Jim Mallinder, Northampton's director of rugby, believes his side will have to "improve massively" if they are to beat Leicester today in a contest that combines East Midlands rivalry with the added kudos of being a meeting between the top two clubs in the Guinness Premiership, in front of a full house at Franklin's Gardens.
Last weekend Saints lost to Harlequins – their second defeat in 15 matches – and they cannot afford a repeat performance against the Tigers. "We will have to improve massively from the performance at the Stoop if we are to beat Leicester," Mallinder admitted. "They have hit an excellent run of form that has taken them to the top of the Premiership. No one at the Saints likes losing, and the players knew that they could have done a lot better. There has been a lot of determination in training this week to put that game behind us."
Northampton make two enforced changes: Bruce Reihana starts at full-back, with Ben Foden on England duty, while Brian Mujati plays at tight-head prop in the absence of the Scotland international Euan Murray.
The Tigers will be led by the flanker Craig Newby, with prop Julian White, lock Ben Kay and wing Alesana Tuilagi returning to the starting line-up. Scott Hamilton covers full-back, with Geordan Murphy lining up for Ireland against England. Dan Cole, Louis Deacon, Lewis Moody and Toby Flood are on England duty, while Martin Castrogiovanni will be with Italy.
"It should be a great occasion," said Richard Cockerill, the Leicester coach. "We've got a five-point lead in the league but the other sides have a game in hand on us. If we can win this weekend, we beat one of our nearest rivals and that puts us that bit further ahead; but if we lose, everyone else gets that bit closer to us."
Today's other game sees Sale travel to Gloucester. Sale have lost their last six games in all competitions and lie just four points above the bottom club, Leeds, after last week's 19-10 defeat by the Yorkshire side. Gloucester welcome back the England centre Mike Tindall for his first appearance in four months after a hamstring injury.
*In last night's Premiership match, Worcester beat Newcastle 13-0 at Sixways, with a try from Will Bowley and a conversion and two penalties.
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