There remains an anti-Healey movement in the higher echelons of the English game, a band of critics who insist that the 23-year-old Liverpudlian wing's reincarnation as a scrum-half is not yet complete. But it is a dwindling school of thought; Healey's scalding pace and supreme cover defence have carried him on to the England bench for next week's Calcutta Cup match and it will be no surprise if he is capped before the end of the Five Nations' Championship. Only his passing under pressure is suspect and he can expect a serious examination from the teak-tough Philippe Carbonneau today.
The French No 10 shirt has been in the hands of the hoi-polloi for so long that it is something of a culture shock to see a blue-blooded rugby aristocrat performing the pivot role. Penaud, captain of Brive and a key figure in his country's Five Nations campaign, plays with such high-born nonchalance and classical poise that, on a good day, the phrase "world class" seems not only a fair description but the only one. That, though, is on a good day; on a bad one, Penaud can fall apart in spectacular fashion while appearing strangely unperturbed. He says he has matured as a player. Leicester will test that assertion.
It is best to let Bob Dwyer, the Leicester coach who has worked with more than his fair share of modern rugby's legends, to paint the picture. "Dean is just a very, very good rugby player; he has fantastic skills, phenomenal co-ordination and great hand speed in taking loose ball away from opponents. I didn't quite realise when I arrived at Leicester that he possessed those skill levels and if you combine them with his great knowledge of the game, you have one formidable competitor." If, as Dwyer believes, the quality of a Richards performance rises to match the level of competition, the Tigers can bank on a mighty display from their folk hero No 8.
When you're hot, you're hot. Venditti has been in wonderful nick all season and, worryingly for the Tigers, his performances have become more electric since Christmas. His scything solo try from centre against Cardiff swung this month's semi-final irrevocably towards Brive and his hat-trick from the left wing in Dublin last weekend gave France a far more comfortable victory over Ireland than was justified by their collective display. Venditti returns to midfield and will launch his skills from the solid base provided by Christophe Lamaison. Stuart Potter dare not misjudge a single tackle.Reuse content