Cockerill ready for tight battle

Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill is urging his side to bounce back from their Harlequins loss by beating Sale on Saturday and sealing a spot in the Aviva Premiership play-offs.

Rugby Union - Heineken Cup - Pool Five - Leicester Tigers v Benetton Treviso - Welford Road

A bonus-point victory will confirm Tigers’ place in the semi-finals while a win of any kind would be enough if fifth-placed Quins fail to beat Exeter Chiefs on Sunday.

The race for fourth was thrown wide open when Conor O’Shea’s men beat Leicester 24-20 in the previous round and Cockerill wants his team to make things right at the AJ Bell Stadium this weekend.

“We have still got a semi-final spot to aim for and we were a bit disappointed with how we played at Quins in the last round,” Cockerill told the official club website.

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“Sale Sharks have been doing well and are also potentially still looking at the top four in the table.

“It’s going to be a tight battle for those places with just two rounds to play.”

Leicester’s Geoff Parling makes his first start since injuring his shoulder playing for England in November while Tom Youngs returns to the front row, Niall Morris is recalled on the wing and Owen Williams starts at fly-half.

Sale make just one change from the team that thumped Exeter 55-12 last time out as Andrei Ostrikov replaces Jonathan Mills in the second row.

Saracens have already booked their place in the Premiership knock-outs but the Men in Black still have plenty to play for at home to Worcester on Saturday.

A win for Mark McCall’s side would not only ensure they finish the regular season in top spot, it would also see Sarries register the highest number of league points ever in a Premiership season.

The record is currently held by Leicester who finished with 83 points in 2002.

Sarries reached the Heineken Cup final last weekend after brushing aside Clermont Auvergne 46-6 at Twickenham and s econd-rower Alistair Hargreaves has urged his teammates to maintain that momentum.

“It’s vital to back up a big performance like last week. We need to keep building momentum and we don’t have a pick and choose mentality,” Hargreaves told the official club website.

“I see securing top spot as motivation rather than pressure. Our focus is purely on the challenge that Worcester will bring, but it’s nice to know that if we put in a good shift we’ll be rewarded with the top spot.”

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Hargreaves captains Sarries in place of Steve Borthwick, who is rested, while Will Fraser and Jackson Wray come in for Jacques Burger and Kelly Brown who are also rotated.

The only change to the backline sees Richard Wigglesworth, making his 100th club appearance, replace Neil de Kock.

A Saracens win will relegate Worcester, who have named an unchanged side from the team that lost to Bath in Round 20.

Even a shock victory will not be enough for Warriors to avoid the drop if Newcastle Falcons pick up at least three points at London Wasps.

Newcastle’s Kieran Brookes returns from suspension for the match at Adams Park and will be joined by Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson while Gonzalo Tiesi and James Fitzpatrick come back into the centres.

Wasps, who are looking to secure seventh spot and a European play-off place, make two changes to their XV as Charlie Hayter replaces Chris Bell at centre and Tom Palmer takes the place of the injured Kearnan Myall in the second row.

Gloucester still have an outside chance of a top-seven finish but know they have to beat London Irish on Saturday to keep their faint hopes alive.

Club captain Tom Savage hands the Cherry & Whites a boost with a return to the squad for the first time since November while Yann Thomas, Sila Puafisi and Will James, who is making his final appearance at Kingsholm, all come into the pack.

“It remains mathematically possible [to finish seventh], and that’s what we’ve prepared for,” Gloucester coach Andrew Stanley told the club website.

“First and foremost we’ve got to put in a positive performance, hopefully get the win on the back of it and see where it takes us.”

Tenth-placed Irish have made six changes from the team that lost to Northampton as Tom Homer, Ian Humphreys, Jimmy Stevens, Ian Gough, Jebb Sinclair and Chris Hala’ufia all start.

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