The Leicester Tigers host Wasps on Saturday in a final round game where there is more than just local bragging in a game.
At Mattioli Woods Welford Road in the Gallagher Premiership, Steve Borthwick’s side were undefeated winning all their games to maintain their position at the league’s summit during the 2021/22 campaign.
If that race came to an end and Saracens won at Gloucester, Tigers would lose top spot and face reigning champions Harlequins in next weekend’s semi-final instead of, as it stands, Northampton Saints.
For Wasps, their focus will be on securing the three points needed to rise above London Irish to eighth and qualify for the Heineken Champions Cup. They finished the undefeated start to the Tigers season in January with a 16-13 win at the Coventry Building Society Arena – can they repeat the trick this weekend?
Here, rugby player Bobby Bridge gave his planned XVs for both clubs, you can leave your thoughts in the comment section below …
TIGERS: 15. Freddie Steward, 14. Chris Ashton, 13. Matias Moroni, 12. Guy Porter, 11. Nemani Nadolo, 10. George Ford, 9. Ben Youngs; 1. Ellis Genge, 2. Charlie Clare, 3. Dan Cole, 4. Ollie Chessum, 5. Harry Wells, 6. Hanro Liebenberg, 7. Tommy Reffell, 8. Jasper Wiese.
Placeholders: 16. Tom Cowan-Dickie, 17. James Whitcombe, 18. Joe Heyes, 19. Calum Green, 20. George Martin, 21. Jack van Poortvliet, 22. Matt Scott, 23. Freddie Burns
Leicester Tigers have a home Premiership final to prepare for, but also have a 100% home league record to defend and a top spot to secure. It would be detrimental to both morale and momentum if they signed with a second consecutive Mattioli Woods Welford Road defeat after the loss to Leinster the last time they played in front of their home fans.
Steve Borthwick revealed in the middle of the week that hooker Julian Montoya was missing against the Newcastle Falcons. Considering Nic Dolly’s injury in the Northeast, it would be surprising to see any gambles taken there as Charlie Clare and Tom Cowan-Dickie share the duties against Wasps.
I think Tigers will pick a side to beat Wasp hard in the first 40-50 minutes and then make early changes to see players through the semifinals. But it really wouldn’t be a surprise to see Hosea Saumaki given a chance and Nemani Nadolo to rest, or Harry Potter restored and Chris Ashton wrapped in cotton wool for the big games ahead.
The back row is another area where rotation might be tempting. A blow to any three of the selected players would be huge for the Tigers ’playoff chances. But they encounter one of the most dynamic back rows in the league, so fire is likely to be met by fire, with George Martin providing some serious firepower from the bench.
wasps: 15. Ali Crossdale, 14. Paolo Odogwu, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 12. Jimmy Gopperth, 11. Josh Bassett; 10. Charlie Atkinson, 9. Dan Robson; 1. Tom West, 2. Tom Cruse, 3. Biyi Alo, 4. Joe Launchbury, 5. James Gaskell, 6. Brad Shields, 7. Jack Willis, 8. Alfie Barbeary
Placeholders: 16. Gabriel Oghre, 17. Robin Hislop, 18. Elliot Millar-Mills, 19. Tim Cardall, 20. Tom Willis, 21. Will Porter, 22. Ryan Mills, 23. Jacob Umaga.
Wasps have barely turned their side in recent weeks as Lee Blackett has benefited from an unprecedented amount of playing availability after an injury-hit first months of the season. It’s crazy to think that likes of Nizaam Carr, Thomas Young and Ryan Mills aren’t coming in lately.
Against Tigers, Wasps will need all their weapons out there on the field if they want to get the victory they need to qualify for the Champions Cup.
While Hougaard has been hugely defensive, something that will surely be needed against the Tigers ’undefeated wingers, Wasps have to win tests and that’s why I hope Paolo Odogwu will start. He has the ability to win something out of nothing and we just haven’t seen him enough lately.
It’s tempting to put him in midfield due to Fekitoa’s disappointing display against Sale, but it seems unlikely Wasp will deviate from that midfield combination with Jimmy Gopperth for his final games.
I made one key change to the package and that is Tom Cruse coming in at a sweetheart. The experienced forward has not played since a shoulder injury in February but is capable and available. Gabriel Oghre and Dan Frost were great, but this seems like work for the most experienced option Wasp has, and at some distance, that’s Cruse.
Elsewhere, James Gaskell is coming for the injured Elliott Stooke, who is missing a clean sweep of Premiership appearances this season.