MIDLANDS DERBY: A mere six points separate five teams at the top of Premiership Rugby so we are in for another unpredictable and unforgettable round of the competition this weekend.
Round 10 starts at Franklin’s Gardens, the two sides desperate for a win lock horns. After climbing towards the top of the table, both Northampton Saints and Newcastle Falcons have slipped down the standings after four league defeats on the bounce.
While Saturday sees a spectacular double-header.
Exeter Chiefs welcome Bath Rugby to Sandy Park having won their last eight matches in all competitions – but the omens are not all bad for Todd Blackadder’s side.
Bath are also a side in form with only one defeat - and that was by a point - in their last nine fixtures in all tournaments. When the two clubs met last season each side won away from home, and Bath have beaten Exeter on four previous occasions at Sandy Park in Premiership Rugby to boot.
Leicester Tigers travel to the Ricoh Arena to face Wasps for a blockbuster midlands derby.
Tigers’ six-game winning run in Premiership Rugby ended at home to Worcester Warriors on Saturday, and while Leicester have won their last three away games in the competition, Wasps have beaten them on the last four occasions the two sides have met.
And last, but by no means least, the action does not cease on Sunday as Harlequins will tussle with Saracens at Twickenham Stoop.
We take a look at all the Round 10 action!
Friday, December 1
Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons
(Franklin’s Gardens - Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Northampton Saints have lost their last four Premiership Rugby fixtures but have not lost five in succession in the competition since 2011.
The Saints solitary defeat at Franklin’s Gardens since March in Premiership Rugby was against Wasps on 28 October in their most recent home game in the tournament.
Newcastle Falcons have also lost their last four Premiership Rugby matches since beating London Irish 29-17 at Kingston Park on 29 September. Newcastle’s record away from home in all competitions this season is won four lost two.
Northampton Saints: 15 Harry Mallinder, 14 Juan Pablo Estelles, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Ben Foden, 10 James Grayson, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Ahsee Tuala.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Gary Graham, 6 Will Welch (captain), 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Sami Mavinga, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Will Witty, 20 Nili Latu, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Alex Tait.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley & Simon McConnell.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Worcester Warriors v Sale Sharks
(Sixways - Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Worcester Warriors have won their last two Premiership Rugby matches, at home to Northampton and away at Leicester, but have not won three in a row since March 2016.
The Warriors only two victories at Sixways this season were against Brive in the European Challenge Cup, and 30-15 over Northampton in round 8 of Premiership Rugby.
Sale Sharks only loss in their last four first-team encounters was 27-35 at Leicester in round 8 of Premiership Rugby. The Sharks have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since a trip to Bristol in October 2016.
Sale have lost just once to Worcester since 2012 at Sixways 23-31 in Premiership Rugby in February 2016.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 David Denton, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Alafoti Faosiliva, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ethan Waller.
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 20 Pierce Phillips, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Dean Hammond.
Sale Sharks: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Neild, 17 James Flynn, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 George Nott, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Will Cliff 22 Mark Jennings, 23 Mike Haley.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Paul Burton & Jonathan Healy.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Saturday, December 2
Exeter Chiefs v Bath Rugby
(Sandy Park - Kick-off: 14.00, 14.00 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs have won their last eight matches in all competitions since their 13-20 reversal at Leicester in Premiership Rugby on 30 September.
The Chiefs have not been defeated at Sandy Park since Bordeaux were the visitors in the European Champions Cup on 11 December 2016.
Bath Rugby’s only defeat in their last nine fixtures in all tournaments was by the odd point in 43 at home to Gloucester in round 7 of Premiership Rugby.
Bath’s record away from home this season is won five, lost one, with the defeat being on a visit to Northampton in round 3 of Premiership Rugby. When the two clubs met last season each side won it's respective away game.
Bath have beaten Exeter on four previous occasions at Sandy Park in Premiership Rugby, only Saracens have won more at the venue (five), whilst Leicester have also won there on four occasions.
Exeter Chiefs: TBC
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Peter Allan.
TMO: Claire Hodnett.
Gloucester Rugby v London Irish
(Kingsholm - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Gloucester Rugby have won their last four Premiership Rugby matches since their loss at Sale at the end of September. The Cherry & Whites have not won five successive fixtures in the competition since 2011.
Gloucester have won all six home games they have played at Kingsholm in all tournaments this season. London Irish have won only once since the opening weekend: 44-7 at Stade Français in round 2 of the European Challenge Cup.
The Exiles have won only once away from home in Premiership Rugby since September 2014: on a trip to London Welsh in February 2015. London Irish beat Gloucester 23-18 at Madejski Stadium in March 2016 and have not won successive Premiership Rugby encounters against Gloucester since 2006.
London Irish’s only victory at Kingsholm since 2006 was 18-12 in Premiership Rugby in January 2013.
London Irish: TBC
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Philip Watters.
TMO: Sean Davey.
Wasps v Leicester Tigers
(Ricoh Arena - Kick-off: 16.30, 16.30 GMT)
Wasps only defeat in their last six first-team matches was 41-53 to Newcastle at Coventry in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on 4 November.
Wasps have lost twice at the Ricoh Arena in Premiership Rugby this season, to Harlequins in round 3 and to Bath in round 5.
Leicester Tigers six-game winning run in Premiership Rugby ended at home to Worcester on Saturday. The Tigers have won their last three away games in the competition but have not won four in succession on the road in Premiership Rugby since March 2014.
