Meehan stumped as Leicester stick with side that beat Blues

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The Independent Online

Geordan Murphy has been known to flummox a few opponents with his tap-dancer's footwork, but by and large, Leicester are a fairly predictable lot: they scrummage hard, win their own line-out ball, compete like men possessed at the breakdown and tackle in time-honoured ton-of-bricks style.

Yet there is always room for the occasional bolt from the blue, even at this late stage of the season – as Bath, their opponents in the first of this afternoon's Guinness Premiership semi-finals, will readily testify.

Steve Meehan, the Bath coach, expected Richard Cockerill, his opposite number, to make a number of changes to the Midlanders' starting line-up following last weekend's Heineken Cup tie with Cardiff Blues, which went into extra time and beyond. "I don't buy the theory about them being leg-weary, because they had a whole batch of internationals on the bench in Cardiff who can start against us," he said. It sounded about right, but it turned out to be wrong.

Cockerill has made just the one change, and would not have gone even that far had Toby Flood not ruptured an Achilles tendon at the Millennium Stadium. Apart from Sam Vesty's move to outside-half, which gives the All Black centre Aaron Mauger a starting position, the rest of the big-name replacements – Benjamin Kayser, Julian White, Lewis Moody, Harry Ellis – will continue in their subsidiary role today. Once again, Murphy leads the side from full-back.

Bath, who have not played since beating Saracens a fortnight ago, are not so well blessed on the personnel front. Four first-choice players – the outside-half Butch James, the lock Danny Grewcock, the flanker Michael Lipman and the No 8 Daniel Browne – are out of circulation, and goal-kicking will be a serious issue. Much responsibility will fall on the inexperienced inside-back partnership of Ryan Davis and Shontayne Hape, which is one of the reasons the visitors start as outsiders.

Precious few gamblers will risk their mortgages on the outcome of the south-west London derby between Harlequins and London Irish, who produced a minor classic last September – a game the Exiles somehow won 28-27 after being 20-3 down. Quins will have Nick Evans, their game-breaker-in-chief, at No 10 after injury, and as some seriously good teams have discovered just lately, victories at the Stoop are horribly hard to come by.

Yet Irish, who will start the game with the venerable Mike Catt in the pivot position, are confidence made flesh, not least because they consider themselves the fittest side in the title shake-up. "People know we'll come at them in the second half of a game," said Toby Booth, their head coach. "Three or four years ago, Wasps were the ones setting standards in the fitness department. It's no coincidence that their conditioning specialist then is our conditioning specialist now."

Allan Ryan is the man in question, and it may just be that he has a decisive say in the outcome of the tournament.

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