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Courtney Lawes captains Saints against Clermont tonight

Courtney Lawes captains Saints against French giants Clermont tonight in the Challenge Cup in a team powered by graduates from the Saints academy.

He said: “It’s a good challenge for us, a very tough one, they’re a big team, a good team, it will be a good game.

“The academy on the whole this year is really switched on, they are really motivated, it is brilliant. I genuinely think this season we have had a good bunch of youngsters come through. It is paying dividends now.

“Luds is going to be a great player, especially as he develops and gets a bit bigger and older. Dingers as well, just turned 19. Back when I was in the academy we were barely part of the team. I think it is much better they are brought in and shown the ropes. I think the experience is going to count for a lot.”

Courtney moves to number 6 in a scrum switch around that sees James Fish come in at hooker and Api Ratuniyarawa step into the second row alongside Dave Ribbans. Heinrich Brussow also gets a start.

Finding consistency is the battle on all fronts.

Courtney said: “I’ve had a frustrating season with a back problem which has been difficult to get over but I am starting to return to form.

“The team has been patchy, some weeks good, some weeks not so good. I think we need to get to a place where we all feel comfortable and things will start to improve.”

Coach Chris Boyd  is predicting a tough match: “They are probably the most impressive side in Europe and justifiably top of the table in the French league. They are the one side I felt it was fair to say were too good for us when we played them earlier in the season. They are a huge team, very physical, very fast, some outstanding players, playing with a lot of freedom.”

Saints squad

15. Ahsee Tuala
14. Tom Collins
13. Fraser Dingwall
12. Luther Burrell
11. Taqele Naiyaravoro
10. Dan Biggar
9. Alex Mitchell

1. Francois van Wyk
2. James Fish
3. Ehren Painter
4. David Ribbans
5. Api Ratuniyarawa
6. Courtney Lawes (capt)
7. Heinrich Brüssow
8. Teimana Harrison

Replacements:
16. Reece Marshall
17. Alex Waller
18. Ben Franks
19. Tom Wood
20. Lewis Ludlam
21. Cobus Reinach
22. James Grayson
23. Andrew Kellaway

Not available for selection:
Ken Pisi (shoulder), Nafi Tuitavake (neck), Andy Symons (knee), Harry Mallinder (knee), James Haskell (ankle), James Craig (concussion), Tom Emery (shoulder), Mikey Haywood (knee), Dylan Hartley (knee), Piers Francis (shoulder), and Jamie Gibson (head).

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