London will rock to the rumble of rugby’s big guns Saturday as a record 60,000 plus crowd packs into Twickenham Stadium for the all London Guinness Premiership double-header.
The occasion features the cream of London rugby as Wasps clash with the beleaguered Harlequins and highly touted London Irish begin their premiership quest against the Saracens.
London Irish v Saracens (14:30)
Saracens Director of Rugby Brendan Venter debuts an entirely new front row in Schalk Brits, Carlos Nieto and Rhys Gill. Ernst Joubert is also given a debut.
The new look Saracens also pair Neil de Kock and Glen Jackson and they will be looking to engage an exciting back three in Alex Goode, Noah Cato and Chris Wyles.
On the bench, Richard Skuse, Mouritz Botha and Derick Hougaard are also in line for debuts and there is also a return for Michael Owen after missing the second half of the season with a knee injury.
Speaking ahead of the game, Venter said:
“Facing London Irish is a tough start. They are a very well coached side and they have some wonderful game breakers who make things happen. But we’ve got some great players of our own, all of who are on form with good game time under their belts from pre-season. There’s a good balance of youth and experience across the team and everyone in the squad is excited to be starting the new season.”
For their part the London Irish aim to hit the ground running in 2009, building on a strong finish to last season and the hard work of a tough pre-season to get off to a strong start.
“We’ve gone for a tough pre-season to ensure that we’re as well prepared as possible,”
said Toby Booth, London Irish’s Head Coach.
“Last weekend we played Leinster, the champions of Europe in Dublin, the previous weekend we played Munster, the Magners League champions, in Cork.”
The 23-man squad announced by the Exiles for tomorrow’s match contains 16 full internationals, 11 in the starting XV and five among the replacements.
Four players are set to make their Guinness Premiership debuts for the club, including new signings, Paulica Ion, Ryan Lamb and Andy Perry and George Stowers, who is among the replacements.
“Who would have predicted that we would be starting the season playing a Saracens team whose Director of Rugby is our old friend and former player/coach, Brendan Venter,”
said Toby Booth.
“Brendan brings a lot of values, not least passion and organization, to a good Saracens squad who will be full of confidence after a very convincing pre-season programme. “Our 2009-10 squad is the most competitive we’ve had in my eight seasons at the club and we’re looking forward to competing in both the Guinness Premiership and in Europe.
“Our supporters are excited about what lies ahead and we want to show them the true colours and passion we represent.”
15 Alex Goode 14 Noah Cato 13 Kameli Ratuvou 12 Brad Barritt 11 Chris Wyles 10 Glen Jackson 9 Neil de Kock 1 Rhys Gill 2 Schalk Brits 3 Carlos Nieto 4 Steve Borthwick © 5 Hugh Vyvyan 6 Wikus van Heerden 7 Andy Saull 8 Ernst Joubert
Replacements 16 Fabio Ongaro 17 Tom Mercey 18 Richard Skuse 19 Mouritz Botha 20 Michael Owen 21 Justin Marshall 22 Derick Hougaard 23 Richard Haughton
15. Delon Armitage; 14. Adam Thompstone; 13. Elvis Seveali’i; 12. Seilala Mapusua; 11. Sailosi Tagicakibau; 10. Ryan Lamb; 9. Paul Hodgson; 1. Clarke Dermody (captain); 2. Danie Coetzee, 3. Paulica Ion; 4. Nick Kennedy; 5. Andy Perry; 6. Declan Danaher; 7. Steffon Armitage; 8. Chris Hala’Ufia.
Replacements: 16. Dan Murphy; 17. James Buckland; 18. Faan Rautenbach; 19. Bob Casey; 20. George Stowers; 21. Peter Hewat; 22. Peter Richards; 23. Alfredo Lalanne.
Harlequins v Wasps (17:15)
The Quins will look to put off field turmoil out of their minds as they open their Guinness Premiership campaign against Wasps.
A strong Quins team will be led out by Will Skinner. Also in the starting XV are Gonzalo Camacho, who makes his Premiership debut on the wing and, with Mike Brown still injured, Ugo Monye at full-back.
New signings, John Andress who signed from Exeter Chiefs over the summer and Rory Clegg who joined the London side from Newcastle, gain places on the bench for the first time, along with academy star George Lowe and the returning Steve So’oialo.
Wasp meanwhile include six new signings in their starting line-up with two more named on the bench. The side will be captained by Serge Betsen, who is named as part of a forwards pack that features new signings Argentinean prop Gabriel Bocca and number 8 Dan Ward-Smith, as well as Wasps regulars, 2009 Lions tourist Tim Payne and England Saxon’s George Skivington.
In the back division a dynamic new look line up includes wingers Tom Varndell and David Lemi, Australian centres Ben Jacobs and Steve Kefu and a half back pairing of Danny Cipriani and Joe Simpson.
Looking ahead to the game by new Wasps Director of Rugby, Tony Hanks, said,
“There is a great excitement around this fixture against our local rivals Harlequins, marking not only the start of the Guinness Premiership, but for Wasps, a chance to put a long pre-season of hard work into action.
“The squad have come together very well and have quickly become a tight knit group – following a 12 week pre season programme including a training camp in Poland and some highly entertaining pre-season fixtures against Dax, Treviso and Glasgow.
“With an influx of so many new faces this season, it is great to give our players a debut in the Wasps jersey on one of the grandest rugby stages in Twickenham. There is a huge awareness of the responsibility and expectation that comes of ‘being a Wasp’ and this acts as great motivation for a team looking to set out their standards and create their own chapter in Wasps history.
“We expect a big battle and relish the challenge ahead of us – facing a Quins side that will be just as eager as us to start the season strong. The feeling amongst our group is good and I am sure that we will see a committed and dedicated performance that will reflect the hard work that has been shown by every single individual on and off pitch in the lead up to this game.”
1. Ceri Jones 2. Gary Botha 3. Mark Lambert 4. James Percival 5. George Robson 6. Chris Robshaw 7. Will Skinner (c) 8. Nick Easter 9. Danny Care 10. Nick Evans 11. Gonzalo Camacho 12. Jordan Turner-Hall 13. Gonzalo Tiesi 14. David Strettle 15. Ugo Monye Replacements 16. Tani Fuga 17. Aston Croall 18. John Andress 19. Jim Evans 20. Tom Guest 21. Steve So’oialo 22. Rory Clegg 23. George Lowe
15. Mark Van Gisbergen 14. Tom Varndell 13. Ben Jacobs 12. Steve Kefu 11. David Lemi 10. Danny Cipriani 9. Joe Simpson 1. Tim Payne 2. Rob Webber 3. Gabriel Bocca 4. George Skivington 5. Richard Birkett 6. John Hart 7. Serge Betsen (c) 8. Dan Ward-Smith Replacements: 16. Joe Ward 17. Ben Broster 18. Tom French 19. Dan Leo 20. Hugo Ellis 21. Warren Fury 22. Dave Walder 23. Lachlan Mitchell