Sunday 25 February 2018

Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes return for Northampton's clash with Leinster

England flanker Tom Wood returns to the Northampton team for Friday's European Champions Cup clash against Leinster
England flanker Tom Wood returns to the Northampton team for Friday's European Champions Cup clash against Leinster

England internationals Tom Wood and Courtney Lawes make an immediate return to club action when they start Northampton's key European Champions Cup clash against Franklin's Gardens visitors Leinster on Friday.

The duo's fellow Test players - England skipper Dylan Hartley and flanker Teimana Harrison - are also back, but feature among the replacements as Saints look to potentially overtake Leinster in Pool Four.

Wales wing George North, meanwhile, was not considered for selection due to what Northampton describe as "ongoing assessment" after he suffered a head injury during last weekend's Aviva Premiership encounter against Leicester.

The match is Saints' 100th fixture in the top tier of European rugby, and one that they must realistically win ahead of next week's return appointment with Leinster in Dublin.

"It's a big game, and we've had really good training sessions with the guys this week. We've enjoyed it, there has been a real buzz about the players," Northampton coach Dorian West told Saints TV.

"I hope everybody sees the effort that went into that game last week (against Leicester).

"We were on the wrong end of the result, but the effort and intention is there for us to play our best and be successful."

Leinster, a point clear of Castres as group leaders, welcome back a number of Ireland internationals, including Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Rob Kearney, but fly-half Johnny Sexton misses out as he continues his recovery from a hamstring problem.

The European Challenge Cup competition also continues on Friday, with Newcastle effectively requiring an away victory against Lyon to have any realistic hope of staying in touch with Pool Two pace-setters Ospreys.

Newcastle are going well in the Premiership, though, having already banked five wins this season, and Falcons boss Dean Richards said: "We are back up there now, starting to win and beat good sides. We are getting a bit of a buzz out of it.

"One of the things we talked about when I came to the club in 2012 was what people would like us to be remembered by in 20-30 years' time. We said we wanted to give it a go, and if it doesn't work, it won't be for the want of trying."

Full-back Tom Catterick makes his first start of the season for Newcastle in a side showing 12 changes following last Sunday's victory over Harlequins, with David Wilson, Alex Tait and Fred Burdon the only three players retained.

Falcons head coach John Wells added: "I don't know how this group is going to work out over the six-game period, but all we can do is go over to France and try to win the next game.

"Our guys have put in a big effort in the Premiership. We were always going to make changes for Europe, but we have still got a team which can go over and beat Lyon.

"In some ways, Lyon have their own battles with being near the bottom of the (French) Top 14, so it is probably fair to say this competition may not be their highest priority, but they are at home.

"We have got to go over there and understand that there is an opportunity to win this game, but we have got to match them physically and mentally to stand a chance."

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