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Richard Cockerill hails centre Matt Toomua ahead of his Leicester debut

Published 13/10/2016

Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill is relishing Matt Toomua's Tigers debut against Glasgow on Friday.
Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill is relishing Matt Toomua's Tigers debut against Glasgow on Friday.

Leicester boss Richard Cockerill has described centre Matt Toomua as "a great footballer" as the Australian star prepares to make his Tigers debut.

Toomua will line up in Leicester's midfield for a testing European Champions Cup pool one opener against Glasgow at Scotstoun on Friday, with a fiercely-tough group also including French title holders Racing 92 and two-time kings of Europe Munster.

"There aren't many second chances in Europe and we need to get something out of Friday night, so we need our best players available," Cockerill said.

"Matt is a top-quality player. He makes everything look very easy, and there is no substitute for quality. He has only been here a short period of time, but he's a great footballer and he learns quickly.

"Any points in Europe, especially away from home, are vital, and this is not the easiest European pool in which to win away matches, is it? There are no games where you think, 'oh, we will go there and win'.

"If we do go and win at Scotstoun, or against Munster or Racing 92 away later in the campaign, it will be a very good day at the office."

Toomua forms Leicester's centre partnership with Mathew Tait, while wing Tom Brady is handed a European debut for the Tigers and Mike Fitzgerald replaces flanker Mike Williams, who suffered a broken during the warm-up ahead of last Saturday's Aviva Premiership encounter against Worcester.

Scotland international prop Gordon Reid will make his 100th appearance for Glasgow, with the Warriors showing a number of changes following last weekend's Guinness PRO12 win against Zebre, including returns for the likes of Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Henry Pyrgos.

Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend said: "Our history is that we have never got out of our pool in Europe, and that's the first very important, but very difficult, goal for us.

"We learn a lot when we play week in, week out against the big European teams. There was a big improvement from when we played Racing and Northampton at the start of the pool (last season) to our return games.

"We beat Racing, and we led Northampton with three minutes to go, before we picked up a yellow card and gave away a penalty. We know we have to be better than that to take on Leicester, who are improving, and Racing, who will have moved on from last season."

Bristol, seven points adrift at the Premiership basement, move into Europe on Friday with a Challenge Cup opener against Cardiff Blues at Ashton Gate.

Rugby director Andy Robinson has made 11 changes from the side beaten by Newcastle five days ago, with Tom Varndell, Adrian Jarvis, Rhodri Williams and Ian Evans among those called up for the first fixture in a tough pool that also includes Bath and French challengers Pau.

Wales wing Alex Cuthbert returns to action for the Blues after recovering from a groin injury, lining up in a powerful side that includes his fellow internationals Gareth Anscombe, Tom James and former Bristol full-back Matthew Morgan.

The Ospreys, in action against Liberty Stadium visitors Newcastle, parade the likes of Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric, while the Falcons show 13 changes, including a senior debut for number eight Harrison Orr, and flanker Glen Young, centre Fred Burdon and full-back Brett Connon also start.

"We went for a bit of stability in terms of the squad over the last six weeks, and there are a lot of boys knocking on the door who deserve an opportunity to play," Newcastle rugby director Dean Richards said. "They will get that chance this weekend, and deservedly so.

"It's not about developing youngsters, it's about giving people who deserve the chance, the chance to play."

Other Challenge Cup games on Friday see the Newport Gwent Dragons entertaining Brive, while Grenoble host Lyon.

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