Howard rings the changes for Saracens encounter

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The Independent Online

Given the resources, the outgoing Leicester coach Pat Howard would have switched all 15 players for this afternoon's Premiership meeting with Saracens at Welford Road - partly through a desire to nurse his squad through this most demanding of periods, partly because he was less than impressed by the nature of the defeat at London Irish on Boxing Day. As it turns out, he has restricted himself to a mere dozen changes.

Geordan Murphy, Alesana Tuilagi and Ben Kay retain their places, but only because of injuries elsewhere. Howard has yet to decide whether Andy Goode or Ian Humphreys will play at outside-half, but the Irish lock Leo Cullen will lead the team against opponents armed with a raft of heavy-duty reinforcements. Andy Farrell, making big strides in the midfield, is back in the Saracens starting line-up after missing the comfortable victory over Northampton, as are Thomas Castaignède, Kevin Yates and the World Cup-winning flanker Richard Hill, whose drive towards full fitness after 18 months of orthopaedic trauma gives the new England head coach Brian Ashton at least one reason to be cheerful.

The visitors also include the outside-half Tim Taylor, who makes a first senior start in place of the rested Glen Jackson. Taylor spent his formative years at the Leicester academy before moving to New Zealand, where he served time in the Air New Zealand Cup with Tasman. "You could argue that we're throwing him in at the deep end, but Tim came highly recommended and he's a pretty cool customer," said Alan Gaffney, the director of rugby.

Ben Cohen, the England wing, has recovered from a shoulder problem and plays for Northampton in the bottom feeders' match with Worcester at Franklin's Gardens. The visitors have picked three forwards weighing the best part of 20st apiece for a game they must win to give themselves a realistic chance of finding their way out of relegation territory. Tevita Taumoepeau, Tim Collier and Gavin Quinnell are among the heaviest players in Premiership rugby and, with the equally substantial Darren Morris on the bench, there is no great mystery surrounding Worcester's approach to the occasion.