Experienced duo Tom Youngs and Tom Croft return to the Leicester Tigers starting line-up for Friday’s Premiership fixture against Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road.
Club captain Youngs started among the replacements in the win at Harlequins in Round 16 while Croft is back in the matchday squad after sitting out the trip to The Stoop last weekend.
Youngs joins Greg Bateman and Michele Rizzo, who played for Italy against England in the Six Nations last weekend, in the front row, while Croft teams up with Brendon O’Connor and Luke Hamilton in the back row of the forward pack.
Matt Smith returns to the backline alongside Maxime Mermoz, with Peter Betham among the replacements this week after making his 50th appearance for the club in the match against Quins. Owen Williams starts at fly-half, with Jono Kitto at scrum-half this week.
Ellis Genge and Mike Williams have been released back to the club after training with the England squad this week and are named among the replacements.
Tigers head coach Aaron Mauger said: “The last few performances have been a step in the right direction, but we also know there are things to tidy up and we are going to have to be better against on Friday. Exeter are a quality side, they are well-balanced with a good pack and the skillset to play out wide too.
“We’re still focused on being better, we have good competition for places in the squad and there is a good intensity about training.
“It’s always a pleasure to play in front of your own crowd and a Friday night fixture is a great way for supporters to unwind at the end of the week and come down to the game. Hopefully everyone will be in full voice by the time the game starts.”
Meanwhile, Exeter boss Rob Baxter adds Carl Rimmer and Luke Cowan-Dickie to his front row in place of Ben Moon and Jack Yeandle.
Stuart Townsend gets his first-ever Premiership start at scrum-half ahead of Jack Maunder, while behind England international Henry Slade is recalled at fly-half ahead of Joe Simmonds.
With Yeandle on the bench and Gareth Steenson still out with a hamstring injury, flanker Don Armand skippers the visitors in the Midlands.
Form: Leicester Tigers have won their last three Aviva Premiership Rugby fixtures, but have not won four in a row in the tournament for two years. Tigers only defeat in their last seven Premiership Rugby home games was to Saracens on New Year’s Day. Exeter Chiefs are unbeaten in their last nine Aviva Premiership Rugby matches since Bath defeated them at Sandy Park in October. The Chiefs have tallied a try bonus point in each of their last seven first team encounters. The last four Premiership Rugby fixtures between the two clubs have all been won by the home side. The Chiefs have won three previous games at Welford Road, beating Nottingham there in the Championship in 2009, Leicester in Premiership Rugby in 2011 and the Tigers in the semi-final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2015.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Jono Kitto, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Greg Bateman, 2 Tom Youngs (c), 1 Michele Rizzo
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Peter Betham
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Stuart Townsend, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Kai Horstmann, 6 Don Armand (c), 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Carl Rimmer
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill
Date: Friday, March 3
Venue: Welford Road
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Anthony Woodthorpe
TMO: Graham Hughes