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Leicester 15:00 London Irish

Newcastle v Leicester teams

Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers

By Ben Blackmore.   Last Updated: 22/02/06 2:40pm

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Guinness Premiership, Kingston Park, Friday February 24

Mark Mayerhofler has been cleared to return to the Newcastle Falcons side on Friday, providing a real boost for Rob Andrew's side.

The New Zealander has suffered an injury-interrupted season to date, but he starts alongside Mathew Tait at Kingston Park in a dangerous centre-partnership.

Mayerhofler is joined by fellow Antipodeans Matt Burke and Owen Finegan, with the latter replacing Mike McCarthy at blindside.

Elsewhere, there are a host of changes as Andrew looks to keep his side fresh during the Six Nations schedule.

Andy Buist starts at number eight in an enforced changed due to the absence of skipper Colin Charvis, while Ben Woods is also called upon in a new back row combination.

Further alterations to the pack see Andy Long and Geoff Parling drafted in, while Jonny Williams earns a place on the bench.

In the backs, Andrew has elected to shake up his half back pairing, preferring the line-breaking abilities of Toby Flood over the dictatorial kicking of Dave Walder at fly half. James Grindal also comes in Hall Charlton.

Leicester Tigers have received a double boost ahead of their Premiership clash against Newcastle Falcons, after head coach Pat Howard was able to include key men Dan Hipkiss and Graham Rowntree in his starting XV.

Hipkiss has not featured for the Welford Road outfit since the last group game of the Heineken Cup.

The talented inside centre was in sparkling form at the time, capping a man-of-the-match display against Stade Francais with a try, before scoring again at Clermont Auvergne.

Rowntree meanwhile, has endured an injury-interrupted season to date, but he also returns to bolster a Leicester side deprived of a host of internationals.

Martin Corry, Geordan Murphy, Tom Varndell, Lewis Moody, Julian White, Andy Goode and Harry Ellis all miss the Friday encounter.

However, Howard's men can still boast a pack that includes England internationals Ben Kay and Louis Deacon, and a backline made up of Lions pair Ollie Smith and Austin Healey.

Forwards coach Richard Cockerill revealed he will accept no excuses for a below-par performance from his side at Kingston Park, challenging the players to prove their ability.

"Our success has been built on our strength in depth and I expect our guys to be good enough to win some big games," said the former England man.

"We are a better team than we were last week and we need to do better if we are going to get something at the end of the season. We were all a bit disappointed. We need a bit more composure and ball control and do the simple things better when it matters."

Newcastle Falcons team: 15 M Burke (capt), 14 T May, 13 M Tait, 12 M Mayerhofler, 11 A Elliott, 10 T Flood, 9 J Grindal, 1 M Ward, 2 A Long, 3 R Morris, 4 A Perry, 5 G Parling, 6 O Finegan, 7 B Woods, 8 A Buist

Replacements: J Williams, M Thompson, S Grimes, M McCarthy, H Charlton, D Walder, O Phillips

Leicester Tigers team: 15 S Vesty; 14 A Tuilagi, 13 O Smith, 12 D Hipkiss, 11 L Lloyd; 10 I Humphreys, 9 A Healey (capt); 1 G Rowntree, 2 J Buckland, 3 D Morris, 4 L Deacon, 5 B Kay, 6 L Abraham, 7 W Johnson, 8 S Jennings

Replacements: TBA.

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