OLD FOES MEET: Slot in between Round Two fixtures are one of rugby’s most famous derby matches - the East Midland Derby between Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers.
There are few players that cross the divide between Northampton Saints and Leicester Tigers, but Kieran Brookes bucks that trend and is ready to show Matt O’Connor’s side just what they're missing this weekend.
The tighthead prop spent two seasons at the Tigers between 2011-2013 but failed to establish himself – making just three appearances in two years.
Tigers fans can, therefore, be forgiven for looking on and wondering what if, after seeing the 27-year-old thrive at Franklin’s Gardens and become one of Premiership Rugby’s most dominant forwards.
But Brookes, like the Saints, is on a mission to right the wrongs of last season, where they only just secured a Champions Cup spot.
Yet that mission is already in need of a boost following last weekend’s heavy 24-55 opening-day loss to Saracens at the London Double Header, making this clash the ideal chance to set things straight.
"We are ready to go for it. With both sides coming off a defeat, you can guarantee the match is going to be very tasty," Brookes said.
"It is a very special rivalry. I have seen both sides, I was not lucky enough to play against Northampton when I was at Leicester and it would have been a hell of an experience, but I know they will be up for it as we are.
"There are a lot of local lads in the squads, so the history and rivalry between the clubs are already built into the players.
"It is very exciting. As soon as you arrive back after the summer, it is always the same. You want to know when the derby match is.
"It is the same at Leicester when I was there people always wanted to look ahead to playing the Saints.
"I don’t think there is ever a bad time for the match to be played. It’s huge.”
Despite barely featuring for the Tigers, Brookes holds no grudges and accepts he was always up against it in trying to force his way into a front-row with multiple internationals.
Marcos Ayerza, Dan Cole, Martin Castrogiovanni and Logovi’i Mulipola all played their part in an incredibly powerful front row – so Brookes left for Newcastle Falcons, before joining the Saints.
"It was a very good team in those days and I have some very special memories. But I have a lot of memories here too, so it is an extra special game but one we are all looking forward to," he added.
"I have just got to approach this like any other match. We have got to play well and get the win at the weekend against our local rivals,"
The Saints arrived at Twickenham last weekend full of optimism following their superb Champions Cup play-off win against Stade Francais in May.
But that quickly melted as they ran into a red-hot Saracens side that was out of sight by half-time.
Some honest words have been spoken ahead of this weekend’s contest, and the squad know they must give Saints fans something to shout about.
"It is a very disappointing start to the season, it’s not at all what we are about and the past couple of days have been pretty brutal rugby-wise," Brookes said.
"We are trying to rectify things and salvage some positives from it. It has not been a nice couple of days but we have tried to draw a line under it and learn from it.
"It is in the back of our minds but we are heading into this weekend and we need to rectify it as quickly as we can,"
Premiership Rugby produced more tries more points (374) and a bigger attendance than any round one in its history… which for this week will be some act to follow.
We take a look at Round two action!
Friday, September 8
Sale Sharks v Newcastle Falcons
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 19.45, 18.45 GMT)
Sale Sharks’ only win in their last four Premiership Rugby matches was 27-24 over Bath at AJ Bell Stadium in round 22 last season – the only match they played at home in this sequence. Sale’s only defeat in their last seven encounters in Salford in all competitions was 12-32 to Northampton in Premiership Rugby in March.
Newcastle Falcons have won their last three Premiership matches but have not won four in succession since March 2009. The Falcons won their most recent away game 39-27 at Bristol and have not clocked up two wins in a row in the tournament for four years. Newcastle have not begun a campaign with a pair of victories since 2004/05.
The Sharks solitary defeat to the Falcons in their last seven Premiership Rugby meetings was 17-19 at Kingston Park in the opening round last season, whilst Newcastle’s only previous victory at AJ Bell Stadium was by a single point in September 2013
Newcastle: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Belisario Agulla, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Callum Chick, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Sami Mavinga, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Tevita Cavubati, 20 Nili Latu, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Juan Pablo Socino, 23 Vereniki Goneva.
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Will Addison (captain), 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Andre Ostrikov, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 Alex Tarus, 2 Cameron Neild, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 James Flynn, 18 WillGriff John, 19 George Nott, 20 Ben Curry, 21 TJ Ioane, 22 Will Cliff, 23 Sam James.
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Assistant Referees: Greg MacDonald, Steve Lee.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Saturday, September 9
Bath Rugby v Saracens
(Recreation Ground, - Kick-off: 14.00, 13.00GMT)
Bath Rugby beat Leicester on Sunday and have begun their campaign with a pair of victories in four of the last five seasons. Bath’s only loss at the Recreation Ground in any competition in 2017 was 3-24 to Wasps in round 17 of Premiership Rugby in March.
Saracens eclipsed Northampton at Twickenham in round 1 and have been victorious in the opening two rounds for the past five seasons. Saracens have lost their two most recent away games, at Wasps in round 22 and at Exeter in the semi-final, but have not lost three in a row on their travels in the Premiership Rugby since March 2010.
