England pair return for Saints


Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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England have received a promising medical bulletin from Northampton after forwards Tom Wood and Dylan Hartley were named in the Saints squad for Saturday’s Aviva Premiership clash with Sale.

Wood has been missing for three weeks with a back problem but starts at blindside flanker, while Hartley is included on the bench after sitting out last weekend’s victory over London Irish with the same ailment.

London Welsh director of rugby Justin Burnell insists spirits are high as the Exiles prepare for a pivotal moment in their season.

Saturday’s clash with Newcastle at the Kassam Stadium will signpost their prospects of Premiership survival in a meeting between the league’s two weakest teams, who occupy 11th and 12th places.

The odds are stacked heavily against Welsh after last weekend’s 52-0 mauling at Harlequins was compounded by the Falcons toppling Exeter 29-24.

Relegation would be all but assured if they fail to record a first victory since their return to the Premiership against Dean Richards’ men.

“There weren’t many positives we could take out of the Quins game, but surprisingly the mood is still high,” Burnell said.

“Given the weekend we had, I was pleasantly surprised and shocked at the mood because conceding all those points and being criticised like that does take its toll.

“But the lads are training well and no one is jibbing – there are no excuses. Everyone is getting on with it.

“We’re very proud to be in the Premiership, we’ve now just got to go up another level or find that magical formula that is missing.”

London Irish were considered potential relegation candidates in pre-season, but victories at Newcastle and Leicester suggest otherwise.

Near misses against Saracens and Northampton have added further encouragement, but captain George Skivington insists they must convert winning positions.

“We might be in reasonable form, but we need to chase consistency and deliver performances we’re proud of,” Skivington said ahead of Saturday’s trip to Exeter.

“We played well despite losing to Saracens and it was the same with Northampton.

“The big challenge for us though is to kick on and expect to win those games.

“We’ve had the title of underdogs as the season started. We’ve done okay as a group but then again we’ve got a lot of ambition, so hopefully we can grow from that.”

Saracens have reacted to their emphatic 21-11 defeat at Bath by making eight changes for their clash with Gloucester at Allianz Park, among them the return of centre Brad Barritt from a calf problem.

Thigh strain victim Owen Farrell is still missing from the 23 and is expected back against Clermont next weekend.

Gloucester demolished Leicester 33-16 last Saturday but director of rugby David Humphreys views the clash with Saracens as the true litmus test of their progress following a summer of upheaval at Kingsholm.

“This will give us a very clear picture of how the team has developed and evolved since the start of the season,” Humphreys said.

“This is the first point where we’ll be able to sit down, review the first phase of the season and really gauge where we are in comparison to other teams.”

Published: Friday 10th October 2014 by The News Editor

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