IN A welcome boost given the Championship play-offs are just on the horizon, Doncaster Knights welcome back key trio Paul Jarvis, Colin Quigley and Latu Makaafi to face Bedford Blues today.
In their final home game of the regular season, Knights know a bonus-point win will secure them second place and almost certainly a play-off semi-final versus Yorkshire Carnegie.
Jarvis, the club’s only genuine full-back who had been in stellar form earlier this campaign, has missed a number of weeks with a foot injury.
Therefore, his attacking zest in particular will be welcomed against opponents who still need points themselves to confirm the final play-off spot of fourth.
Riccardo Brugnara and Ollie Bryant are included as replacements alongside another young Leicester Tiger, scrum-half Ben White, who made his Premiership debut against Harlequins in October aged just 17.
Ollie Stedman, who joins Carnegie at the end of the season, makes his first appearance since February’s draw away at Ealing Trailfinders.
Carnegie have been handed a real fillip of their own ahead of the play-offs with the return to action of England Under 20s hooker Jack Walker.
He lines up against Nottingham tomorrow in the club’s penultimate regular Championship fixture as they seek to quickly put behind them the disappointment of last week’s British & Irish Cup final defeat to London Welsh.
Walker, rated one of the best prospects outside of the Premiership, has been sidelined since injuring his ankle while on international duty at the start of February.
However, after successful surgery and rehabilitation, he starts at Headingley as one of six changes to last week’s team with Carnegie knowing a win will secure a top-three finish.
Walker replaces Phil Nilsen, who has signed a new one-year deal with Carnegie but drops to the bench for what will be his testimonial game having debuted with Carnegie in 2006.
Blindside flanker Richard Beck, the club’s second longest serving player behind Nilsen, has also agreed a new contract for 2016-17, and returns to the starting line-up for club captain Chris Jones.
Rotherham Titans, now safe from harm, round off their home campaign with a visit from London Scottish this afternoon - but with a target still in sight.
One of the reasons the Titans did not eventually get dragged into the relegation mire after head coach Justin Burnell replaced the sacked Mark Jones in mid-February, was their solid home form under the former London Welsh chief.
“We’re obviously pleased that we’ll be playing Championship rugby next year,” said Burnell, with Rotherham having lost 10 successive matches under his predecessor.
“When I came in we had four home games remaining and we set a target to try and win them all.
“We’ve won the first three and we’ll be doing our best to hit our target on Saturday.
“However, London Scottish are a good side and we won’t be underestimating them.”