Premiership predictions and teams: Round 16
TOP BILLING: Wayne Barnes is back in the middle for the first time since Premiership’s restart, when he presides over the top-of-the-table clash between Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs on Tuesday.
The Chiefs have been immense since lockdown, scoring 58 points combined in wins against Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks to stretch their lead at the top of the pile.
The Bears have also been irresistible since the restart, beating Saracens and Gloucester to move second – eight points behind the all-conquering Chiefs.
Craig Maxwell-Keys and Karl Dickson will assist Barnes, while Rowan Kitt will be the TMO.
Tuesday’s other game also has major semifinal ramifications, with third-placed Wasps hosting fourth-placed Sale Sharks.
Matthew Carley will take the whistle for that one, with Greg MacDonald and Jonathan Healy running the line.
Tuesday’s teams and predictions
Tuesday, August 25
Wasps v Sale Sharks
(Ricoh Arena – Kick-off: 17.30; 16.30 GMT)
Lee Blackett named his side and all but one of the starting XV that restarted Wasps’ Premiership campaign against Northampton Saints a week ago, return to face Sale.
The only change to that starting team sees the injured Kieran Brookes replaced by Jeff Toomaga-Allen.
There is one potential Wasps debutant in the 23, as 18-year-old Wasps Senior Academy and England Under 18 fly-half Charlie Atkinson is named amongst the replacements.
Sale Sharks made nine changes to their matchday 23, following defeat to league leaders Exeter Chiefs in Round 15, as Director of Rugby Steve Diamond rotates his squad ahead of the club’s first mid-week fixture.
Diamond has taken the opportunity to rotate his squad for the first time since the Premiership returned to action two weeks ago.
An almost complete change of personnel in the forwards sees Ross Harrison, Curtis Langdon and Jake Cooper-Woolley take their places in the starting line-up. James Phillips and Matt Postlethwaite replace Lodewyk de Jager and Jean-Luc du Preez in a powerful second row combination for the trip to Coventry. Du Preez remains involved and takes his place as a replacement on an experienced bench.
A back row including academy graduates Cameron Neild and Ben Curry alongside South African international Daniel du Preez completes a new look pack for the Tuesday fixture.
Will Cliff makes his first post lockdown start at scrumhalf and pairs up with AJ MacGinty for the first time this season after both players impressed from the bench last Friday. The experienced halfback combination have the talents of Rohan Janse van Rensburg outside them with the 17 stone South-African returning to his usual position of inside centre having completed a two-match suspension. England Under-20 captain Connor Doherty joins the powerful Springbok in midfield on his first Premiership start.
Arron Reed, 22, also makes his first Premiership start this season – alongside Doherty, the wing replaces Bryon McGuigan who suffered a hamstring strain last Friday. The electric academy prospect is joined in the back three by first-team stalwarts Denny Solomona and Luke James.
@rugby365com: Wasps by 12 points
Wasps: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ben Harris.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Tom West, 18 Jack Owlett, 19 Tim Cardall, 20 Sione Vailanu, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Charlie Atkinson, 23 Ryan Mills.
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Connor Doherty, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Arron Reed, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Ben Curry (captain), 6 Cameron Neild, 5 James Phillips, 4 Matt Postlethwaite, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Curtis Langdon, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Valery Morozov, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Jean-Luc du Preez, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Faf De Klerk, 22 Sam James, 23 Tom Roebuck.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Greg MacDonald, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Nigel Carrick
Bristol Bears v Exeter Chiefs
(Ashton Gate – Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Piers O’Conor returns from a neck injury to start when Bristol welcome table-topping Exeter Chiefs to Ashton Gate.
Director of Rugby Pat Lam made nine changes from the side that secured a seventh successive Premiership victory over Gloucester in Round 15.
Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan are recalled to the backline, while Harry Randall is also included.
In the pack, Max Lahiff and Bryan Byrne are named in the front row, while Ed Holmes and Dave Attwood form the second row partnership. Dan Thomas is selected at openside.
“It’s a short turnaround from Friday and that brings an exciting challenge,” Lam said.
“The medical and athletic performance staff have done an outstanding job in ensuring that our squad availability remains extremely high and no major injuries.
“Everybody knows what a consistent and well-organised team Exeter are – you will be challenged physically and mentally throughout the game. All big games are decided by getting the little details right for 80 minutes. So, improving the fundamental errors and our discipline from last week and working hard for the team is crucial if we want to have any chance of winning.”
Academy flyhalf Ioan Lloyd comes back into the 23-man squad and is listed among the replacements.
Unavailable: Jake Armstrong (ankle), Sam Bedlow (shoulder), Toby Fricker (groin).
Meanwhile Exeter boss Rob Baxter says the challenge of getting his Chiefs squad primed and ready for midweek fixtures is something that is largely ‘exciting’ for him and his players.
In what is the second of three fixtures in just over a week for the table-topping Chiefs, Baxter – like his coaching counterparts across the division – will have to mull over a series of selection quandaries, given no player is able to start all three games in this block.