Wasps have beaten Leicester the last four occasions that the two sides have met since Tigers 24-16 at Welford Road in November 2015. Tigers have visited the Ricoh Arena on four previous occasions, winning once, 26-21 in May 2015.
Leicester Tigers: TBC
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal & Paul Dix
TMO: David Sainsbury.
Sunday 3 December
Harlequins v Saracens
(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Harlequins have slipped to back-to-back defeats on the road, to Exeter Chiefs and Bath Rugby.
‘Quins only defeat at Twickenham Stoop in their last five Premiership Rugby fixtures was 28-31 to Leicester on 23 September. Saracens have lost their last four first-team matches – their worst run since 2010.
Saracens have won twice away from home in Premiership Rugby this season, against Newcastle in Philadelphia, and Worcester. The two sides have already met in the Anglo-Welsh Cup this season, Harlequins winning by the narrowest of margins at Allianz Park on 5 November.
In Premiership Rugby, the last four clashes have been evenly split with two wins apiece. Saracens have lost on their last two visits to Twickenham Stoop.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Roy Maybank.
TMO: Keith Lewis.
PREMIERSHIP FRIDAY WRAP: Nili Latu scored from the final play of the game to help Newcastle Falcons earn a fine 24-22 win against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens.
It was a fifth successive Premiership defeat for Jim Mallinder’s men, who had looked set to win it after Dylan Hartley popped up with a second-half score.
Meanwhile, South African centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg scored his first try for Sale Sharks as they overcame Byron McGuigan's sending-off to beat Worcester Warriors 18-14 and record their first Premiership away win since February.
Northampton Saints 22-24 Newcastle Falcons
Hartley’s effort, added to Harry Mallinder’s score, a penalty try and five points from the boot of Piers Francis, put Northampton 22-17 up with 10 minutes to go.
But Latu and Takulua combined to secure the win, adding to earlier tries from Sinoti Sinoti and Josh Matavesi and two conversions from Toby Flood, who was sin-binned during the first half.
Northampton thought they had scored after just 13 seconds, but Rob Horne’s effort was ruled out as a knock-on by Ben Foden was spotted by the TMO.
Mallinder eventually found enough space to dummy intelligently and race in for the score.
James Grayson missed the conversion and Newcastle soon responded as Sinoti wriggled over for a try.
Flood converted to put the Falcons 7-5 up with 25 minutes gone and the visitors were soon flying forward again, with Sinoti setting up Matavesi for a fine score.
The Falcons flyhalf added the extras but he was to be sin-binned before the break, for collapsing a maul as the Saints were awarded a penalty try.
The home side thought they had scored again soon after, but the TMO deemed that Hartley hadn’t managed to score.
Newcastle led 14-12 at half-time and that was extended when Flood landed a penalty 10 minutes into the second period.
Captain Hartley grabbing a key try for his team and Francis landed the conversion to put the home side 19-17 up
Northampton were denied by the TMO again as a Nic Groom knock-on was spotted at the breakdown, meaning Ahsee Tuala’s effort was ruled out.
Francis slotted a penalty to ease the nerves further, but Newcastle had the final say as Latu powered over and Takulua converted to win it.
Tries: Mallinder, Penalty try, Hartley
Tries: Sinoti, Matavesi, Latu
Cons: Flood 2, Takulua
Yellow Card: Flood (Newcastle Falcons, 33)
Northampton Saints: 15 Harry Mallinder, 14 Juan Pablo Estelles, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Ben Foden, 10 James Grayson, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Ahsee Tuala
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Gary Graham, 6 Will Welch (captain), 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Sami Mavinga, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Will Witty, 20 Nili Latu, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Alex Tait
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley, Simon McConnell
TMO: David Grashoff
Worcester Warriors 14-18 Sale Sharks
Mark Jennings’ late try was enough to end Worcester Warriors’ two-game winning run. The replacement crashed over with just ten minutes to play, allowing his side to hold on for their own second straight victory after Rohan Janse van Rensburg’s first-half score.
Nine of Worcester’s 14 points came from Chris Pennell’s boot with the rest coming from a Josh Adams try, though Warriors missed out on three straight wins for the first time since March 2016.
The first points of the game came after Ryan Mills was penalised for holding onto the ball which left AJ MacGinty with an easy kick for three points.
Sale extended their lead soon after as scrumhalf Faf de Klerk found van Rensburg to touch down.
Worcester bounced back 12 minutes later as, following a penalty for going around the side, Pennell scored the home side’s first points.
And the home side kept pushing as Sale’s Byron McGuigan received a yellow for appearing in an offside position when trying to intercept the ball.
Worcester quickly made the man advantage count too, as a fantastic grubber-kick saw Adams wade his way through the Sale defence to score the hosts’ first try.
McGuigan’s red card for a tip-tackle further hampered the visitors, with Pennell twice kicking three points for his side – the latter putting them into the lead.
But despite the numerical inferiority, Sale came back from the brink with replacement Jennings going over, securing their first away in Premiership Rugby since October 2016.
Pens: Pennell 3
Tries: Janse van Rensburg, Jennings
Pens: MacGinty 2
Yellow Cards: De Klerk (Sale Sharks, 50), McGuigan (Sale Sharks, 30)
Red Card: McGuigan (Sale Sharks, 65)
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 David Denton, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Alafoti Faosiliva, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ethan Waller
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 20 Pierce Phillips, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Dean Hammond
Sale Sharks: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Cameron Neild, 17 James Flynn, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 George Nott, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Will Cliff 22 Mark Jennings, 23 Mike Haley
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Paul Burton, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Graham Hughes