Saracens have lost just two of their last fifteen Premiership Rugby encounters with Bath, both at the Recreation Ground, in October 2014 and last December.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Phillips, 20 Paul Grant, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Ben Tapuai.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Dominic Day, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Liam Williams.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal, Wayne Falla.
TMO: Keith Lewis.
Exeter Chiefs v London Irish
(Sandy Park - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs record equalling seventeen games unbeaten run in Premiership Rugby ended at Gloucester on Friday evening. The last time the Devonians lost two in a row in the tournament was the opening two rounds in 2016/17, against Wasps and Saracens.
The Chiefs have lost just one match in any competition at Sandy Park since October: 7-13 to Bordeaux-Begles in the European Champions Cup in December.
Newly promoted London Irish beat Harlequins at Twickenham on Saturday and have not begun a Premiership Rugby campaign with a pair of victories since season 2001/02. The Exiles have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since beating London Welsh at Oxford in February 2015.
Exeter’s solitary defeat to London Irish in their last nine fixtures was 26-28 at Madejski Stadium in January 2015, whilst their only previous victory at Sandy Park came on their very first visit in October 2010.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Max Bodilly, 23 Lachie Turner.
London Irish: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Topsy Ojo, 10 James Marshall, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Mike Coman, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 David Paice (captain), 1 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi.
Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Josh McNally, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Brendan McKibbin, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys.
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace, Paul Dix.
TMO: Geoffrey Warren.
Harlequins v Gloucester Rugby
(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
Harlequins tripped up 29-39 to London Irish at Twickenham in the London Double Header in round 1 and have not lost both of their opening matches in Premiership Rugby since 2009/10. Harlequins only victory in their last five encounters in the competition was 32-13 at home to Wasps at the end of April.
Gloucester Rugby began Johan Ackermann’s reign in the best possible way with a victory over reigning champions Exeter at Kingsholm on Friday. They have not begun a season with a pair of Premiership Rugby victories since 2007/08. Gloucester have won only one of their last nine away games in the competition: 32-14 at relegated Bristol in March.
Harlequins single defeat in their last six fixtures against Gloucester in Premiership Rugby was 6-28 at Kingsholm in February 2016, whilst Gloucester have not beaten Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop in Premiership Rugby since September 2006, although they did win the European Challenge Cup there, beating Edinburgh in the final in May 2015.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Charlie Walker, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Danny Care, 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Dave Ward, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 George Merrick, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Mat Luamanu, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Winston Stanley.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Ollie Thorley, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Andy Symons, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Freddie Clarke, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 John Afoa, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Charlie Sharples.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Simon McConnell. TMO: David Grashoff.
Northampton Saints v Leicester Tigers
(Franklin’s Gardens - Kick-off: 16.30, 15.30 GMT)
Northampton Saints shipped 55 points in their defeat to Saracens at Twickenham on Saturday, the second biggest points total they have ever conceded in a Premiership Rugby match. The Saints have not lost their opening two matches in a Premiership Rugby campaign since the first two matches they ever played in the history of the tournament in 1997/98.
Northampton have only lost one game at Franklin’s Gardens in any tournament since early December: 31-36 to Leicester in Premiership Rugby at the end of March.
Leicester Tigers slipped up at home to Bath on Sunday and have only once before lost their opening two matches in a Premiership Rugby campaign – in season 2011/12.
The Tigers have won their last seven matches against the Saints in all competitions since Northampton’s 23-19 win at Franklin’s Gardens in Premiership Rugby in December 2014. Northampton’s only other victory over the Tigers in their last nineteen encounters since September 2010 was at home in the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-final in 2014.
Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Christian Day, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 James Grayson, 23 Ben Foden.
Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Nick Malouf, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Luke Hamilton, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Dominic Ryan, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mathew Tait.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Dean Richards, Jonathan Healy.
TMO: David Sainsbury.
Sunday, September 10
Worcester Warriors v Wasps
(Sixways - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00GMT)
Worcester Warriors were defeated 8-35 at Newcastle in round 1 whilst their only victory in the last six
rounds of Premiership Rugby play was 25-19 at home to Bath in April.
Wasps began in round 1 with 50 points to 35 victories over Sale at the Ricoh Arena but have won just
two of their last seven away games in all tournaments, at Bath and at Bristol in Premiership Rugby.
Wasps have won their last six Premiership Rugby fixtures against the Warriors since Worcester’s 29-23 victory at Sixways in March 2013.
Worcester: 15 Josh Adams, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Bryce Heem, 10 Tom Heathcote, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Matt Cox, 5 Pierce Phillips, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ryan Bower.
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Jamie Shillcock.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Gaby Lovobalavu, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 Alex Rieder, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Ashley Johnson, 1 Simon McIntyre
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Brendan Macken, 23 Rob Miller
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales, Nigel Carrick.
TMO: Rowan Kitt.