Two Deans in captains' confrontation

Barrie Fairall sets the scene for today's mighty meeting at Welford Road in the Courage Clubs' Championship
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The Independent Online
Two Deans, one parish - sounds fun. After some doubts, the meeting of two of English rugby's giants is set to go ahead this afternoon at Welford Road - and we are not just simply talking about the key league fixture between Leicester and Wasps, which, thanks to a covered pitch, is expected to cope with whatever the weather has in store.

Dean Richards and Dean Ryan can be expected to make the ground shake in their confrontation. In the captain's role, the pair will be eyeing each other up from No 8, the Tiger Richards 6ft 4in and more than 17 stone, Ryan a couple of inches taller but half a stone lighter. Neither takes prisoners, while if Ryan needs any further motivation, it comes from the fact he trails his Leicester counterpart by more than 30 England caps.

Motivation, in any case, is already high, Wasps looking for a victory that would see them overhaul Leicester and thereby instal themselves as the front-runners to challenge Bath's league leadership. With the top English players happily available to turn out, the scene is set for a mighty meeting before the day's biggest rugby audience away from Murrayfield and Lansdowne Road.

Leicester, with the Underwoods patrolling the wings, are at full strength, while the only notable absentee for Wasps is the Irish prop Nick Popplewell. Ryan, who suffered in the mud at Exeter during last weekend's cup quarter- final, has recovered from a calf strain and Jon Ufton and Damian Hopley are also fit. Rob Andrew, who complained of back and neck problems following the win over Wales in Cardiff, is also on hand.

As for Bath, they are not expected to come unstuck at the Rec even though their captain, John Hall, is among the absentees and Gloucester arrive mentally refreshed by a win over Leicester. Hall is resting a strained knee.

Steve Ojomoh comes in at No 8 for Hall, while Andy Robinson, dropped for the cup tie with Northampton, makes his 200th appearance for the club on his recall. Simon Geoghegan and David Hilton are on international duty, which means a place for Adedayo Adebayo on the wing and Chris Clark switching to loose-head for the return of Victor Ubogu at tight-head.

One interesting selection is that of Richard Butland at stand-off for only his second league match. Butland is a South African-born dual-passport holder who was raised in the United States, schooled at Wellington College in Berkshire and named earlier this week in the Emerging England side to play Northern Transvaal at Bristol next Wednesday. Such is his promise, that Mike Catt is shifted into the centre as cover for the unavailable Jeremy Guscott.

In the relegation stakes, a desperate Northampton go hunting for points at the Memorial Ground boosted by the return of Ian Hunter. The full-back has been out since dislocating a shoulder against Orrell in mid-October. The Saints are also relieved to have Tim Rodber and Martin Bayfield back in harness against Bristol.