RUGBY: Clash of Lions at first home game

THE CLASH of the Midlands Lions, Rugby Lions v Leicester Lions (kick off 2pm with Lions Colts to follow) comes early this season, as it did last autumn, writes Alistair Bruten.

The sides also met at Webb Ellis Road in week two last season after Leicester had narrowly beaten Macclesfield at home, as they did again last week.

The one difference from last year is that, instead of losing at Bradford & Bingley, Rugby came into the game, their second at home in a row, on the back of a confidence-boosting 36-0 victory over Darlington Mowden Park and Rugby won 18-3, a result that perhaps flattered the home side.

But there seems every likelihood that normal business will be resumed with the kind of tight game that characterised both league games and especially the 16-19 pre-Christmas game at Blaby.

Leicester Lions have three former Rugby players in their squad as well as coach Chris Tarbuck.

Versatile back Gareth Collins enjoyed considerable success last season with a good trying-scoring record, although he is now more likely to start at full back than his Rugby position on the right wing.

Jon Boden moved to Leicester shortly after watching that December match and quickly climbed the goal kicking table, his new career as a teacher precluded him from signing up to the fully professional set up at Doncaster where he had enjoyed some good seasons.

He was a big part of Leicester's improved results in the second half of the season that included an amazing 51-36 defeat of eventual champions Blaydon. Leicester finished a creditable 7th with 13 wins from their 26 matches, to give them hope of joining the band of promotion contenders this season if they could maintain last season's improvement.

Now Boden has taken on the role of skills coach as well as continuing as a player.

Lions' new forward, Tom Cheney, will know the third ex-Rugby player coming to Webb Ellis on Saturday, his former Market Bosworth team mate, front row Richard Moore.

Moving the other way, Rugby now have Leicester's former captain Damien Evans in their squad, although he is at present recovering from illness and hasn't started training.

Other Lutterworth Road recruits are flanker Mark Halgate from Nuneaton, scrum half Chris Townsend from Whitchurch and centres Scott Alfeld (New Zealand) and Adam Pegg (Nottingham).

Rugby will review their squad options in the light of last weekend's performance at Bradford & Bingley. It was somewhat confusing to see a rather different line up released to the press on Friday, from that published on the club website on Saturday morning and that suggests a difficulty in finalising who was fit and available.

The need for a more physical presence in the second row would suggest a first game for Steve Stewart although he hasn't played any pre-season games and was one name withdrawn between the two line ups issued.

Last week's blowy conditions turned out to warrant a kicking fly half in the Glenn Bond mould but of course that couldn't be predicted and especially not the relatively unusual phenomenon of the wind blowing straight down the pitch. So either Tommy Turner or Bond could get the nod this week.

Toby Handley is available to resume at scrum half in place of Sam Viggers but the combative back could well still figure in the full matchday squad given his versatility.

Tom Kirk was only able to watch the Bradford match as his registration for Rugby is currently unresolved. Wilf Barclay is likely to be rested to try to cure his long-running ankle injury but fellow flanker Alex Nash was hopeful of being fit enough to be in contention to return.

Chris Murphy made a powerful case for inclusion in the starting line up with his performance at full back in the final quarter at Bradford. But for the selectors it will be a question of balancing the qualities to get the most continuity and penetration among the undoubtedly rapid set of backs at Rugby's disposal.