Northampton name second string team to face Leicester

Martyn Thomas 11:32 16/05/2015
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  • Saints and sinners: Lee Dickson scores during Northampton’s win over London Welsh last week.

    Northampton director of rugby, Jim Mallinder, has risked the ire of Exeter Chiefs and Saracens fans by making wholesale changes for Saints’ trip to Leicester today.

    There is little riding on the derby game for Mallinder’s side, who have already sewn up top spot in the Aviva Premiership and, alongside Bath, a home play-off semi-final.

    However, the outcome at Welford Road will be key to the fight to join them in the top four as the Tigers begin the day third, one point ahead of both Exeter and 

    In all Mallinder has made 12 changes to the side that beat London Welsh 46-0 last weekend, with the likes of Courtney Lawes, Luther Burrell, Stephen Myler, Tom Wood and Samu Manoa excused from duty, and captain Dylan Hartley starting on the bench.

    Saints are well within their rights to rest players, but it undoubtedly gives Leicester a boost as the Tigers know victory over their arch-rivals will guarantee them a play-off spot.

    With Saracens expected to win convincingly at London Welsh it means the pressure is on the Chiefs to beat a Sale side who could still finish in the top six with a win.

    However, Exeter head coach Rob Baxter has urged his players not to become preoccupied with events elsewhere as they look to nail down a first-ever top-four finish.

    “It’s all to play for, but the most important thing is we focus on our job, which is to make sure we play very well here against Sale,” he said.

    “What we have to do is avoid getting distracted about what’s happening between Leicester and Northampton and what London Welsh and Saracens are doing, let them get distracted by one another.

    “Instead, let’s make sure we get the one thing we can control, which is a good performance here.”

    Leicester begin the day with 14 wins to Exeter’s and Saracens’ 13, giving them the edge were the three teams to end level on points.

    Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill has been able to give club captain Ed Slater his first start of the season, while also bringing in centre Christian Loamanu for the suspended Seremaia Bai.

    Saracens, meanwhile, welcome England fly-half Owen Farrell, hooker Schalk Brits and captain Alistair Hargreaves back into their starting XV as they head to Oxford to face relegated Welsh.

    Although the north London club begin the day outside of the play-off places, they will fancy their chances of racking up a big win, knowing a bonus point could prove pivotal in their quest for the top four.

    Elsewhere, Wasps travel to London Irish needing a win to make sure of their place in the top six, and next season’s European Champions Cup.

    Their vastly superior points difference compared to Sale means a point would likely be enough, but director of rugby Dai Young does not want to risk anything.

    “It couldn’t be teed up any better,” he said. “Whether our season has been a success or not boils down to one game now. It’s a proper cup final for us.”