Preview: Premiership, Round 11
Round 11 of Premiership stars some fascinating encounters the length and breadth of the country.
None will be more spicy than the encounter between the second-placed Northampton Saints and third-placed Bath at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.
It all starts on Friday, when Newcastle Falcons (10th on the standings) host London Wasps (eight).
A wet and windy Friday at Kingston Park is never an easy task, but London Wasps' Springbok loose forward Ashley Johnson is confident they can match Newcastle Falcons in tricky conditions.
Wasps have been inconsistent of late but much of their recent Premiership form has been on the road, claiming wins at Gloucester and London Irish in their last two away matches.
Dai Young's side are just five points from the top four and a win against the Falcons would send them into the New Year on a high.
With heavy winds and rain affecting much of the country this week, Johnson is expecting a frosty reception in Newcastle, but he believes running high-flying Northampton Saints close last weekend has Wasps desperate for more.
"They do play the conditions very well as well so for us it's about adapting," he said.
"We've had a taste of the type of conditions we're going to play in there with it being so wet and windy against Northampton.
"We're confident in those conditions so we've just got to go and execute it next week when we go there.
"They've got a really good forward pack and they're really tough to beat at home. Hopefully we can take the confidence we've got from the game against Northampton and take it into this week."
For Newcastle, the challenge is about turning opportunities into points, after failing to score a try in each of their last four Premiership matches.
The Wasps clash is one of two Friday home games across the festive period and Director of Rugby Dean Richards is hoping to see the supporters out in force to help the Falcons reverse their fortunes.
"It's going to be a massive two weeks for us, starting with the Wasps game on Friday, and I can't wait," said Richards.
"The festive season is always a busy time for Premiership rugby, and what better way to continue the festivities than to come to Kingston Park and cheer the lads on."
Another intriguing game is between the fourth-placed Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs (fifth) at Twickenham on Saturday.
Quins Director of Conor O'Shea insists he will be the only one playing the role of Scrooge.
Having lost to Bath 3-14 at the Rec last Saturday the Quins players don't have much time to laze around ahead of the challenge of the Chiefs.
The clash promises to be one to remember with both sides keen to play with ball in hand, Rob Baxter's side having downed Newcastle Falcons 16-3 last week.
O'Shea admits he won't be able to relax until the final whistle.
"Chiefs are a brilliant side to play against," he said.
"You talk about the stats and how they carry the ball, it is like playing a mirror image of yourself.
"I just hope we get a really nice day. The entertainment is going to be brilliant there and I think we will see a cracking game of rugby with both sides trying to keep hold of the ball, keeping the play alive, testing each other's defences.
"That is why you want it to be a good day and it is just a great day out for everybody. By the time you get to 28th any day post Christmas is about getting out of your house and hopefully the entertainment on the pitch and off the pitch as well will be special.
"It will be another great occasion. I feel like a bit of a Scrooge at the big game because I go along and care about one thing and that is getting the result we want."
We look at all the Round 11 action!
Friday, December 27
Newcastle Falcons v London Wasps
(Kingston Park – Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons have slipped to four straight defeats in the Premiership, whilst the last try they scored in the competition was an unwanted record 335 minutes ago against London Irish.
The Falcons have won three of their last four fixtures in all competitions at Kingston Park.
London Wasps last four Premiership encounters have all been won by the away side on the day, the Londoners have managed to win four of their last five away games in all competitions.
Newcastle have won three of their last four matches against Wasps, whilst the Londoners have not been victorious at Kingston Park since 8th May 2010.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Jamie Helleur, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Ryan Shortland, 10 Phil Godman, 9 Warren Fury, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Richard Mayhew, 5 Fraser McKenzie, 4 Carlo del Fava, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Franck Montanella, 18 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 19 Sean Tomes, 20 Mark Wilson, 21 Chris Pilgrim, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Danny Barnes.
London Wasps: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Will Helu, 13 Chris Bell (captain), 12 Charlie Hayter, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Charlie Davies, 8 Sam Jones, 7 James Haskell, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Joe Launchbury, 4 Tom Palmer, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Taione Vea, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 James Cannon, 20 Ed Jackson, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Joe Carlisle, 23 Andrew Suniula.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Andy Watson & Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Saturday, December 28
Leicester Tigers v Sale Sharks
(Welford Road – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers' record defeat in the Premiership at Saracens on Saturday ended a six game winning streak in all competitions.
The last time a visiting side from north of Leicester has won a game at Welford Road was when Sale themselves did so in the Premiership on 23rd February 2008.
Sale Sharks have recorded back to back victories at home to Oyonnax in the European Challenge Cup and London Irish in the Premiership, whilst the Sharks only victory away from home in the tournament since February was 22-16 at Gloucester on 7th September.
The Tigers have won their last seven fixtures with Sale since the Sharks were victorious 15-12 at Edgeley Park on 4th September 2009.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Vereniki Goneva, 12 Dan Bowden, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Ed Slater, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Neil Briggs, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Sebastian de Chaves, 20 Jordan Crane, 21 David Mélé, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Scott Hamilton.
