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London Irish v Leicester Tigers preview: Tigers travel to the Madejski Stadium determined

  • London Irish meet Leicester Tigers in season opener 3:15pm kick off
  • Peter Betham, Greg Bateman, Mike Williams, Mike Fitzgerald and Lachlan McCaffrey make Tigers debut
  • Halani Aulika returns from World Cup duty with Tonga to start for Irish
  • Exiles hand first starts to new signings Matt Symons and Rob McCusker

Leicester Tigers travel to the Madejski Stadium this afternoon to take on London Irish in their opening game of the new Aviva Premiership season.

Summer arrivals Peter Betham, Greg Bateman, Mike Williams, Mike Fitzgerald and Lachlan McCaffrey all make their Tigers debuts.

Mathew Tait leads the team in the absence of club captain Ed Slater while Leicester are also with regular fly-half Freddie Burns, who is out with a broken jaw. Former England U20 Tommy Bell comes into play at number 10.

Meanwhile for London Irish, Halani Aulika returns from World Cup duty with Tonga to come into the starting XV for Tom Coventry’s first competitive fixture in charge of the exiles.

Coventry said ahead of his first game in charge: “Selection for the first match of the season is always tough, and this is no exception.

“The players have trained and prepared well for this match and, after a long pre-season, cannot wait to get out and play in front of our home supporters.  Leicester provide us with a significant challenge and we look forward to representing the club and our supporters with pride.”

The new head coach hands debuts to new signings Matt Symons and Rob McCusker, who start at lock and number eight while George Skivington is named as captain.


Players to Watch

London Irish: Alex Lewington
READING, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Alex Lewington of London Irish is tackled by Tim Visser (L) and Andries Strauss of Edinburgh (R) during the European Rugby Challenge Cup Quarter Final between London Irish and Edinburgh Rugby at the Madejski Stadium on April 5, 2015 in Reading, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

READING, ENGLAND – APRIL 05: Alex Lewington of London Irish is tackled by Tim Visser (L) and Andries Strauss of Edinburgh (R) during the European Rugby Challenge Cup Quarter Final between London Irish and Edinburgh Rugby at the Madejski Stadium on April 5, 2015 in Reading, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)

Amongst a host of youngsters, the 23-year-old winger arguably holds the hosts most promise. After joining from Leicester Tigers ahead of the 2013/14 campaign in search of first team rugby, the flying winger has racked up an impressive strike rate, crossing for 19 tries in 52 appearances for the club in all competitions. If he produces some magic, the Exiles might just have a chance.


Leicester Tigers: Mathew Tait
LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 16: Mathew Tait of Leicester breaks with the ball during the Aviva Premiership match between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints at Welford Road on May 16, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

LEICESTER, ENGLAND – MAY 16: Mathew Tait of Leicester breaks with the ball during the Aviva Premiership match between Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints at Welford Road on May 16, 2015 in Leicester, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Fullback Tait leads the team in the absence of club captain Ed Slater. His ability to collect the high ball as well as score tries means the experienced back should be able to have a big influence on the game. Tait, who has won 38 caps for England, is playing in his fifth season with the Tigers, establishing himself as a firm fan favourite.


RUCK Prediction

The final fixture of round one has two teams facing transitory seasons do battle. The Tigers have an excellent record at the Madejski, but it is tough to know how they are going to play with so many absentees, which includes Captain Slater and regular fly-half Burns. Saying that, they should still have enough to win but it will probably be closer than they would have ideally wanted.

The Exiles have also slipped up in round one of Premiership Rugby for the past four previous seasons.

Leicester by 10


Irish: 15 Andrew Fenby, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Eoin Griffin, 11 Topsy Ojo, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Rob McCusker, 7 Luke Narraway, 6 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Matt Symons, 4 George Skivington (c), 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Tom Court
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis, 17 Tom Smallbone, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 David Sisi, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Fergus Mulchrone

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait (c), 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Seremaia Bai, 11 Matt Smith, 10 Tommy Bell, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Laurence Pearce, 7 Lachlan McCaffrey, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Mike Fitzgerald, 4 Mike Williams, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Greg Bateman, 1 Logovi’i Mulipola
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 Sebastian de Chaves, 20 Opeti Fonua, 21 Ben White, 22 Owen Williams, 23 George Catchpole


Date: Sunday, October 18
Venue: Madejski Stadium
Kick-off: 15:15 local (14:15 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Stuart Terheege