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Booth boosted by Armitage return

London Irish coach Toby Booth hopes the return of full-back Delon Armitage from England duty can inspire his side to victory over Northampton in Friday night's top-of-the-table Aviva Premiership clash at Franklin's Gardens.

Armitage was released by Martin Johnson earlier this week after the England manager opted to choose Bath giant Matt Banahan as his replacement back for Saturday's clash with South Africa at Twickenham.

"Delon's return is our gain and England's loss this weekend - he is a fantastic player," said Booth.

"Despite the short turnaround we've prepared well and have strong belief in our ability to challenge whenever and wherever we play. The players are looking forward to the game."

Along with the return of Armitage at full-back, Booth has made two alterations up front from the side which lost a six-try thriller at Wasps last weekend, bringing Romanian prop Paulica Ion and former Leicester hooker James Buckland into his front row.

Northampton, meanwhile, have reshuffled their back row following their win at Sale with Ireland cap Roger Wilson coming in at number eight as captain Phil Dowson switches to the blindside flank in place of Calum Clarke.

The Saints, beaten semi-finalists last season, have been the pacesetters so far this term, winning seven of eight league games and remaining unbeaten at home.

Director of rugby Jim Mallinder has called on his players to show they can deal with the pressure and expectation of a sell-out crowd.

"Top-of-the-table clashes are always big games, but these are the games that we want to be involved in as they show we are heading in the right direction," he said. "It will be a challenging evening for us. London Irish have been playing some good rugby this season and deserve their position at the top end of the league table.

"Their forwards and midfielders have been carrying the ball powerfully and their strike runners out wide have been scoring plenty of tries. We will certainly have to be focused right from the first whistle if we want a positive result."

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