sport

Mallinder backs Corbisiero

Northampton boss Jim Mallinder is counting on Alex Corbisiero to have a "massive influence" in the latter stages of Friday's clash with Leicester.

The British and Irish Lions prop has just returned to action for the first time since October, and he play start on the bench in the Aviva Premiership semi-final at Franklin's Gardens.

Corbisiero has been sidelined for the majority of the season due to a serious knee injury, but he returned to first-team action in Saturday's 74-13 hammering of Wasps.

Mallinder expects to send on Corbisiero on or around the hour-mark which could pit him against Leicester's 22-year-old academy graduate Fraser Balmain.

Alex Waller will retain his starting place for the showdown, but Mallinder believes Corbisiero will have a significant part to play.

"We were really pleased with Alex in how he came on last week, but the other Alex, Alex Waller, has had a fantastic season, so we don't need to make any changes there," said Mallinder.

"The eight players who come on will have a massive influence in how the match finishes up.

"You have to be careful with how you bring players back, but someone like Alex Corbisiero is a world-class player, he's shown that with the British Lions last year.

"He hadn't played much rugby but got called up I think from the England tour, and he was outstanding there, so he's proven he doesn't need a whole season behind him, that he can step onto the biggest stage and still perform with limited game-time."

Leicester are without the likes of Geoff Parling, Rob Hawkins, Blaine Scully and Boris Stankovich due to concussion, although Leicester officials hinted they could have been passed fit had the game not been brought forward to ease congestion ahead of next weekend's European finals.

Leicester rugby director Richard Cockerill said: "We've come through 22 tough rounds of Aviva Premiership rugby, everyone has worked really hard, and we've shown a lot of resilience to get here.

"Now it comes down to 80 minutes on Friday for a place in the final. Saints have had a very good season, they've been on good form, but we've been in decent form too and we will do our best to go there and try to win.

"It's a local derby and a semi-final, it should be a heck of a game."