PREVIEW: PREMIERSHIP, ROUND 20
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: A mere five points separate the sides from fourth to seventh in the table and we start the weekend with a cracker at the Twickenham Stoop, second-placed Exeter Chiefs travelling to Harlequins.
Exeter Chiefs No.8 Thomas Waldrom and his teammates will be the trip to Harlequins where they will be looking to maintain their impressive run of Premiership form and edge ever close to securing a home semifinal.
"For this time of the season, we’re in a good position," said Waldrom.
"We have our destiny in our own hands and we don’t need to rely on others. It’s about us and what we can control. If we had slipped up against Bristol that may not have been the case, so we have to take the positives from that game, rectify a few of the mistakes, and we’ll be in good shape,"
In what was a full-blooded local derby at the weekend, the Chiefs were made to fight tooth and nail for their latest league victory by a Bristol side fighting for their very existence amongst English rugby’s elite.
"It was a very tough game and a good local derby," added Waldrom.
"Bristol threw everything at us, they gave it a good go, so you have to give them credit.
"If we’re honest, the last two weeks haven’t gone quite to plan, but in both games we have shown real resilience, we’ve dug deep and we’ve come away with the wins and all five points. It shows we’re a good side and we’re working hard for one another, but we know we can make things easier for each other.
"We know we have to be a bit more accurate in what we’re doing. The Premiership, though, is a tough place and it’s never easy whoever you’re playing against. You have to make sure you get up mentally week in, week out.
"Friday is going to be another massive challenge for us, Quins’ are another strong side with some great players, but if we prepare well, get things in order, we’ll look to go up there and put in another big performance,"
We take a look at all the Round 20 action!
Friday, April 14
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs
(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45GMT)
Harlequins 19-40 defeat to Saracens at Wembley last weekend ended their two-match winning run. ‘Quins have lost just once at home in Premiership Rugby this season: 18-27 to Leicester in round 16.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last five Premiership Rugby matches, are unbeaten in the last twelve rounds and obtained a try bonus in their last six to tie Leicester’s record set in 2012.
If Exeter tally another bonus point win they will become only the second side ever to record a maximum 30 league points from six successive Premiership Rugby matches.
Exeter have won their last five Premiership Rugby matches against ‘Quins since the Londoners won 30-29 at Sandy Park in May 2014, although Harlequins did win 29-15 when the two clubs met at Twickenham Stoop in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in November.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (captain), 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Dave Ward, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Carl Rimmer
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Sam Hill
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: JP Doyle, Paul Dix
TMO: Sean Davey
Saturday, April 15
Worcester Warriors v Bath Rugby
(Sixways - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors only victory in their last five rounds of Premiership Rugby was 41-24 at home to Bristol on March 5, although Warriors have recorded four-try bonus points in that sequence. Worcester have lost just one of their last four Premiership Rugby encounters at Sixways: 32-48 to Exeter in round 15.
Bath Rugby ended a three-game losing run in Premiership Rugby with their 27-21 victory over Leicester in “The Clash” at Twickenham last weekend. Bath have not won away from home in the tournament since a visit to Exeter at the end of October.
Bath have won their last eight encounters with Worcester since the Warriors 16-7 triumph at Sixways in November 2011.
Worcester Warriors: TBC
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald, Ross Campbell,
TMO: Geoff Warren
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons
(Welford Road - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers have lost two of their last six Premiership Rugby matches, at home to Exeter in round 17 and against Bath at Twickenham in round 19. The Tigers have not lost successive home matches in the tournament since October 2011.
Newcastle Falcons 16-14 victory at home to Gloucester last Friday ended a three-game losing run in Premiership Rugby. The Falcons have won just three times on the road this season, twice in Premiership Rugby, at Gloucester in round four and at Northampton in round nine, and 18-6 at Newport Gwent Dragons in an abandoned match in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in January.
Newcastle have beaten Leicester just once in the last eight years, 26-14 at Kingston Park in Premiership Rugby in February 2016. The Falcons only previous victory at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby was 25-19 on 30 December 1997 - Dean Richards’ last game for Tigers.
Leicester Tigers:15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Jack Roberts, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs (captain), 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Harry Thacker, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Mathew Tait
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Marcus Watson, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Calum Green, 3 David Wilson, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Will Witty, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Zach Kibirige
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant referees: Steve Lee, Tim Wigglesworth
TMO: David Sainsbury
Gloucester Rugby v Sale Sharks
(Kingsholm - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Gloucester Rugby’s only win in their last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was 32-14 at Bristol on 24 March. Gloucester’s only defeat at Kingsholm in their last six first team encounters was 27-30 to Harlequins in Premiership Rugby on March 4.
Sale Sharks ended a three-game losing run with their 36-26 maximum point victory at home to Worcester on Friday. Sharks have won just once on the road in the tournament this season, on a visit to Bristol in late October.
Gloucester have won their last three fixtures against the Sharks since Sale’s 23-6 win at AJ Bell Stadium in March 2015. The Sharks have won on two of their last five visits to Kingsholm – in April 2012 and in September 2013.
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Cullum Braley, 8 Freddie Clarke, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Jeremy Thrush (captain), 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22. Billy Twelvetrees, 23 David Halaifonua
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont (captain), 7 Ben Curry, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Tom Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 George Nott, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Josh Charnley
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Adam Leal, Peter Allan
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Sunday, April 16
Bristol Rugby v Wasps
(Ashton Gate - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Bristol Rugby have won just once in Premiership Rugby since new year’s day: 12-11 at home to Bath on February 26. Bristol’s three other victories at Ashton Gate this season were against Sale in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Pau in the European Challenge Cup and Worcester on Boxing Day in Premiership Rugby.
Wasps have won their last four Premiership Rugby matches since their reversal at Sale on February 19, this is their only defeat in the tournament since mid-November. Wasps have won only once away from home in any tournament since January: 24-3 over Bath at the Recreation Ground in round 17 of Premiership Rugby.
Wasps are unbeaten in their last six encounters with Bristol since the west countrymen’s 26-21 victory at Memorial Stadium in Premiership Rugby in September 2006. This is Wasps first visit to Ashton Gate.
Bristol: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Jack Tovey, 10 Billy Searle, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Mitch Eadie, 7 Nick Fenton-Wells, 6 Sam Jeffries, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Marc Jones (captain), 1 Ryan Bevington.
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Jack O’Connell, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Charlie Amesbury.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 James Haskell, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Alapati Leiua
Referee: Greg M Garner
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Roger Baileff
TMO: Stuart Terheege
Northampton Saints v Saracens
(Stadiummk - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints have narrowly lost their last two Premiership Rugby matches very late on, against Leicester and Wasps. The Saints have played six previous matches at stadiummk with a won two lost one record there in the European Cup and an identical record there in Premiership Rugby.
Saracens only defeat in their last six first team matches was 10-32 at home to Leicester in the semifinal of the Anglo-Welsh Cup on March 11. Saracens have lost three of their last five away games in Premiership Rugby, at visits to Bath, Worcester and Gloucester. Saracens have played
three previous matches in Milton Keynes winning the two “home” games they moved there from Vicarage Road, against Bristol in 2008 and Northampton in 2012, but losing 20-25 there in a Saints “home” game in 2015.
Saracens only loss in their last five matches against Northampton in all tournaments was 15-20 at
Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby in March 2016.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Tom Wood (captain), 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 David Ribbans, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Juan Pablo Estelles
Saracens:15 Alex Goode, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Joel Conlon, 5 George Kruis, 4 Nick Isiekwe, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George (captain), 1 Titi Lamositele.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 Chris Ashton
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Wayne Falla, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Graham Hughes