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Worcester v Leicester - Aviva Premiership match preview
Leicester welcome back Tom Croft for his first appearance of the season in Friday's Aviva Premiership match against the Worcester Warriors.
Back-rower Croft returns after recovery from a neck injury suffered last season and joins fit-again Steve Mafi and Thomas Waldrom in the Tigers back-row for the opening 2012/13 Aviva Premiership fixture of the New Year at Sixways.
Rob Hawkins is joined by Logovi'i Mulipola and Italian Martin Castrogiovanni in the front-row.
Mathew Tait returns at full-back, and there are starting places for Scott Hamilton, Matt Smith and Dan Bowden in the backline, with Toby Flood and Ben Youngs at half-back for the domestic clash.
Warriors expect their biggest crowd of the season so far for the fixture as they defend an unbeaten home record stretching back to September.
Meanwhile, wing Josh Drauniniu makes his first league start since November for the Warriors.
Head coach Richard Hill makes a total of six changes to the XV from the side that lost to Sale as Warriors look to start 2013 with a crucial victory and maintain the club's strong home form.
Scrum-half Jonny Arr will partner Andy Goode at half-back, with former England international Paul Hodgson ruled out of the game with a jaw injury.
Centre Jon Clarke is also named in the back division with Josh Matavesi among the replacements.
Three changes in the pack see a return for hooker Aleki Lutui while Sam Betty plays in the back-row alongside Matt Kvesic and Semisi Taulava. Ex-Ireland ace Neil Best is named on the bench and could make his 50th appearance for Warriors if he features.
Lock Dean Schofield will join James Percival, who retains the captaincy, in the second-row. Fit-again prop Matt Mullan is recalled to the bench alongside scrum half Ollie Frost.
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Jon Clarke, 11 David Lemi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Semisi Taulava, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sam Betty, 5 Dean Schofield, 4 James Percival (c), 3 Euan Murray, 2 Aleki Lutui, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 John Andress, 19 Chris Jones, 20 Neil Best, 21 Ollie Frost, 22 Danny Gray, 23 Josh Matavesi.
Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Steve Mafi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Ed Slater, 4 Louis Deacon (c), 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Rob Hawkins, 1 Logovi'i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Graham Kitchener, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Micky Young, 22 Anthony Allen, 23 Niall Morris.
What they said?
Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill
"They are a tough team to beat and they have proved that with the amount of losing bonus points they have picked up this year," he said.
"They beat Saracens at home so they must be doing something right. They have definitely improved and have a strong squad.
"Sixways is a small ground but it usually packed to the rafters when we go there and that creates a cracking atmosphere. We have always prided ourselves on not getting distracted by the festivities.
"We set ourselves a target over the Christmas period and, if we can win at Worcester, we will have got 13 points over three games, which we will be satisfied with."
Worcester head coach Richard Hill
"There are a number of changes to the starting line-up as we look to keep the squad fresh after a run of bruising encounters," said Hill.
"There were a number of battered and bruised bodies after the game at Sale and it is vital the team that starts is in the best physical shape for such a crucial game.
"Paul Hodgson misses out after picking up a jaw injury, but I know Jonny Arr will be keen to grasp this opportunity. We also call-up Aleki Lutui, Dean Schofield, Sam Betty, Jon Clarke and Josh Drauniniu and they will be determined to take advantage of this chance to shine.
"We have a real sense of pride when playing in front of our fans at Sixways, but this will undoubtedly be our toughest challenge yet.
"If we want to keep our home record intact we have got to pull out all the stops and raise the bar once more against Leicester Tigers."
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Aviva Premiership Table
|Friday 5th September|
|19:45||Northampton vs Gloucester|
|Saturday 6th September|
|14:00||Sale vs Bath|
|14:00||Saracens vs Wasps|
|15:00||Leicester vs Newcastle|
|16:30||London Irish vs Harlequins|
|Sunday 7th September|
|14:00||London Welsh vs Exeter|
|Friday 12th September|
|19:45||Harlequins vs Saracens|
|Saturday 13th September|
|15:00||Gloucester vs Sale|
|15:00||Bath vs London Welsh|
|15:15||Exeter vs Leicester|
|Sunday 14th September|
|14:00||Wasps vs Northampton|
|15:00||Newcastle vs London Irish|
|Friday 19th September|
|19:45||Gloucester vs Exeter|
|Saturday 20th September|
|14:00||Sale vs London Welsh|
|15:00||Harlequins vs Wasps|
|15:00||London Irish vs Saracens|
|15:15||Bath vs Leicester|
|Sunday 21st September|
|14:00||Newcastle vs Northampton|
|Friday 26th September|
|19:45||London Welsh vs Gloucester|
|Saturday 27th September|
|15:00||Leicester vs London Irish|
|15:00||Saracens vs Sale|
|15:15||Northampton vs Bath|
|Sunday 28th September|
|14:00||Wasps vs Newcastle|
|14:00||Exeter vs Harlequins|
|Friday 3rd October|
|19:45||Bath vs Saracens|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com