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Courtney Lawes to make first appearance in over 2 months

By Ian Cameron
Courtney Lawes of England speaks to the referee during game three of the International Test match series between the Australia Wallabies and England at the Sydney Cricket Ground on July 16, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jason McCawley - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Northampton Saints have named Courtney Lawes on the bench as they take on European champions La Rochelle this weekend in a Heineken Champions Cup opener on the west coast of France.

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Lawes has not played since September 24 and didn’t feature for England having failed return-to-play protocols after a concussive injury at the start of the season. Owen Farrell captained the men in white in his absence.

Lawes saw a specialist during the layoff and is now deemed well enough to resume playing and is set to be sprung from the bench at Stade Marcel-Deflandre.

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In total Saints director of rugby Phil Dowson makes five changes to his starting line-up, with Robbie Smith, David Ribbans, Aaron Hinkley, Tom James and Matt Proctor all returning to the side.

Smith is one of four Northampton players set to make their Heineken Champions Cup debuts as he starts at hooker, with Alex Waller and Paul Hill packing down either side of the 24-year-old in the front row.

Lukhan Salakaia-Loto – also set for his European debut – makes his sixth consecutive start as he joins Ribbans in Saints’ engine room for only the second time this season.

Captain Lewis Ludlam shifts to No. 8 this weekend to lead the side out in La Rochelle, accompanying incoming Hinkley and England international Alex Coles in the back row.

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James makes his third start of the season at scrum-half as he partners another Champions Cup debutant Fin Smith in the half-back berths, with Fraser Dingwall and Proctor lining up outside them in the centres.

NORTHAMPTON SAINTS
15 George Furbank
14 James Ramm
13 Matt Proctor
12 Fraser Dingwall
11 Tommy Freeman
10 Fin Smith
9 Tom James
1 Alex Waller
2 Robbie Smith
3 Paul Hill
4 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto
5 David Ribbans
6 Alex Coles
7 Aaron Hinkley
8 Lewis Ludlam (c)

REPLACEMENTS:
16 Sam Matavesi
17 Emmanuel Iyogun
18 Ehren Painter
19 Courtney Lawes
20 Angus Scott-Young
21 Juarno Augustus
22 Alex Mitchell
23 Rory Hutchinson

Heineken Champions Cup, Round 1
Date: Saturday 10 December 2022
Stadium: Stade Marcel-Deflandre
Kick-off: 6.30pm (local time)

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