cockeril's side as they have not left victorious since October 2006. Saints boss Jim Mallinder has made only one change to the side that started in last week's 26-6 victory at Bath, Samu Manoa replacing Mark Sorenson in the second row. Ben Youngs is back in the Tigers' team after suspension ruled him out of their bonus-point win over Worcester Warriors, with Toby Flood completing the half-back pairing. Horacio Agulla, George Skivington and Geoff Parling are all included after sitting out the Worcester encounter.
Elsewhere on Saturday, leaders Harlequins require just three more points to secure a spot in the Aviva Premiership semi-finals for only the second time. Wasps - who have endured a torrid week while continuining to gun for survival - stand in their way and are looking for a third win in four to pull further clear of bottom-club Newcastle Falcons.
Ominously for Wasps they have not won at the Twickenham Stoop since March 2007, and their task looks even more difficult knowing they have not won on the road in the competition since beating Worcester at the end of October.
Harlequins boss Conor O'Shea has refused to wield the axe after watching his side exit the Amlin Challenge Cup, preferring to stick with the majority of the team that got thrashed by Toulon. There are only two changes, with Sam Smith and Danny Care given starts. Tom Varndell, out of action for the last three months, has been passed fit, while there are also places for openside flanker Jonathan Poff, prop Tim Payne and hooker Tom Lindsay in the starting XV.
And on Saturday, London Irish, who are on a dreadful run, picking up four points from their last six fixtures, come up against Sarries. Saracens are licking their wounds after consecutive defeats to Harlequins in the Premiership and Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup, and they will be keen to avoid losing three games on the trot for the first time since March 2010.
Harlequins' Jordan Turner-Hall previews their match with Wasps
Alex Corbisiero has the honour of leading out the Exiles, the England prop becoming the youngest-ever captain of London Irish in the professional era. Faan Rautenbach joins him in the front row, while Delon Armitage starts alongside Sailosi Tagicakibau and Tom Homer in the back three. Joe Ansbro moves to inside centre, with Jonathan Joseph completing the midfield. Matt Garvey partners Bryn Evans in the second row and Ofisa Treviranus and Richard Thorpe join Jamie Gibson in the back row.
Saracens make four changes to the side that lost to Clermont in Europe: George Kruis and Jackson Wray getting the nod in the pack and Mouritz Botha and Justin Melck dropping to the bench. In the backs, Neil de Kock and Michael Tagicakibau both start, with Richard Wigglesworth among the replacements along with Joel Tomkins. Owen Farrell is out with a minor knock.
Gloucester are hanging on to the last Heineken Cup spot but they come into the game with Newcastle Falcons having lost three successive games in the league. Newcastle are fighting to avoid relegation and were boosted by beating Sale last time out. Knowing what is at stake, Gloucester head coach Bryan Redpath has recalled Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, Mike Tindall and Alex Brown to his line-up. Falcons director of rugby Gary Gold has rung the changes, drafting in Greg Goosen, Ryan Shortland, former Gloucester forward Adam Balding and James Hudson.
Worcester have not lost at Sixways since Leicester were the visitors on December 27, but they will have their hands full when they clash with an Exeter Chiefs side with only one loss to their name in their last seven league games. Neil Best makes his long-awaited comeback after missing three months due to a broken arm, while Miles Benjamin is back on the wing and Craig Gillies starts at lock for Worcester. Exeter's Honai Tui covers the injured Craig Mitchell in the front row, and Phil Dollman slots into the midfield in the absence of Jason Shoemark.
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