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Leicester Tigers unleash big guns for clash of titans with Harlequins


Leicester Tigers welcome back three of their England stars for the biggest game of the Aviva Premiership so far this season.

Tigers, who are top, take on champions Harlequins, who are second, in front of live Sky TV cameras this evening at a sold-out Stoop (5.15).

Fly-half Toby Flood, centre Manu Tuilagi and No.8 Thomas Waldrom have all been included in the starting line-up after being released by England with no Six Nations action this weekend.

Scott Hamilton also returns to the back-line in place of injured winger Niall Morris, while Brett Deacon starts in the back-row alongside Waldrom and Julian Salvi, with Tom Croft rested.

Scrum-half Danny Care returns for Quins from England duty, and a changed back-line sees Matt Hopper move to outside-centre to partner Jordan Turner-Hall.

Tigers director of rugby Richard Cockerill is in no doubt about the importance of the fixture.

He believes it is almost a case of his side playing for "double points" in the next couple of games. After Quins, Tigers entertain third-placed Saracens a week today.

The unpredictability of fixtures at this time of year, when clubs can lose key players to the Six Nations, was underlined last week when Harlequins slipped to second after being beaten at home by Wasps, while Saracens lost to London Irish.

Tigers, meanwhile, were taking care of their own business by beating London Welsh 28-12 to move to the top of the Premiership.

Cockerill knows that his side face nothing less than a stern examination at the Stoop, but is well aware that a Tigers win would not only boost their own ambitions of a home semi-final, it would also set back Harlequins' ambitions. The same is true of the clash with Saracens.

"Quins are coming off the back of a defeat at home, which doesn't happen very often," he said.

"We have a pretty good record there in recent history, but they beat us at Welford Road earlier in the season.

"When you are playing the sides around you, it is like having double points to go for and we have two weeks of that with the Saracens game coming up next Saturday."

The value of the four points Leicester picked up against the Exiles became even more evident as Quins and Saracens lost ground in the play-off race.

"Looking at the results from last weekend, it just goes to show that anyone can get caught out on the day," added Cockerill. "We play Saracens after Harlequins, then we face Sale at Welford Road. None of those games are easy and we have to pick up as many points as we can in that period."

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