Sale Sharks: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Charlie Ingall, 13 Mark Cueto, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Tom Brady, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Viliami Fahiki, 7 Dan Braid (captain), 6 James Gaskell, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Andrei Ostrikov, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Jonathan Mills, 20 David Seymour, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Andy Forsyth.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden & Peter Huckle
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Northampton Saints v Bath
(Franklin's Gardens – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints have won their last five Premiership matches since their 19-all draw at Leicester in Round Five, their only defeat in the competition this campaign came at Gloucester in Round Three.
The Saints have won their last five Premiership home games since the Tigers won at Franklin's Gardens in March.
Bath have won their last eleven matches in all tournaments since their 13-19 reversal at Sale Sharks on 4th October – this represents the club's best run for a decade.
Northampton have won the last four Premiership matches they have played against Bath since Bath's 38-3 win at The Rec in February 2011.
Bath have won just once at Franklin's Gardens since 2000: 37- 30 against Saracens there on 6th November 2004.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ken Pisi, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Samu Manoa, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Tom Mercey, 19 Sam Dickinson, 20 Phil Dowson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Glenn Dickson, 23 Tom Collins.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 Carl Fearns, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Eusebio Guinazu, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Leroy Houston, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Nick Abendanon.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix & Kevin Stewart
TMO: Keith Lewis
Worcester Warriors v Saracens
(Sixways – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors have lost their last 15 Premiership matches since beating Wasps 29-23 at Sixways on 1st March.
Only two clubs have had poorer runs in the competition: Bedford 17 losses 1999-2000 and Rotherham 30 losses 2001-2004.
Saracens inflicted The Tigers' first 5-0 loss in league points since 2006 during their 49-10 victory at Allianz Park on Saturday.
The top of the table outfit have lost just once in the competition this season 20-41 at Northampton in Round Six.
The last five fixtures between the two teams in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Saracens have not been victorious at Sixways in the competition since 2007.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell (captain), 14 James Stephenson, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Andy Symons, 11 Josh Drauniniu, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Jeremy Su'a, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Sam Betty, 6 Richard de Carpentier, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 James Percival, 3 Rob O'Donnell, 2 Chris Brooker, 1 Ofa Fainga'anuku.
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Jeremy Becasseau, 18 John Andress, 19 Chris Jones, 20 Semisi Taulava, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Ravai Fatiaki.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Alistair Hargreaves (captain), 4 George Kruis, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mouritz Botha, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 Brad Barritt.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff & Andrew Pearce
TMO: Geoff Warren
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs
(Twickenham Stadium – Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00 GMT)
Harlequins' 3-14 loss at Bath last Saturday ended a four game winning run in the Premiership.
Quins have won the last four outings they have played at Twickenham Stadium since Saracens beat them there on 27th December 2011.
Exeter Chiefs' 16-3 victory at home to Newcastle in Round 10 ended a five game losing run in all tournaments.
The Chiefs have not won on the road since an 18-16 victory at Sale in the Premiership on 1st November.
Exeter have made four previous appearances at Twickenham, all in finals of various national cup competitions, but unfortunately have lost on each occasion.
The two clubs have already met this season with the Chiefs winning 19-5 at Sandy Park in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in November.
Exeter also won both Premiership encounters between the two clubs in the 2012/13 season.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Tom Casson, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Will Collier, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Nick Kennedy, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ollie Lindsay-Hague.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Tom James, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Dave Ewers, 7 Ben White, 6 Tom Johnson, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (captain), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Brett Sturgess, 18 Alex Brown, 19 James Hanks, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Fetu'u Vainikolo.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Stuart Terheege & Roy Maybank
TMO: David Grashoff
Sunday, December 29
London Irish v Gloucester
(Madejski Stadium – Kick-off: 14.00; 14.00 GMT)
London Irish have slipped to five straight Premiership defeats since beating Harlequins 18-13 at Madejski Stadium in Round Five, the Exiles have not been victorious at Reading in the Premiership since that encounter.
Gloucester ended a five game losing run in the Premiership with their 12-6 win over Worcester at Kingsholm on Sunday.
Gloucester’s solo away victory in the tournament since early February was 22-16 at Newcastle on 29th September.
Both Premiership fixtures between the clubs last season were won by the away side on the day, whilst Gloucester have won on their last two visits to Madejski Stadium in all competitions.
London Irish: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Tomás O'Leary, 8 Blair Cowan, 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 6 Kieran Low, 5 Ian Gough, 4 George Skivington (captain), 3 CJ Van Der Linde, 2 Jimmy Stevens, 1 Matt Parr.
Replacements: 16 Mike Mayhew; 17 John Yapp, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Nic Rouse, 20 Jebb Sinclair, 21 Andrew Fenby, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Ed Hoadley
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Twelvetrees (captain), 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Matt Cox, 5 James Hudson, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Sila Puafisi, 2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Will James, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Martyn Thomas.
Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant Referees: Nigel Carrick & Paul Burton
TMO: Graham Hughes