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 SATURDAY WRAP: Kearnan Myall popped up at the death to earn Wasps a 32-25 win over Leicester Tigers in a Premiership thriller at the Ricoh Arena.
With the teams level heading into the final seconds, Myall showed all his strength to burst through a gap and over – giving Wasps the bonus point and a fifth straight win over Tigers in the process.
Gloucester Rugby made it five Premiership wins in a row for the first time since 2011 and climbed into the top four of the table after Billy Burns put London Irish to the sword.
Exeter Chiefs will head off on their European odyssey top of the Premiership pile after putting Bath to the sword at Sandy Park to win 42-29.
Wasps 32-25 Leicester
It was Leicester who had flown out of the blocks and were almost over in the first minute, eventually having to settle for three points from George Ford after home side infringed.
They stretched their lead when skipper Tom Youngs crossed after a long period of Tigers dominance and it seemed the visitors might be taking control.
However, Wasps have shown under Dai Young that they can score and quickly, and they turned the game on its head before half-time with Danny Cipriani pulling the strings on his return to the starting line-up. First Nizaam Carr finished off a sweeping move after he took a beautiful delayed pop pass by Dan Robson, who then went over for the second.
Elliot Daly added a further penalty on the stroke of half-time to give Wasps a 17-10 lead but Leicester fought back with two tries from former Wasps wing Jonah Holmes, the first set up by Valentino Mapapalangi, the second and intercept.
Wasps hit straight back, first with a penalty from Gopperth, followed by a brilliant try from aly in the corner after working the overlap to reclaim the lead at 25-22.
Still Leicester kept coming though, with Holmes almost completing his hat-trick, only to be denied on the line by Robson’s steal.
Tigers were not done though and another Ford penalty levelled the game with ten minutes to go before Kearnan Myall's late intervention.
Tries: Carr, Robson, Daly, Myall
Cons: Gopperth 3
Pens: Daly, Gopperth
Tries: T Youngs, Holmes 2
Cons: Ford 2
Pens: Ford 2
Wasps: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 James Gaskell, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Ashley Johnson (captain), 1 Simon McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Marcus Garratt, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Gaby Lovobalavu, 23 Josh Bassett.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Gareth Owen, 11 Jonah Holmes, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Will Evans, 6 Valentino Mapapalangi, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Mike Williams, 21 Ben White, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Matt Smith.
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant referees: Adam Leal, Paul Dix
TMO: David Sainsbury
Gloucester 39-15 London Irish
First-half tries from Lewis Ludlow and Billy Burns along with the boot of Billy Twelvetrees opened up a 20-8 lead for the Cherry & Whites – who are unbeaten at Kingsholm this season.
The Exiles had Petrus du Plessis go over for a try in the first half but when David Paice saw red, it was one-way traffic from then on.
Burns grabbed his second, Jake Polledri darted clear for Gloucester's fourth and a bonus point before Burns' perfect kick to the corner gave Henry Purdy a sublime score.
The Exiles – who grabbed a second of their own through Teofilo Paulo – stay rooted to the bottom of the standings, their only league win still their season opener against Harlequins at Twickenham.
Ludlow burst onto a Burns pass that looked almost forward to dot down under the posts for the first try.
Joe Cokanasiga's break earned a penalty though and got Irish on the board through Tommy Bell, trailing 3-7.
But Twelvetrees slotted two penalties of his own before Du Plessis rumbled over at the back of a maul.
That made it 13-8 to the hosts but after mounting pressure on the Irish line, eventually it was Burns who dived over for Gloucester's second.
Twelvetrees added the extras to make it 20-8 at the break, although the Exiles also lost Paice to a red card for an off-the-ball tackle on Willi Heinz.
And after half time Johan Ackermann's Cherry and Whites turned on the style, Burns the next to go over for his second of the game after a fine floated Twelvetrees pass released him.
And the hosts had the bonus point before the hour mark when Polledri stretched his legs to burst clear for his first try ever league try.
Irish grabbed a second, despite their numerical disadvantage when Paulo went over from close range, but Gloucester kept coming and Burns produced a lovely kick to the corner for Purdy to grab their fifth.
Tries: Ludlow, Burns 2, Polledri, Purdy
Cons: Twelvetrees 4
Pens: Twelvetrees 2
For London Irish:
Tries: Du Plessis, Paulo
Red Card: David Paice (London Irish, 40)
Gloucester: 15 Tom Hudson, 14 Henry Purdy, 13 Andy Symons, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Freddie Clarke, 20 Will Safe, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Matt Scott, 23 Mark Atkinson.
London Irish: 15 James Marshall, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Tommy Bell, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Blair Cowan, 7 Max Northcote-Green, 6 Mike Coman, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Petrus du Plessis, 2 David Paice (captain), 1 Harry Elrington.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Ofisa Treviranus, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Tom Fowlie.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant referees: Jack Makepeace, Philip Watters
TMO: Sean Davey
Exeter Chiefs 42-29 Bath
The Chiefs were running away with the contest at the halfway point as Luke Cowan-Dickie, James Short, Mitch Lees and Don Armand all crossed the whitewash in the first half.
Freddie Burns’ penalty was all the visitors could muster before the interval, but it did get a little better after that despite Thomas Waldrom scoring before the hour mark – meaning ‘the Tank’ has now touched down against every side in the Premiership during his career.
Gareth Steenson – who also knocked over a flawless six conversions – scored Exeter’s sixth, but four late tries from a battling Bath meant they did at least take a bonus point back home.
It was hooker Cowan-Dickie’s first start in a Chiefs jersey since their historic the Premiership Final victory at Twickenham, and he took no time at all to settle back in.
The four-time England international burrowed over with a pick-and-go, as Exeter piled on the pressure with 17 unbroken phases in Bath territory.
Steenson converted, and the pressure continued from there as Bath initially repelled a trademark Exeter rolling maul after 12 mins, but soon found the ball back in their own 22.
And Short collected Olly Woodburn’s pass behind him, fended off Anthony Watson one-handed and wriggled into the corner for his side’s second – Steenson again adding the extras.
A push in the lineout saw Bath awarded 28th-minute penalty and Burns got them on the scoreboard, but straight away the Chiefs went up the other end and scored a third.
Waldrom punched a hole through the middle and Exeter were again relentless inside the 22, Lees eventually the beneficiary to dive over through a mass of bodies under the posts.
With 30 minutes on the clock the Chiefs had enjoyed 69 per cent of the possession, and as the hosts’ forwards again drove for the line from short range over and over again, Armand sealed the four-try bonus point.
It took Exeter 15 minutes into the second period to score again, as Waldrom completed his career set to score against every defence in the Premiership, but when Joseph scored a breakaway try after forcing Woodburn to knock on Bath sniffed a chance of a point.
And despite Steenson collecting Short’s pass to score Exeter’s sixth in the corner moments later, Bath scored twice more quickly through Anthony Watson and Aled Brew – setting up an intriguing finish with Todd Blackadder desperate for a bonus.
Replacement Matt Banahan then came to the fore with just seconds remaining, as the powerful winger scythed through the hosts’ line from 22 metres out to notch the bonus-point clinching try.
Tries: Cowan-Dickie, Short, Lees, Armand, Waldrom, Steenson
Cons: Steenson 6
Tries: Joseph, Watson, Brew, Banahan
Cons: Joseph, Priestland 2
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Nic White, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Don Armand, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Jack Nowell.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Paul Grant, 7 Zach Mercer, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Luke Charteris, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 James Phillips, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Matt Banahan.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Peter Allan
TMO: Claire Hodnett