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Back from the abyss, Bath's revival is gathering steam

Johan van Graan has quietly set about improving every facet of the West Country club and results are starting to come

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Leicester pick Watson to start with Pollard also primed for debut

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images)

New marquee signings Anthony Watson and Handre Pollard are set to make their Leicester debuts this Saturday when the defending Gallagher Premiership champions visit Saracens 15 weeks after they dramatically defeated the Londoners in the 2021/22 final at Twickenham. A last-gasp Freddie Burns drop goal clinched glory that June day and their title defence now steps up a few notches with the inclusion in the match day 23 of their two biggest off-season signings.

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Watson made his first Leicester appearance in the August 19 friendly win at Jersey and was involved again in the following weekend’s home pre-season win over Newcastle. However, he suffered an injury setback on that second friendly and has been unavailable until now for the new Premiership campaign, waiting until October 1 for his competitive debut.

It was October last year when the back, who had toured South Africa with the 2021 Lions, ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament when playing for Bath against Saracens at The Rec. That injury was his last appearance for the club as he never made it back to fitness before the end of the 2021/22 season and it was only in August when he finally played again after a ten-month absence.

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Borthwick last week explained why Watson has been missing throughout September. “In one of our pre-season games, Anthony picked up a little strain, nothing major,” he said. “Anthony is an incredible player and has been terrific around this squad, has been brilliant all pre-season and what we want to do is ensure when he steps on that field he is absolutely 100 per cent and ready to go – not just ready to go for one game but ready to go for the rest of the season.

“I want all my players playing well all season and for many seasons. That is what I am trying to balance the whole time. Anthony is going well, heading in the right direction and progressing well.”

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The inclusion of Watson is one of eight changes to Tigers’ starting team following last weekend’s impressive come-from-behind derby win at Northampton. Leicester also confirmed that Pollard had progressed well since his arrival and will be on Saturday’s bench for his debut. It was August 27 when the South African limped out of the remainder of The Rugby Championship during his team’s defeat by Australia in Adelaide and Jacques Nienaber feared he could be without the fly-half for the November tour of Europe.

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Speaking about Pollard and Lukhanyo Am, another player who injured his knee in that loss to the Wallabies, the Springboks head coach said at the time: “They are out of the end-of-year tour… I’m not 100 per cent sure but I would say I am 80 per cent sure.”

However, that prognosis changed after Pollard jetted into England to commence his rehab at Leicester and he is now set to make his club debut off the bench at the StoneX after just five weeks on the sidelines. Phil Cokanasiga, Olly Cracknell, Joe Heyes and Kini Murimurivalu have also been named to make their first starts of the 2022/23 campaign after featuring from the bench during the opening rounds.

Leicester (vs Saracens, Saturday):
15. Freddie Steward; 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Phil Cokanasiga, 12. Jimmy Gopperth, 11. Kini Murimurivalu; 10. Freddie Burns, 9. Ben Youngs; 1. James Cronin, 2. Charlie Clare, 3. Joe Heyes, 4. Harry Wells, 5. Eli Snyman, 6. Olly Cracknell, 7. Tommy Reffell, 8. Hanro Liebenberg (capt). Reps: 16. Joe Taufete’e, 17. Francois van Wyk, 18. Dan Cole, 19. Ollie Chessum, 20. George Martin, 21. Jack van Poortvliet, 22. Handre Pollard, 23. Chris Ashton.

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