Preview: Harlequins v London Irish

NEC Harlequins have made four changes to their team for the Guinness Premiership clash against London Irish at the Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.

In the back division, former All Black pivot Andrew Mehrtens starts his first match since the game against Newcastle Falcons on New Years Day. His return at fly-half means Adrian Jarvis misses out.

Hal Luscombe is ruled out with a leg injury, so Mel Deane partners Stuart Abbott in the midfield. David Strettle is back from international duty and is on the right wing in place of Tom Williams, who drops to the bench. A chest injury continues to rule out Ugo Monye.

In the pack, Mike Ross is at tighthead prop having missed the last two matches due to injury and replaces Ricky Nebbett, who drops to the bench. Nick Easter is ruled out by the neck injury he sustained playing for England against France in the Six Nations Championship last month.

Simon Miall is amongst the replacements and takes the place of Nicolas Spanghero, who is out for the rest of the season having had an ankle operation last week.

Meanwhile, London Irish be hoping to make it two wins out of three for their third “London Derby” in succession.

Irish won at home to Wasps on 18th March but lost at home to Saracens on 22nd March.

“The players have had two weeks away from competitive action so there has been a chance to re-charge their batteries and prepare for the final three games of the season,” said Brian Smith, London Irish Director of Rugby.

“We want to win to ensure we finish in the top half of the table and position ourselves for qualification for whatever form of European competition may emerge from the current discussions,” continued Smith.

“Regardless of that, fixtures between Harlequins and London Irish usually don’t need any additional motivation such is the great tradition of friendly rivalry between the two clubs!”

Among the backs Barry Everitt starts at out half in place of the injured Shane Geraghty with Riki Flutey continuing at inside centre in Mike Catt’s absence.

In the pack James Hudson continues in the second row instead of the injured Nick Kennedy with Steffon Armitage and Phil Murphy starting at openside flanker and number eight respectively. Bob Casey continues as captain in Catt’s absence.

Form: Harlequins have slipped to three successive defeats to Leicester, Wasps and Gloucester, with the 16-23 loss to Wasps at the Twickenham Stoop ending ‘Quins four match winning run at the ground in all competitions. London Irish lost 7-22 at home to Saracens last time out to spoil an impressive five game winning run in the Guinness Premiership. The Exiles have won their last two away encounters at Sale and at Bristol. Harlequins have not beaten London Irish since a 15-10 win at the Stoop in September 2003.

The teams:

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 David Strettle, 13 Mel Deane, 12 Stuart Abbott, 11 Simon Keogh, 10 Andrew Mehrtens, 9 Andy Gomarsall, 8 Chris Hala’Ufia, 7 Paul Volley (c), 6 Andre Vos, 5 Jim Evans, 4 Ollie Kohn, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Tani Fuga, 1 Ceri Jones
Replacements: 16 James Hayter, 17 Ricky Nebbett, 18 Simon Miall, 19 Tom Guest, 20 Will Skinner, 21 Steve So’oialo, 22 Tom Williams

London Irish: 15 Delon Armitage, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Seilala Mapusaua, 12 Riki Flutey 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Barry Everitt, 9 Paul Hodgson, 8 Phil Murphy, 7 Steffon Armitage, 6 Kieran Roche, 5 Bob Casey (c), 4 James Hudson, 3 Tonga Lea’aetoa, 2 Robbie Russell, 1 Neal Hatley
Replacements: 16 Michael Collins, 17 David Paice, 18 Gary Johnson, 19 Olivier Magne, 20 Declan Danaher, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Justin Bishop

Date: Saturday 7 April
Venue: The Stoop
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Sean Davey
Touch judges: Stuart Terheege, Andy Watson
Television match official: Laurie Bryant

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