Tigers star returns for Wasps battle
Outstanding England and B&I Lions forward Tom Croft has been named on the Leicester Tigers bench for Saturday's Guinness Premiership tussle with old foes London Wasps at Welford Road (kick-off 3.15pm).
Croft, nominated as one of the IRB's Players of the Year in 2009, has recovered from a knee injury suffered in the win over Leeds Carnegie before Christmas and takes his place amongst the Leicester replacements, whilst fellow international forwards Lewis Moody, Marcos Ayerza and Craig Newby all return to the starting line-up.
Former Gloucester ace Anthony Allen is out with an ankle injury - sustained in Tigers' 22-15 valuable away win over Saracens last weekend - and former Wasps flyhalf Jeremy Staunton will wear the No.12 shirt in his absence.
"I was very pleased with the way we played at Saracens," said Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill.
"The result was very important, but the way we played was impressive too. We controlled the ball, we stood up to a very good pack and our accuracy was much better."
Looking ahead to the challenge of hosting Wasps - who, surprisingly, went down at home to Newcastle last weekend - Cockerill added: "Wasps are a good side and they've got a good record against us. They are also the team just behind us in the table, so it is very important for us to keep our run going.
"Lewis Moody has had his rest and he is desperate to get out there playing for us again, and having Crofty back in the squad is also important."
With Tigers opting for Jeremy Staunton - a Wasps Old Boy - at inside centre, the Londoners have a former Leicester player in their midst this week, too.
But try machine Tom Varndell, who joined Wasps from Leicester this season, has been named on the bench (a position he occupied with regularity during his final few months with Leicester) with England speedster Paul Sackey and physical Samoan David Lemi preferred to the former Tiger.
In other Wasps team news, Director of Rugby Tony Hanks has opted for out of favour England No.10 Danny Cipriani at flyhalf - one of five changes to the starting line-up that suffered a shock 6-12 loss to the Newcastle Falcons last week.
Fullback Mark van Gisbergen, right-wing Sackey, outside centre Ben Jacobs and Cipriani will all start in a new-look Wasps backline, whilst tighthead prop Ben Broster returns to the front row - the only change up front - after recovering from a calf strain.
"Facing Leicester at Welford Road is the best kind of challenge for us on the back of last weekend's defeat," said Hanks.
"Going up to Leicester is the kind of task that forces you to bounce back and refocus pretty quickly."
And as for the history, and stiff competition, between the two sides - with Wasps having won at Welford Road last season - Hanks added: "Wasps-Leicester games always get the supporters revved up and the rivalry only adds to the intensity of the game.
"I think playing each other in a short time frame makes this even more exciting and we will be going up there with every ambition to uphold a solid record both home and away in previous clashes."
Leicester Tigers: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Johne Murphy, 13 Dan Hipkiss, 12 Jeremy Staunton, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Lewis Moody, 6 Craig Newby, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Mefin Davies, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Robbie Harris, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Brett Deacon, 21 James Grindal, 22 Sam Vesty, 23 Alesana Tuilagi.
London Wasps: 15 Mark van Gisbergen, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Dominic Waldouck, 11 David Lemi, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Mark Robinson, 8 Dan Ward-Smith, 7 Will Matthews, 6 John Hart (captain), 5 George Skivington, 4 Simon Shaw, 3 Ben Broster, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 Joe Ward, 17 Sakaria Taulafo, 18 Gabriel Bocca, 19 Marty Veale, 20 Dan Leo, 21 James Honeyben, 22 Dave Walder, 23 Tom Varndell.
Date: Saturday, January 9
Venue: Welford Road
Time: 15:15 (15:15 GMT)
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Touch judges: Stuart Terheege, Paul Dix
Television match official: Brian Abrahams, Graham Hughes