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Manu Tuilagi and Jean de Villiers set to kick-start Leicester partnership


Manu Tuilagi, pictured, will pair up with Jean de Villiers for Leicester Tigers this weekend

Manu Tuilagi, pictured, will pair up with Jean de Villiers for Leicester Tigers this weekend

Manu Tuilagi, pictured, will pair up with Jean de Villiers for Leicester Tigers this weekend

Manu Tuilagi and Jean de Villiers will aim to kick-start their high-profile centre partnership when Leicester host London Irish in Sunday's Aviva Premiership action.

England boss Eddie Jones will watch on with vested interest, continuing to hope powerhouse centre Tuilagi can prove his readiness for a Test return before the end of the RBS 6 Nations.

Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill just wants both star men to be fit enough to combine regularly, after both have recovered from long-term problems.

Tuilagi is still fighting back to full fitness after 14 months battling groin trouble, while World Cup-winning former Springboks centre De Villiers has now recovered following a broken jaw.

De Villiers admitted he cannot wait to get up to full tilt alongside Tuilagi, but insisted the duo need time to gel.

"It's exciting playing with Manu and good to see him back and playing with a lot of confidence," De Villiers told the Leicester Mercury, ahead of his home debut against Irish on Sunday.

"Mine and Manu's combination needs time to settle. We are both coming back from injury and it will take a game or two but we are getting there - and we will get there.

"He has shown his class over the years and I have played a few games too which can hopefully only make us better.

"He has been great to play with and we have a nice friendship going off the field which relates onto the field as well."

Premiership high-fliers Exeter host Bath in a west country scrap that Chiefs coach Ali Hepher insists will prove a testing tussle, despite the visitors' sticky season so far.

Bath lost out 24-18 at home to Wasps last weekend, just when the Blue, Black and Whites had hoped to start turning the corner following on from an edgy win at Worcester.

Scotland Under-20s fly-half Adam Hastings continues to pull Bath's backline strings, though England centre Kyle Eastmond returns to add experience to the midfield.

England squad man Dave Ewers returns to Exeter's back-row for the first time since November as he continues his return from knee trouble.

"It's a local derby and it has all the makings of a great game of rugby," said Hepher.

"We're aware everyone is coming behind us in the league, but we're out in front (with Saracens) and we'd rather be there than chasing.

"What we have to do is focus on the weekend and pick up as many points as possible."

Wasps boss Dai Young has challenged his side to extend their impressive run of form when hosting Harlequins in Coventry on Sunday.

Brothers Charles and Siale Piutau will form an imposing centre pairing with Elliot Daly on England duty, with in-form scrum-half Dan Robson taking the nine shirt once again.

"These are traditionally tight games that could go either way and I don't expect any different this weekend," said Young, whose Wasps side sit third in the table.

"We're pleased with the momentum and confidence we've been building in recent weeks and we know we need to keep that going."

James Chisholm starts at blindside flanker for Harlequins, with wing Charlie Walker replacing Tim Visser, on Scotland duty.

Former Australia flanker Beau Robinson could also make his Harlequins debut off the bench.