Worcester will be ready for a battle, says Sanderson

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The Independent Online

If Hollywood's vast array of D-list celebrities learnt years ago that there was no such thing as bad publicity, rugby union is fast coming to the same conclusion. Despite the sport's so-called "summer of shame" – or perhaps because of it – Leicester, the reigning champions, have announced ticket sales in excess of 20,000 for their first home Premiership game, against Jonny Wilkinson-less Newcastle, at the newly-expanded Welford Road a week tomorrow. Likewise, Northampton have already filled every last inch of space for their Heineken Cup meeting with Munster at Franklin's Gardens, which does not take place for another month.

Helped by the 68,000-strong gate for the London double-header event at Twickenham, last week's opening round of Premiership fixtures set a new mark for business at the turnstiles. If Saracens meet their own expectations and draw upwards of 40,000 to Wembley for their relocated match with Northampton tomorrow, the tournament will be set fair for a record season.

Worcester always attract a decent crowd to Sixways and with the outstanding All Black centre Sam Tuitupou back on duty after injury, tonight's meeting with Leeds will be no exception. Those who did not tip the Yorkshiremen for relegation at the start of the campaign tended to go for the Midlanders instead, but Pat Sanderson, the Worcester captain, was having none of it yesterday.

"I don't care what people think about us," he said. "I know what the players in the dressing room think and we know we are competitive. We will keep quiet and get on with our job, believing in the strength and quality of the people we have here."

The Midlanders will not have the services of their new prop forward Olivier Sourgens. The Frenchman has a knee injury that may require minor surgery, so the Tongan scrummager Tevita Taumoepeau starts. Leeds, meanwhile, will start with the hard-tackling Alfie To'oala, who replaces Rhys Oakley in the back row.

Riki Flutey will return to this side of the Channel after aggravating a shoulder problem during the recent French Top 14 game between Brive and Clermont Auvergne. Flutey may struggle to make the autumn internationals against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand if he needs an operation.