London Irish are unchanged for tomorrow’s Aviva Premiership trip to Leicester Tigers as the Exiles look to start 2018 in positive fashion.

Franco van der Merwe, who this week became a father for the second time, starts in the engine room alongside Teofilo Paulo. Meanwhile, experienced trio Gordon Reid, Saia Fainga’a and Petrus du Plessis pack down in the front row, with skipper Mike Coman, Max Northcote-Green and Ofisa Treviranus all retaining their place in the back row. 

Greig Tonks, who kicked all 15 of Irish’s points during last week’s narrow defeat to Newcastle Falcons, continues at full-back, while Joe Cokanasiga and former Leicester man Alex Lewington start on either wing. Homing in on 100 appearances for Irish, Lewington will be looking to add to his five try return for the season.

Scrum-half Scott Steele, facing his former team, combines with James Marshall at the heart of the Exiles’ backline, while Johnny Williams and Tom Fowlie get the nod in the centres.

“We were much improved last week against Newcastle and I’m looking for us to kick on tomorrow at Welford Road,” said Exiles’ director of rugby Nick Kennedy.

“We’ve addressed a few things in training this week and we will need to concentrate for the full 80 minutes against a very good Leicester side.

“Welford Road is a fantastic place to play rugby and the lads are relishing the prospect of playing in front of a very vocal crowd.”

New signings Arno Botha and Piet van Zyl, who both jetted into London yesterday, have not been named in the squad but will be watching their new teammates from the stand.

“They only arrived at the club yesterday after a long flight from Johannesburg, so it would be too early to throw them in for the Leicester game,” said Kennedy.

“We’re delighted to have them on board and there will be a bedding in process for them over the next week or so as they get familiar with our calls on the pitch.”

London Irish: 15 Greig Tonks, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 James Marshall, 9 Scott Steele, 1 Gordon Reid, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 6 Mike Coman (c), 7 Max Northcote-Green, 8 Ofisa Treviranus

Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Theo Brophy Clews, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma  

London Irish’s next home game will be against Krasny Yar in the European Rugby Challenge Cup on Saturday 13 January. Under 13s tickets are just £1 throughout the stadium with adults from £18 or by calling 0118 968 1016 (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm and Saturday 9am to noon).

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