Leicester poised for title hat-trick

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The Independent Online

It was impressive enough that Leicester successfully defended their Premiership title last year, but today they stand on the brink of completing a hat-trick of Championship wins.

It was impressive enough that Leicester successfully defended their Premiership title last year, but today they stand on the brink of completing a hat-trick of Championship wins.

True, they not only have to beat Newcastle at Welford Road in a match which kicks off at 12.15pm, but they also have to run in at least four tries to claim a maximum five points.

There will then follow a two-hour wait for the outcome of the match between Bath and Wasps. Only Wasps have a mathematical chance of catching Leicester, but they need all five points, and few people give them much hope of any sort of win at the Recreation Ground.

The Londoners will be without Rob Henderson, who suffered a rib injury last week, and have also lost Kenny Logan to Scotland and Josh Lewsey to the Army. Bath have lost three players to Wales - Gareth Cooper, Andrew Lloyd and Gavin Thomas - but they could have Iain Balshaw back from injury.

So the title race looks as good as over. Dean Richards, however, is too canny to let such thoughts penetrate his charges' skulls. The Leicester director of rugby said: "We won't be looking at what Wasps are doing. We'll focus on ourselves. Newcastle are a young team with a nice blend of experience that makes them a very good side."

Leicester could be close to full strength, although Freddie Tuilagi is still ruled out with a groin injury and Geordan Murphy will have a late fitness test on his injured back.

Newcastle have lost several players to Scotland at various levels, including Andrew Mower, while Inga Tuigamala is still recovering from an elbow operation.

Northampton, who yesterday confirmed that they have held talks with Scotland prop Tom Smith with a view to signing him for next season, are without five players, all on international duty, for the game at London Irish.

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