Tigers to face weakened Perpignan

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The Independent Online

Leicester's chances of taking a significant step towards the Heineken Cup quarter-finals this weekend were strengthened yesterday when it emerged that Perpignan, their main challengers in a closely contested pool, will pitch up at Welford Road on Sunday without three current international players, including their principal points-gatherer Jérôme Porical. Together with the recently-capped prop Jérôme Schuster and the highly-regarded hooker Guilhem Guirado, the full-back misses out because of rest and recuperation rules imposed by the French governing body.

The Rugby Football Union, currently engaged in a fire-fighting exercise after hardening their stance on England internationals playing offshore, will luxuriate in the irony of it all. Twickenham considers French club rugby and its financial muscle to be a threat to the smooth running of the national squad, so the thought of one of the powerhouse outfits from across the water travelling light for a match of this magnitude will have many a committee man chuckling into his G and T.

Under the terms of a deal struck between the French Federation and the elite Top 14 clubs, those players who appeared in the autumn Tests must be given a free week before the end of December. Perpignan, struggling in 10th place in their domestic league and well off the Heineken Cup qualification pace for next season, have an important match against Clermont Auvergne on the 29th and feel compelled to keep at least some of their power dry.

Not that it will be plain sailing for the Midlanders. Nicolas Mas, the strong man of the French front row, is expected to play, a week after wrecking the Tigers' scrum in the first of these back-to-back fixtures. So too is the brilliant Test centre Maxime Mermoz, who caused Leicester a world of trouble in this competition a couple of seasons ago.

Newcastle, who admit to being interested in the services of the Scotland prop Euan Murray following his sudden departure from Northampton last week, have completed the signing of the experienced scrum-half Jason Spice. Down to one fit half-back in Micky Young, the Tynesiders were in need of cover, although the New Zealander will not feature in the Amlin Challenge Cup match with Exeter this weekend. His first contribution will be in the vital Premiership match with Leeds on Boxing Day.