Wasps recall Voyce in race for play-off place

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The Independent Online

The dust has yet to settle on the fall-out from England's failure in the Six Nations Championship - full-scale sandstorms take a good while to blow themselves out - but in the midst of it all, there are Premiership matters to consider.

The most pressing of these will be debated at the Causeway Stadium tomorrow night when Wasps, the champions, host London Irish, the coming force in English rugby, in a match that will go a long way towards deciding the shape of the play-offs.

A home defeat would leave Lawrence Dallaglio's side vulnerable to fifth-placed Gloucester, who play at relegated Leeds tomorrow afternoon. Unsurprisingly, Wasps are not in the mood to take chances. Tom Voyce, the England wing rested for last weekend's trip to Leicester, is restored while Stuart Abbott, another international, returns to a back division bristling with attacking intent.

There is no starting place for Joe Worsley, however. The England flanker will begin proceedings on the bench, having been overhauled by Mark Lock, who filled in at Welford Road after Worsley did himself a minor mischief during the warm-up. Lock is not one of life's natural open-sides, but as he pointed out yesterday: "The back row being the way it is at Wasps, you take whatever you can."

Irish are still struggling with injuries - Danie Coetzee, Faan Rautenbach and Nils Mordt are among the orthopaedically challenged - but can still field a side striking in its flexibility. As Delon Armitage, Mike Catt, Riki Flutey, Paul Hodgson and Juan Manuel Leguizamon are among the form players in the tournament, the fixture has "humdinger" written all over it. Northampton will considerably enhance their chances of Heineken Cup rugby next season if they beat a much-changed Bristol side at the Memorial Ground tomorrow.

The hosts have met their sole objective by surviving the Premiership campaign and as a result, they have not pressed the likes of Vaughan Going, David Lemi, Gareth Llewellyn, Joe El Abd and Dan Ward-Smith into service.

The Midlanders, on the other hand, will be at full tilt. Elsewhere in the West Country, the weekend has a whiff of history about it. Exeter take on Coventry in a National League One match today, thereby ending 113 years of thud and blunder at the County Ground before moving to new premises at Sandy Park. When the New Zealand "Originals" pitched up for the opening game of their 1905 tour, Exeter failed to raise the £50 required to underwrite the fixture. It was a clever move. The All Blacks played Devon instead and won by a street.

Premiership team news

* WORCESTER v NEWCASTLE. Today 2.0

Worcester's prop Lee Fortey makes his first Premiership start of the season and Thinus Delport is on the wing. Newcastle have a new half-back pairing in Hall Charlton and Toby Flood.

* LEEDS v GLOUCESTER. Tomorrow 2.30

Mike Shelley captains a Leeds side with Tom Palmer at lock and Rob Rawlinson at hooker. Luke Narraway makes a second Premiership start in the Gloucester back row.

* BRISTOL v NORTHAMPTON. Tomorrow 3.0

Roy Winters and Mariano Sambucetti come into the Bristol second row and Craig Short is on the open-side. Geraint Lewis starts at No 8. Saints have Dan Richmond, a West Countryman, at hooker.

* WASPS v LONDON IRISH.

Tomorrow 6.0 Irish bring in Richard Skuse at prop and Juan Manuel Leguizamon at No 8 on rotation. Tom Voyce returns on the Wasps wing with Stuart Abbott at inside centre.

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