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Premiership Rugby

Preview – London Pride Middlesex Sevens

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

Baking temperatures in the UK will ensure that the usual festival atmosphere is maintained, as the competition continues to fit into its recent August timeslot having been the traditional end-of-season knees-up for so many years previously, after its inaugural playing in 1926.

The competition has however been hit by the late withdrawal of Rugby League giants St Helens due to a severe injury crisis, London Welsh having been announced as their replacements.

Of the Zurich Premiership sides taking part, many have opted to rest their leading lights with the domestic season and the World Cup in mind, although teams like Gloucester, Newcastle Falcons, Northampton Saints and Saracens are among those to have come to the party and included many of their star 15-a-side names.

Perhaps not traditionally associated with excellence in the abbreviated code, English Sevens is currently riding high on the international stage, with the national team having finished a close second behind New Zealand in the global IRB Sevens competition this year, retaining their Hong Kong Sevens title on the way.

England Sevens coach Joe Lydon in fact will be in attendance at the Middlesex Sevens, as the former Rugby League man takes charge of a 'Young England' side, one containing a host of national Under-19 and 21 players, as well as a smattering of Premiership players who could not perhaps get games with their clubs.

Last year saw Rugby League outfit Bradford Bulls demolish the entire field and power to the title, although having a domestic match the evening before the competition, as well as a massive personnel shortage due to injury, have informed organisers of their no-show.

Of the Zurich Premiership contenders, England Sevens stars Richard Haughton and Tony Roques form part of a capable Saracens contingent, one coached by the new man in charge, former Wallaby centre Rod Kafer, after taking over from sacked predecessor Wayne Shelford.

England Sevens wing Michael Stephenson is included in the Newcastle ranks, despite seriously injuring an ankle in the same competition two years ago, when the Falcons were beaten by a Fiji-heavy British Army team in the Final. Fellow England stars Ben Gollings and Phil Dowson also feature for them.

Powerful Tongan Epi Taione is another weapon of mass destruction in the Newcastle ranks and will certainly be a marked man, as will be flanker Warren Britz, who is a former South Africa Sevens captain.

Former Falcons man Liam Botham makes his debut for new side Leeds Tykes following his dual-code transfer, and joins former Wales fullback Matt Cardey in their squad. It could however be former Worcester fly-half Tim Walsh who steals the show for Leeds, having starred for Australia in the Commonwealth Games at Sevens.

Northampton field a talented squad with New Zealand's Commonwealth Games gold medallist Bruce Reihana among their ranks, along with household names such as Andrew Blowers and Nick Beal – the Saints being fresh from their win at the Henley Sevens last week.

Sale Sharks field England 'A' hooker Matt Cairns as well as veteran stalwart Jos Baxendall in their squad, while London Irish are captained by former England fly-half Mark Mapletoft.

Zurich Premiership Grand Final runners-up Gloucester have England Sevens wizard Henry Paul up their sleeve, as well as the league's Player of the Season, South African flanker Jake Boer, and England 'A' speedster Marcel Garvey. They will be major contenders for the title.

Bath field their new England 'A' openside Michael Lipman, the former Australia Under-21 player who recently joined from relegated neighbours Bristol, with former Bristol fullback Lee Best also in the squad following his own recent switch.

Zurich Premiership new-boys Rotherham have opted to leave most of their recognisable 15-a-side players out of their squad, selecting the likes of Russell Earsnahaw and Joe Ewens, both of whom have Premiership experience.

For Leicester Tigers there is a familiar surname with Tuilagi included, although it is not their Samoan former Rugby League wing Fereti Tuilagi, rather his brother Henry, who played last season as a flanker with the Parma club in Italy, and has lent his services to the Sevens cause after training pre-season with the Tigers.

England duo Austin Healey and Lewis Moody had both aimed to prove their fitness in the lead-up to the World Cup by appearing in the Leicester colours, but have had to withdraw, although England centre Ollie Smith does feature, as he continues his own comeback.

As a charity event, this year's designated beneficiaries are the Professional Rugby Players' Association Benevolent Fund, as well as the Wooden Spoon Society.

Pride could well be at stake for the Zurich Premiership clubs, with Leicester Tigers back in 1995 being the last of them to lift the trophy, which has been dominated by invitational sides since.

Both the Barbarians and the Penguins have won it twice since then, as well as Wigan Rugby League, the British Army and Bradford Bulls Rugby League club.

Tickets are still available for the event, which gets underway at 11.20 and will be screened in its entirety in the UK on the Sky Sports network. Tickets can be bought at the stadium or by phoning 0871 871 3777 from the UK, as well as +44 871 871 3777 from outside the UK.

Squads:

Newcastle Falcons: Epi Taione, Warren Britz, Hugh Vyvyan, Phil Dowson, Mark Mayerhofler, Hall Charlton, Ben Gollings, Michael Stephenson, Alex Cadwallader, Joe Shaw.

