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Clubs set for neighbourly clash

Wasps director of rugby Dai Young is expecting even greater enmity from Leicester now that one of English club rugby's fiercest rivalries will be fought exclusively in the midlands.

A crowd of 32,600 - Wasps' first full house since relocating from High Wycombe to Coventry in December - will watch a pivotal Aviva Premiership clash between teams who between 2000 and 2010 amassed four league titles each.

Although no longer the forces of the last decade, there is plenty at stake with Leicester desperate to punish their new neighbours for encroaching on territory they had previously shared with Northampton alone.

Also on offer for the winners is a place in the top four with one round of the regular season remaining, while Wasps know that victory would confirm their entrance into next season's Champions Cup.

"We understand our move to Coventry will undoubtedly add an extra dimension to this game against Leicester given we have recently become neighbours," Young said.

"However, Wasps/Leicester games have for a long time had a special rivalry of their own, regardless of geography.

"Leicester are in the driving seat, starting the weekend three points ahead of us in the table, with their sights again set on the play-offs.

"We know the calibre of the side we are up against - a club which has made the top four each of the last 10 seasons.

"With a top-six finish and European qualification guaranteed if we were to win, you don't need to look far for motivation.

"If we were to achieve that, we would then have a shot at the play-offs. First we have to get past Leicester and that is a huge challenge that has absorbed all our focus this week."

Captain James Haskell makes his 150th appearance for Wasps, but it is the return of England lock Joe Launchbury to the bench after over six months out with a serious neck injury that supplies the biggest talking point.

"It really feels like having a new signing. The surgeon and specialists are very happy with where he is. He is fully fit and raring to go. We certainly wouldn't risk playing him if he wasn't 100 per cent," Young said.

"Joe has worked his socks off to get back. I'm seeing a well-rested, eager, world-class second row who is desperate to get back out on the field.

"I'm sure England will have a dangerous animal in Joe Launchbury during the World Cup and hopefully Wasps will see some high-quality rugby too before he joins up with England."

Leicester have also been boosted by the return of an England second row after club captain Ed Slater was named on the bench for his first appearance for the season having recovered from a knee problem.

The Tigers hold fourth place with Wasps three points behind in sixth - Exeter separate the rivals - and director of rugby Richard Cockerill knows what is at stake at the Ricoh Arena.

"This is a huge game for both sides in front of a sell-out crowd. It's a big occasion and we want our support right behind us," Cockerill said.

Sale host Newcastle and London Irish travel to Gloucester in two fixtures where there is nothing on the line, while Northampton are expected to strengthen their grip at the summit of the table when they play relegated London Welsh at Franklin's Gardens.


From Belfast Telegraph