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Lawes returns for Saints’ European quarter-final

Courtney Lawes will start for Northampton Saints for the first time since January in this weekend’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final at ASM Clermont Auvergne.

The 30-year-old England forward has recovered from the calf injury he sustained on international duty last month, and is named by director of rugby Chris Boyd in the back row for the knock-out clash.

It is Saints’ second visit of the season to the Stade Marcel-Michelin – the sides also locked horns in January in a pulsating 13-try encounter – and the men in Black, Green and Gold will be desperate to progress into their first European semi-final since 2014.

Boyd has made four changes to the side that ran riot in the East Midlands derby last Friday evening, with two fresh flankers in Lawes and Lewis Ludlam named either side of No.8 Teimana Harrison – who scored a superb hat-trick against Clermont in January.

Api Ratuniyarawa and Alex Moon continue together in the engine room, but club captain Alex Waller comes into the front row at loosehead to join James Fish and Paul Hill and skippers the side.

There’s just one alteration to Northampton’s back-line; George Furbank comes in at fullback but wingers Taqele Naiyaravoro and Tom Collins are selected again after impressive performances at Leicester Tigers last week.

Piers Francis and Rory Hutchinson will start together in the midfield, while Saints’ half-back duo of Cobus Reinach and Dan Biggar will look to pull the strings in Clermont.

Meanwhile there’s plenty of experience to come off the bench in the Stade Marcel-Michelin pressure cooker, with the likes of Ben Franks, Jamie Gibson, Heinrich Brüssow and Luther Burrell all named amongst the replacements.

European Challenge Cup, Quarter-final
Sunday 31 March, 2019
Stade Marcel-Michelin
Kick-off: 7pm (6pm UK time, live on BT Sport)

15 George Furbank
14 Tom Collins
13 Rory Hutchinson
12 Piers Francis
11 Taqele Naiyaravoro
10 Dan Biggar
9 Cobus Reinach

1 Alex Waller (c)
2 James Fish
3 Paul Hill
4 Api Ratuniyarawa
5 Alex Moon
6 Courtney Lawes
7 Lewis Ludlam
8 Teimana Harrison

16 Reece Marshall
17 Francois van Wyk
18 Ben Franks
19 Jamie Gibson
20 Heinrich Brüssow
21 Alex Mitchell
22 Ahsee Tuala
23 Luther Burrell

Not available for selection:
Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), Mikey Haywood (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Ehren Painter (calf), Paddy Ryan (knee), James Haskell (toe), Fraser Dingwall (ankle), and David Ribbans (ankle)

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