London Irish vs Wasps teams
By Ben Blackmore
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Two debutants will start for the Exiles as they entertain Premiership champions Wasps.
London Irish v Wasps
Guinness Premiership, Madejski Stadium, Saturday December 31, KO 14.45PM, live on Sky Sports 2
London Irish have turned to a squad rotation system for their crunch clash with local rivals Wasps, and will start two Premiership debutants at the Madejski Stadium.
Ross Laidlaw is handed the pressure of dictating the game from fly half, despite Barry Everitt's late heroics against Saracens on Tuesday.
At 22 years of age, Laidlaw is a highly-rated talent in the Irish squad, and he will be handed a true baptism of fire against the champions.
Joining the stand-off in making his first start is Richard Thorpe, who is selected at blind side in a back row that also features Kieran Dawson and Phil Murphy.
The Exiles are currently third in the Premiership, and the home encounter against their illustrious neighbours provides a perfect opportunity for Brian Smith's men to stamp their marker at the start of 2006.
In all, the line-up features 12 changes, including seven alterations in the forward pack. Michael Collins and Adrian Flavin join sole survivor Faan Rautenbach in the front row, whilst Ryan Strudwick and Nick Kennedy pair up in the lineout.
In the back division, Mike Catt returns to provide experience on the shoulder of young Laidlaw, and he is joined by Darren Edwards, Dominic Feau'nati and Paul Franze.
Despite the wholesale changes, Smith is confident he is sending out a winning side.
"One London derby match at any point in the season is demanding enough for the players and management of the teams involved, but to have two in the space of four days has tested the real depth of resources in our squad.
"We have picked a team that is capable of winning. We know that another gruelling forward battle awaits us as we face what is arguably the best back row in the country on current form."
By contrast, London Wasps have named a team that resembles something close to their best XV for the New Year's Eve showdown.
The back three of Mark van Gisbergen, Paul Sackey and Tom Voyce is now a familiar trio, whilst Josh Lewsey and Stuart Abbott continue to form an interesting partnership at centre.
The major name in the starting line-up is injury-plagued England flanker Joe Worsley, who comes in at blindside with John Hart reverting to the second row alongside George Skivington.
New signing Justin Va'a is also given the jersey in what will be his debut for Wasps, and he will pack down alongside Raphael Ibanez and Tim Payne in the front row.
The one solitary alteration in the back division comes at fly half, where Jeremy Staunton is preferred to Alex King. On the bench, Tom Rees is a notable inclusion.
Wasps have suffered a tough time in European competition this season, but their domestic form has been typically strong and director Ian McGeechan believes Saturday's clash will bring together two confident sides.
"On Saturday we are playing probably the in form side in the Premiership at the moment. London Irish are a strong team, as their good run of results has shown, and they will be a very big challenge for us away from home."
London Irish team: 15 Michael Horak; 14 Delon Armitage; 13 Paul Franze; 12 Mike Catt (captain); 11 Dominic Feau'nati; 10 Ross Laidlaw; 9 Darren Edwards; 1 Michael Collins; 2 Adrian Flavin; 3 Faan Rautenbach; 4 Ryan Strudwick; 5 Nick Kennedy; 6 Richard Thorpe; 7 Kieran Dawson; 8 Phil Murphy
Replacements: 16 Neal Hatley; 17 Danie Coetzee; 18 Doug Wheatley; 19 Bob Casey; 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamon; 21 Paul Hodgson; 22. Barry Everitt.
Wasps team: 15 Mark Van Gisbergen, 14 Paul Sackey, 13 Josh Lewsey, 12 Stuart Abbott, 11 Tom Voyce, 10 Jeremy Staunton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 1 Tim Payne, 2 Raphael Ibanez, 3 Justin Va'a, 4 John Hart, 5 George Skivington, 6 Joe Worsley, 7 Jonny O'Connor, 8 Lawrence Dallaglio (c)
Replacements: 16 Jonny Barrett, 17 Alistair McKenzie, 18 Martin Purdy, 19 Tom Rees, 20 Matt Dawson, 21 Ayoola Erinle, 22 Rob Hoadley