Leeds Tykes: James Ponton, Matt Cardey, Clive Stuart-Smith, Matt Salter, Liam Botham, Tim Walsh, Jon Buchanan, Matt Stockdale, Simon Worrall, Tom Rock.

Sale Sharks: Magnus Lund, Dan Harris, Chris Rhys-Jones, Richard Wigglesworth, Jos Baxendell, James Hoyle, Chris Mayor, Matt Cairns, Joe Bedford, Mike Burgess.

London Irish: Delon Armitage, Kevin Barrett, Kevin Brennan, Matt Cannon, Nils Mordt, Nick Kennedy, Mark Mapletoft, Topsy Ojo, Kieran Roche, Ed Thrower.

Gloucester: Simon Amor, Henry Paul, Marcel Garvey, Brad Davies, Mark Foster, Andy Frost, Alex Page, Robert Todd, Jake Boer, Nick Southern.

Bath: Michael Lipman, Lee Mears, James Scaysbrook, Wayne Sprangle, Chris Goodman, Joe Mbu, Ross Blake, Lee Best, Hentie Martens, Gareth Knox.

Leicester Tigers: Ollie Smith, Henry Tuilagi, Sam Raven, Steve Glitherow, Stuart Friswell, Joe Ajuwa, Nathan Jones, Tim Taylor, Matt Cornwell, Peter Clarke.

Rotherham: James Cockle, Lee Starling, Neil Briggs, Russell Earnshaw, Charlie Harrison, Phil Jones, Joe Ewens, Matt Oliver, David Strettle, Neil Starling.

Saracens: Richard Haughton, Darragh O'Mahony, Adryan Winnan, Ryan Peacey, Paul Bailey, Tony Roques, Kris Chesney, Kevin Sorrell, Andy Goode, Dan Kirton, Daniel Legge.

Harlequins: Pat Sanderson, Tom Guest, Luke Sherriff, Chris Cracknall, Andy Reay, Max Evans, Ugo Monye, Henry Barratt, Tom Williams, Tom Allen.

London Wasps: Jonny Barrett, Ian Clarke, Mark Denney, Rob Laird, Mark Lock, Peter Richards, Mike Roberts, Shane Rosier, John Rudd, Tom Voyce.

Northampton Saints: Nick Beal, Andrew Blowers, Grant Seely, Mark Tucker, Darren Fox, Johnny Howard, James Brooks, Ben Russell, Shane Drahm, Bruce Reihana, Oriol Ripol, Jon Sleightholme.

Young England: Aki Abiola (Cambridge University), James Bailey (Bristol Shoguns), Ed Burrill (Doncaster), James Haskell (London Wasps), Paul Hodgson (Bristol Shoguns), Will Matthews (Gloucester), Rodd Penney (Orrell), Tom Rees (London Wasps), Matt Rhodes (Rotherham), Rob Thirlby (Penzance & Newlyn), Ben Woods (Newcastle Falcons).

British Army: Lance Corporal Bull Bulamakau, 1st Battalion The Royal Scots The Royal Regiment; Officer Cadet Mark Lee, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst; Pte Apolosi Satala, 1st Battalion The Royal Scots The Royal Regiment; Pte Mathew Raikoso, 1st Battalion The Royal Scots, The Royal Regiment; Private Isoa DamuDamu, 1st Battalion The Highlanders; Private Epeli Qolikibua, 1st Battalion The Royal Scots The Royal Regiment; Captain Howard Graham, Adjutant General's Corp (captain); Private Saula Roko, The Royal Gloucester Berkshire and Worcestershire Regiment; Private Emosi Naissaramaki, 1st Battalion The Royal Scots The Royal Regiment; Pte Lorima Gauna, 1st Battalion Duke of Wellington's Regiment.

Loughborough University: Gareth McComb (captain), Adam Mursal, Ben Abbot, Greg Brindley, Sam Ulph, Rhodr Davies, Andy Houston, Justin Abrahams, Andy Vilk, Chris King.

London Welsh: Richard Griffith (captain), Adam Bidwell, Dave Ramsey, Tom Lewsey, Danny Howells, Matt Vines, James Strong, Darren Bowles, John Swords, Tim Holgate.

FIXTURES (All times BST):All matches are seven minutes each way except the main Final which is 10 minutes each way

First Round:11.20 Gloucester v British Army11.40 NEC Harlequins v Leeds Tykes12.00 Young England v London Irish12.20 Newcastle Falcons v Loughborough University12.40 Sale Sharks v Saracens13.00 Rotherham v Northampton Saints13.20 Bath v London Wasps13.40 Leicester Tigers v London Welsh

Quarter-finals:14.00 14.20 14.40 15.00

Plate semi-finals (Best first round losers):15.20 First plate match15.40 Second plate match

Main semi-finals:16.00 16.20

Plate Final:16.40

Main Final:17.10

By Mark Smith

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