Irish hope Stowers can plug defensive leaks

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The Independent Online

London Irish v Leicester

Toby Booth, the London Irish director of rugby, has identified the tackle area as the crucial component in this afternoon's heavyweight 12-rounder in Reading: hardly a radical departure, given the continuing inconsistencies of the refereeing community in this phase of the game. But Booth must be equally concerned with defensive issues, for the Exiles have been leaking far too many points of late.

Sale accumulated 26 of them in defeat at the Madejski Stadium three league matches ago, while both Wasps and Northampton passed the 30 mark in victory. The return of George Stowers, such an important contributor to Samoa's excellent showing in the autumn Tests, will certainly help steady the ship, and when two of his countrymen – Seilala Mapusua and Sailosi Tagicakibau – are freed from the bench, the Exiles should look a little more like their old selves. This is not encouraging for Leicester. The champions travel without Toby Flood and Tom Croft, both of whom were among the English body count at Twickenham last weekend.



Saracens v Harlequins

It has been a funny old week for Saracens, not that they feel like laughing: Brendan Venter's decision to vacate the directorship of rugby and return to Cape Town for family reasons is a painful blow to a club with big ideas on and off the field. But they should have too much up front for Harlequins tomorrow, what with the likes of Steve Borthwick and Andy Saull keen to make a point to the England hierarchy.

There is much interest in the performances of two academy products, the outside-half Owen Farrell and the wing James Short, and if a third graduate of the St Albans kindergarten, Jamie George, finds his way off the bench, even more eyes will be peeled. The hooking cognoscenti have been whispering about George for some time now, and the 20-year-old could make rapid progress in one of Martin Johnson's problem positions.



Wasps v Exeter

David Walder, an undervalued outside-half if ever there was one, makes his 150th Premiership appearance at Adams Park tomorrow and it would be no great surprise if he led the Londoners to a fourth successive league victory. As usual, the former champions look less than frightening up front, and Exeter, no slouches in this department, will fancy their chances of applying some pressure. But the West Countrymen are most vulnerable when opponents generate serious pace, and Wasps are still quick.

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