Tom Cruse will make his Northampton Saints debut on Friday evening, as the men in Black, Green and Gold travel to the Gtech Community Stadium to face London Irish in the semi-finals of the Premiership Rugby Cup.
The 33-year-old hooker joined Saints from Edinburgh Rugby earlier this month on a contract to the end of the season, and lines up in the front row for Northampton ahead of the knockout clash.
With a place in the Final of the competition at stake, coach Matt Ferguson sticks with the same formula which saw Saints progress through the pool stage – with a squad containing a mixture of youth and experience making the trip to west London.
Props Ethan Waller and Alfie Petch (who both started Northampton’s final pool stage match in Newcastle) continue in the front row alongside debutant Cruse, while Brandon Nansen and Alex Coles combine in the engine room for the visitors.
The back row sees Karl Wilkins continue his return from a long-term injury at blindside flanker, with Aaron Hinkley lining up at openside and Sam Graham pulling on the No.8 jersey.
Scrum-half Callum Braley captains Saints for the fourth time in this season’s competition, and he is partnered by No.10 James Grayson, who makes his long-awaited comeback in Black, Green and Gold from a foot injury having turned out for Bedford Blues last weekend.
Having started every other match in the Premiership Rugby Cup so far, Tom Litchfield is named at inside centre with Rory Hutchinson outside him – while Courtnall Skosan, Ollie Sleightholme, and fullback Tom Collins round off the back three.
Amongst the replacements for Saints the likes of Tom James, Joel Matavesi and George Hendy will all be hoping to make an impact from the bench, and Tom Lockett and Kayde Sylvester will also maintain their 100 per cent appearance record in this year’s tournament if they enter the action.
LONDON IRISH vs NORTHAMPTON SAINTS
Premiership Rugby Cup, Semi-Final
Friday 10 February 2023
Gtech Community Stadium
15 Tom Collins
14 Ollie Sleightholme
13 Rory Hutchinson
12 Tom Litchfield
11 Courtnall Skosan
10 James Grayson
9 Callum Braley (c)
1 Ethan Waller
2 Tom Cruse – Northampton Saints debut
3 Alfie Petch
4 Brandon Nansen
5 Alex Coles
6 Karl Wilkins
7 Aaron Hinkley
8 Sam Graham
16 Callum Burns
17 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi
18 Ehren Painter
19 Tom Lockett
20 Kayde Sylvester
21 Tom James
22 Joel Matavesi
23 George Hendy
Not considered for selection:
Fraser Dingwall, James Fish, Joseph Gaffan, Mike Haywood, Emmanuel Iyogun, Sam Matavesi and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto.
Tommy Freeman, Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Alex Mitchell, David Ribbans, and Fin Smith (all England).
LONDON IRISH TEAM TO FACE SAINTS:
15 Ben Loader, 14 Lucio Cinti, 13 Matt Williams, 12 Rory Jennings, 11 Michael Dykes, 10 Jacob Atkins, 9 Caolan Englefield; 1 Facundo Gigena, 2 Ignacio Ruiz, 3 Lovejoy Chawatama, 4 Josh Caulfield, 5 Chunya Munga, 6 Jack Cooke (c), 7 Josh Basham, 8 So’otala Fa’aso’o
Replacements: 16 Matt Cornish, 17 Tarek Haffar, 18 Ciaran Parker, 19 Ed Scragg, 20 Ben Donnell, 21 Hugh O’Sullivan, 22 Eddie Poolman, 23 James Stokes
Referee: Sara Cox
Assistant referees: Alex Thomas and Mike Woods
No.4: Jonathan Cook
TMO: Stuart Terheege