Friday, 20 December 2013

Tait returns as Tigers make 9 Changes

Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill has made 9 changes to his Leicester side after their heroics in the past two weeks against Montpellier.

Tigers head for their first visit to Saracen's refurbished Copthall with a mix of returning and rotated players included.  The standout name has to be star full back Mat Tait's return from injury.  Tait's last game for Tigers was the Premiership Grand Final back in May.  

Also returning are club stalwart Matt Smith in the unfamiliar position of inside centre, only his 6th start in the position; fly Half Ryan Lamb replaces the injured Toby Flood; the entire front row changes as Stankovich, Briggs and Balmain replace the usual trio of Ayerza, Tom Youngs and Cole.  Ed Slater replaces Louis Deacon in the second row with Jordan Crane swopping with Thomas Waldrom at number 8.

In line for his starting debut is Argentinian flanker Pablo Matera.  Unregistered for Europe after a late season arrival Matera made a big impression in this season's Rugby Championship so all Tigers fans have high hopes.

One noticeable addition to the bench is Jerome Schuster.  The French front rower has had a torrid time since his summer switch from Perpignan and has been leap frogged by Balmain.

In contrast Saracens are able to name practically a full strength side after their jaunts against Zebre.  Alex Goode links with fellow England man Chris Ashton in the back three alongside academy product Jack Wilson.  USA international Chris Wyles joins Marcelo Bosch in the centres with Farrell and Wigglesworth the half backs.

In the pack they play former Jersey-man Richard Barrington at loosehead, Jamie George at hooker and cocaine shame prop Matt Stevens at tighthead.  Borthwick and Hargreaves are an experienced pair in the engine room whilst a super sized back row is made up by Billy Vunipola, Kelly Brown and Ernst Joubert.

Saracen's bench is sure to make a big impact as it contains Mako Vunipola, James Johnstone, George Kruis, Charlie Hodgson and Schalk Brits.

With Tigers 10 points behind Saracens and 8 behind Saints, who travel to Wasps this weekend, it is a big risk from Cockerill to rotate so heavily.  This is the quintessential "10 pointer", win and we are within striking distance of the top 2, lose and we are miles away from the home semi final and in a tight fight for a play off place at all.

3 changes are probably forced as last week Flood, Bowden and Deacon left the field injured, Tait and Matera were desired changes, but the front row seems a step too far.  You can rationalise every change individually but we need to keep the big picture in mind; will those players be able to gel quickly?  We have Sale at home next week, do all these players need to be rested at the same time?  Why can't half play this week and half play the next?

You can usually rely on Northampton to muck it up after Christmas but that seems a recipe for disaster, they will get it right for all 22 rounds sooner rather than later.

Tomorrow's referee is Wayne Barnes from Gloucestershire.  Like Mat Tait this is his first Leicester fixture since last season's final.  He has controlled one Saracens-Tigers match before, the 2011 Premiership Final where his controversial yellow card for Ben Youngs cost Tigers dearly.

Leicester Tigers
15 Mathew Tait
14 Niall Morris
13 Vereniki Goneva
12 Matt Smith
11 Miles Benjamin
10 Ryan Lamb
9 Ben Youngs
1 Boris Stankovich
2 Neil Briggs
3 Fraser Balmain
4 Ed Slater
5 Graham Kitchener
6 Jamie Gibson
7 Pablo Matera
8 Jordan Crane (c)

16 Tom Youngs
17 Marcos Ayerza
18 Jérôme Schuster
19 Sebastian De Chaves
20 Thomas Waldrom
21 David Mélé
22 Terrence Hepetema
23 Adam Thompstone

15 Alex Goode
14 Chris Ashton
13 Marcelo Bosch
12 Chris Wyles
11 Jack Wilson
10 Owen Farrell
9 Richard Wigglesworth
1 Richard Barrington
2 Jamie George
3 Matt Stevens
4 Steve Borthwick (c)
5 Alastair Hargreaves
6 Billy Vunipola
7 Kelly Brown
8 Ernst Joubert Replacements: 
16 Schalk Brits
17 Mako Vunipola
18 James Johnstone
19 George Kruis
20 Jackson Wray
21 Neil de Kock
22 Charlie Hodgson
23 Ben Ransom

Referee: Wayne Barnes
TV: BT Sport 1HD, Saturday 15:00 (KO 15:15)

Saracens Kit:

Leicester Kit:

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