Rugby Union: Leicester look to bounce back

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The Independent Online
Leicester coach Bob Dwyer is confident in his team's ability to put next week's European Cup final on the back burner when they take on Bristol at Welford Road today.

The Tigers were tamed by Northampton last Saturday and Dwyer puts that surprise 22-19 defeat down to a hangover from their cup semi-final success against Toulouse. "Some had one eye on the semi-final last week but we've taken a good dose of medicine," Dwyer said. "Once bitten, twice shy."

Dwyer has no doubt about the importance of today's game. With Courage One leaders, Wasps, inactive and second-placed Harlequins not playing until tomorrow, the Tigers have a glorious opportunity to regain pole position. "It's crucial," he said. "We've lost three games and we could possibly get away with four."

Leicester give full debuts to the South African stand-off Joel Stransky, who will step aside for Rob Liley against Brive in Cardiff next week, and 23-year-old prop Perry Freshwater, who deputises for the injured Graham Rowntree.

Bristol, without the Ireland internationals David Corkery and Paul Burke, are boosted by the return of England lock Simon Shaw and give a debut to 20-year-old winger Josh Lewsey.

Bristol have not won in the since September and have failed to beat the Tigers in seven encounters at Welford Road. "We know we're in a real dogfight in the relegation zone but the squad are determined to get out of that as quickly as possibly," their captain, Martin Corry, said.

Sale are boosted by the return of player-coach John Mitchell, who has not played since October, for the short trip to Orrell. It will be their first outing since 7 December.

Orrell, with only one win from 10 games, look doomed but West Hartlepool have given themselves real hope with two successive wins as they travel to Gloucester seeking their first win in 14 away matches in the .

Gloucester, playing the second of four successive matches against teams below them, lost their first five matches but now find themselves aiming to surpass their previous record of five victories in a row.

Tomorrow the stars will be out at Southbury Road as Saracens take on second-placed Harlequins and Bath will aim to bounce back from their defeat at Quins when they meet Northampton at the Recreation Ground. Northampton decided to go ahead with the game despite the absence of four internationals: Scotland's Gregor Townsend and Matt Stewart and Ireland's Jonathan Bell and Allen Clarke.

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