Paul Hill reaches 150 appearances while internationals Courtney Lawes, Dan Biggar, George Furbank and Lewis Ludlam all return for Northampton Saints this weekend as the men in Black, Green and Gold lock horns with London Irish.
Saints have won six of their last seven meetings with the Exiles in the Gallagher Premiership, scoring an average of 32 points per match in those wins, but Irish are on a four-game winning run on home soil.
Both sides will be desperate for points in the race for the play-off places – and it promises to be a mouth-wateringly entertaining clash with Saints and Irish boasting the joint-fastest attacking ruck speed in this season’s Premiership, each averaging 3.29 seconds.
It will also be a first-ever trip to the Brentford Community Stadium for Chris Boyd’s side, with Northampton’s Director of Rugby making just three changes to his starting XV from the line-up which beat Wasps on Saints’ last Gallagher Premiership outing a fortnight ago.
Ludlam returns from injury to lead out Northampton in west London, and is joined in the back row by returning England skipper Courtney Lawes, with Juarno Augustus continuing in the No.8 jersey for the seventh straight league match.
Otherwise the tight five is unchanged from the 27-22 win over Wasps; props Alex Waller and Hill – on his 150th appearance for Saints – pack down either side of Sam Matavesi at hooker. Meanwhile David Ribbans, who has claimed more lineouts than any other player in the Premiership this term, and Api Ratuniyarawa will provide the grunt in the engine room.
Wales skipper Biggar is the headline inclusion in Northampton’s backline in the No.10 jersey, as he lines up alongside scrum-half Alex Mitchell.
Fraser Dingwall and Rory Hutchinson continue in the midfield for the visitors with Furbank returning from England duty to take his place at fullback on his 50th Premiership appearance, while Tom Collins and Courtnall Skosan (second only to Exiles hooker Agustin Creevy in the Premiership’s try-scoring rankings) are selected again on the wings.
Meanwhile, Tommy Freeman is primed for his first Premiership appearance since early January amongst Saints’ replacements after recovering from an injury sustained on England duty, while the likes of Alex Coles, Tom James and England Under-20s international Tom Litchfield will all be hoping to make an impact off the bench.
LONDON IRISH vs NORTHAMPTON SAINTS
Gallagher Premiership Rugby, Round 21
Saturday 26 March 2022
Brentford Community Stadium
15 George Furbank (50th appearance in the Gallagher Premiership)
14 Courtnall Skosan
13 Fraser Dingwall
12 Rory Hutchinson
11 Tom Collins
10 Dan Biggar
9 Alex Mitchell
1 Alex Waller
2 Sam Matavesi
3 Paul Hill (150th appearance for Saints)
4 David Ribbans
5 Api Ratuniyarawa
6 Courtney Lawes
7 Lewis Ludlam (c)
8 Juarno Augustus
16 Mike Haywood
17 Nick Auterac
18 Conor Carey
19 Alex Moon
20 Alex Coles
21 Tom James
22 Tom Litchfield
23 Tommy Freeman
Not considered for selection:
Matthew Arden, Emeka Atuanya, Piers Francis, Teimana Harrison, Oisín Heffernan, Emmanuel Iyogun, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ollie Newman, Ehren Painter, Matt Proctor, Ollie Sleightholme, Kayde Sylvester, Karl Wilkins and Tom Wood.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe and Jamie Leahy
No.4: Nick Marshall
TMO: Jack Makepeace