Stage set for final re-match
September 20, 2012
Harlequins and Leicester will go head-to-head at Welford Road on Saturday in a mouth-watering replay of last season's Aviva Premiership finale.
Across the six Premiership matches there will be a minute's silence for Ulster player Nevin Spence who died a week ago, along with his father and elder brother following an accident on his family's farm.
"After the devastating events of last weekend, it is entirely appropriate that the whole of the rugby world remembers Nevin and his family this weekend," Phil Winstanley, the Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby said.
"In times like these rugby as a sport pulls together and Premiership Rugby and all the Aviva Premiership Clubs want to remember Nevin and show support for his family and for Ulster Rugby at this extremely difficult time."
During the minute's silence at the Sale Sharks v London Welsh match on Friday night, Sale Sharks will also be remembering Greater Manchester PCs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone, who died on Tuesday.
Quins lifted the Premiership silverware at Twickenham back in May and have started the new campaign in equally impressive form with three straight bonus point victories propelling them to the top of the table. But the Tigers are also unbeaten - with a draw against Saracens the only blip on their early season record - and will be set on revenge in front of the ESPN cameras.
Jordan Crane will captain the Tigers in place of Geordan Murphy, who picked up a knee injury at Wembley. The No.8 makes his first start of the season, while Scott Hamilton moves across from the right wing to fill in for Murphy. Matt Smith comes in for Manu Tuilagi in the centres and there are starts for props Martin Castrogiovanni and Boris Stankovich.
For Quins Matt Hopper starts at outside-centre, while in the forwards Ollie Kohn will pack down alongside George Robson in the second-row and Maurie Fa'asavalu links up with Chris Robshaw and Nick Easter in the back-row.
The latest action kicks off on Friday night with Sale Sharks playing host to London Welsh at Salford City Stadium. The Sharks are reeling from three straight losses with a solitary bonus point just enough to keep them off the bottom of the table. Coach Bryan Redpath has declined to make wholesale changes to his side and will be hoping the re-introduction of Andy Powell will give his side some much-needed grunt.
But they are unlikely to get an easy ride against an Exiles side fresh from notching their first win of the season against Exeter last weekend. Head coach Lyn Jones makes just one enforced change for the game with Michael Hills replacing the injured Mike Denbee at openside.
London Irish are currently propping up the table having leaked an astonishing 123 points in their opening three games and will be hoping a return to the Madejski Stadium will prompt some improvement. But they face a Bath side also looking to bounce back having been edged out by Northampton last Friday night.
Bath welcome back flanker Francois Louw, who missed the match with Northampton because he was away on international duty with South Africa. There are also two changes at prop where Nathan Catt returns and Anthony Perenise pack down either side of Lee Mears. World Cup winning fly-half Stephen Donald could make his first appearance of the season after he was named on the bench.
"We know that Irish are a very good side, who will obviously be looking to get off the mark, which actually makes them more of a potent threat for us," head coach Gary Gold said. "They have an unpredictability we will have to react to, and it will require us to be on top of our game in all areas to do that."
That win saw Northampton extend their unbeaten run at the start of the season to three games and keep the pressure on Quins at the top of the table. Standing in their way this weekend at Franklin's Gardens are Worcester Warriors. Richard Hill's side notched their first points of the season with a draw against Gloucester in their last outing following back-to-back defeats to kick off the campaign.
James Wilson will make his Saints' debut at full-back in place of the injured Ben Foden, while Worcester make only one change when No.8 Semisi Taulava returns to the starting line-up. He will try to give Worcester's back-row an extra edge against a Northampton back-row trio that features England internationals Phil Dowson and Courtney Lawes either side of Rhys Oakley.
Despite their three wins so far this season Northampton director of rugby Jim Mallinder is hopeful Saints can now raise their performance level.
"We've won our first three games, which is good, but there has been plenty to work on ahead of Saturday's game," he said. "We've gone ahead in games and then let the other team back in, which is something we've got to stop doing, especially in such a tight competition like the Aviva Premiership."
London Wasps also opened their account in Round 3 by heaping woe on London Irish but the strength of their resurgence is set to be tested by a trip to Kingsholm where they will tackle Gloucester.
For Wasps James Haskell returns to the side in place of Joe Launchbury as head coach Dai Youngs aims to build on the win over London Irish. The Londoners are without captain and fullback Hugo Southwell, so Tommy Bell lines up in the No15 shirt and Marco Wentzel takes over as skipper.
"We are looking for a consistent 80 minute performance, which we haven't put together yet in any of our three games," Young said. "We have a chance of going down there and winning if we do that well, and if we don't they are a physical side with backs who can really punish you."
Gloucester director of rugby Nigel Davies has handed debuts to Rob Cook and Sione Kalamafoni. Cook comes in at fullback with Johnny May moving over to the right wing. Kalamafoni lines up in a back-row that also features Ben Morgan and Andy Hazell.
"We know the size of the challenge and there are never any easy games in the Aviva Premiership, that's for sure," Davies said. "Wasps play a particular way and it's really challenging every week to come in and look at the respective styles of play of the teams that we're coming up against."
The final game of the round will see Exeter entertain Saracens in front of at Sandy Park. Both sides struggled to find their best form in their most recent matches and the presence of the ESPN cameras is sure to crank up the pressure.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
He teed up Obolensky's try, fought in Burma and played cricket for Warwickshire - we Rewind to look at the story of Peter Cranmer
With the World Cup just a year away, Tom Hamilton picks out five matches to ensure you have tickets for
Ahead of November's USA-All Blacks match, America's ESPN Magazine explains rugby to its readers who may not be familiar with the game
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup