Friday, 22 February 2013

Saturday Night Fever

Geordan Murphy and Tom Croft return for Tigers as they look to bounce back into the home play off spots following last week's loss to Harlequins.  The two returnees are amongst 7 changes for the Tigers as international call ups deprive them of  Tuilagi, Flood and Waldrom for last week's line up whilst Allen and Deacon are ruled out injured.  

Murphy's return comes at the expense of profligate full back Mat Tait who moves onto the bench, whilst Tom Croft's long term slowly slowly come back from his neck injury means Brett Deacon makes way for the Lions flanker. 

Both centres are changed as Matt Smith comes in at outside centre for the England starting Tuilagi whilst Dan Bowden is given another shot at 12 as Anthony Allen recuperates from his knock picked up last week.  Summer departee George Ford rounds out the back line changes as he comes in for Toby Flood.  

In the pack other than Croft the other changes see Ed Slater take over from the injured Louis Deacon, hopefully it is nothing too serious as although Slater is a fine player Deacon provides the granite needed in the hottest of environments, and Jordan Crane restored as the fine English gent Thomas Waldrom goes off to represent Queen and Country at Twickenham.  Crane's return may well be strengthening the side as he his a canny operator and real leader for this team.  The back row of Croft, Salvi and Crane has a nice balance to it and we knoe Croft and Crane work extremely well together.  Kitchener makes his 30th appearance for the club in the second row.

Saracens have rolled out the big guns for this titanic top of the table clash.  Former Nottingham man Chris Wyles is restored at fullback following last weeks resting of a small injury as is Schalk Brits the effervescent hooker.  He is named beside Welsh loosehead Rhys Gill, shame tighthead Matt Stevens, former England captain Steve Borthwick and South African Alistair Hargreaves in an all international tight 5.  

Joel Tomkins, Will Fraiser and David Strettle have all this week been training with Stu Lancaster's England team so will be looking to press their claims of a Six Nations start in this Saturday night showdown.

The referee will be our old friend JP Doyle.  Doyle's last Tigers game was the controversial last minute victory away to Worcester where Doyle awarded two penalty tries, the only time in league rugby he's ever awarded more than one.  Prior to that he has refereed another 10 times, with the only defeat coming this season away to Gloucester.  His last encounter with Saracens was their "home" game against Northampton, staged in Milton Keynes; Saracens won that game by a single point after Stephen Myler's last second 60 yard penalty struck the bar.  His previous 6 Saracens games have yielded 5 wins for the Londoners, so both sides will be confident of the referee going into the game.  In the league this season he's dished out 13 yellow cards in 12 games, not quite the 19 in 9 games that Wayne Barnes has managed but rather a lot all the same, worryingly 8 of those 13 have been to the home side so he can't be accused of being a home town ref.

Once again it is an indictment of Premiership Rugby's stewardship of the game that such a high profile fixture is played without her best players.  England take 5 Saracens players and 7 Leicester players whilst both sides also contribute another nation's captain as Kelly Brown and Martin Castrogiovanni lead Scotland and Italy respectively.  Add in the missing injured players and there is roughly 20 first choice players missing out 30.  You can't control the injuries but you can control the fixture schedule to make sure our best fixtures are played with our best players.

15 Geordan Murphy (c)
14 Scott Hamilton
13 Matt Smith
12 Dan Bowden
11 Adam Thompstone
10 George Ford
9 Sam Harrison
1 Marcos Ayerza
2 Rob Hawkins
3 Logovi'i Mulipola
4 Ed Slater
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Tom Croft
7 Julian Salvi
8 Jordan Crane

16 George Chuter
17 Kieran Brookes
18 Fraser Balmain
19 Brett Deacon
20 Richard Thorpe
21 Micky Young
22 Matt Cornwell
23 Mathew Tait

15 Chris Wyles
14 James Short
13 Joel Tomkins
12 Adam Powell
11 David Strettle
10 Charlie Hodgson
9 Richard Wigglesworth
1 Rhys Gill
2 Schalk Brits
3 Matt Stevens
4 Steve Borthwick (c)
5 Alistair Hargreaves
6 Jackson Wray
7 Will Fraser
8 Ernst Joubert

16 John Smit
17 Nick Auterac
18 Petrus du Plessis
19 George Kruis
20 Justin Melck
21 Neil de Kock
22 Nils Mordt
23 Duncan Taylor

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