Having stuck largely with an unchanged starting XV for their bonus point victories against Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks, only winger Olly Woodburn remains in place from those two games for tomorrow’s short trip up the M5.
“It’s a little bit of a trip into the unknown,” explained the Chiefs’ Director of Rugby.
“Tomorrow [Tuesday] is our first midweek fixture, which is interesting in itself, and it’s our first short turnaround from a game at the weekend.
“When you look at it, it’s probably going to be the first time where teams will genuinely make a lot of changes, because there are the regulations for these midweek blocks where you have that element of limiting game minutes for players and also that no players can start all three games.
“It will be interesting to see what teams do and how they approach it, but at the same time it’s also very exciting. Going to Bristol at any time should be exciting, but because it’s a top of the table clash in the Premiership it just adds to everything.
“I said to the players yesterday, what you have to remember with all of this is, this is still a Premiership fixture!
“It’s not a run-of-the-mill midweek game, nor is it like an A League or Premiership Cup game, this is a Premiership game – albeit played at a different time – but we have to approach it in exactly the same manner as we would a weekend game, That means I expect the guys to commit all of their time, their energy and their emotion into producing a big performance on Tuesday.”
Certainly, the Chiefs have done just that in their opening two fixtures since restart and Baxter is calling on those who take to the field against the Bears to not only match that effort, but indeed raise the standards even higher.
“The collection of points we’ve had helps ease the pressure, but we need to keep challenging ourselves,” he added. “What will be good to see against Bristol is that we have a new group of players involved, who we not only want to up the standards, but help move us forward week by week.
“As I said, it’s a big Premiership game of rugby between the top two sides in the division. Whatever happens on Tuesday won’t define the season for either side, yet there is an opportunity for points and when you are a side in and around that top four, that top six, every point is precious.
“Having picked up ten points is fantastic and it keeps us on the trajectory we want to be on, especially with things like the European quarter-final coming up as well. What’s funny, though, is after Sunday’s game we will have already played four games, that’s halfway through the rounds, so things are coming thick and fast right now and we’re starting to see the end of the season already.”
The Chiefs have made 14 changes to their starting line-up from that which won at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Skipper Jack Yeandle heads up a pack which sees Welsh International prop Tomas Francis make his first league start since May 2019.
Behind, Scottish international Sam Hidalgo-Clyne gets his first start in the No.9 jersey for his new club, while fellow newcomer Josh Hodge will also make his Premiership debut at full-back.
@rugby365com: Bristol Bears by eight points
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Piers O’Conor, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 John Afoa, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Alapati Leiua.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Josh Hodge, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Tom Hendrickson, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Sean Lonsdale, 7 Don Armand, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Will Witty, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Joe Snow, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Tom Wyatt.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys, Karl Dickson
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Wednesday, August 26:
Leicester Tigers v London Irish
(Welford Road, Leicester – Kick-off: 18.00; 17.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers have slipped to three successive Premiership defeats but have not lost four in a row in the tournament in the same season since the 2017-18 campaign. Tigers three defeats in the Premiership at Welford Road this season were against Saracens, Exeter and Bath.
London Irish have lost their last four Premiership encounters, their worst run in the tournament since February 2018. The Exiles have won three times away from home in the Premiership this season, at Wasps in Round One, Northampton and Harlequins in Round Nine and 10.
London Irish beat Leicester 36-11 at Madejski Stadium in November to end a run of six successive Tigers victories in all competitions in the series, whilst Irish have just once before achieved a season’s league double over Leicester, in the 2002-03 Premiership Rugby campaign. London Irish have won just twice at Welford Road since they first visited in 1923, both in Premiership Rugby, 20-19 in May 2003 and 22-19 in September 2014.
@rugby365com: Leicester Tigers by 10 points
Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 David Williams, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Hanro Liebenberg, 5 Calum Green, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 George Martin, 20 Luke Wallace, 21 Ben White, 22 Zack Henry, 23 Jordan Olowofela.
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Tom Parton, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Terrence Hepetema, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Albert Tuisue, 7 Blair Cowan (captain), 6 Ben Donnell, 5 Sebastian de Chaves, 4 George Nott, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Harry Elrington.
Replacements: 16 Matt Cornish, 17 Will Goodrick-Clarke, 18 Lovejoy Chawatama, 19 Jack Cooke, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Rory Brand, 22 Jacob Atkins, 23 Ross Neal.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Andrew Jackson, Wayne Falla
TMO: Sean Davey
Saracens v Gloucester
(Allianz Park, London – Kick-off: 18.00; 17.00 GMT)
This is the latest kick-off for a match at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby, previously it was 16.00 BST when they beat today’s opponents, Gloucester, in May 2018. Saracens only defeat in the last four rounds of the Premiership Rugby was 12-16 at Bristol on August 15. Saracens have won their last nine matches at Allianz Park in all tournaments since Northampton beat them in Round One of the Premiership.
Gloucester’s only victory in their last eight first team matches was 44-15 at Worcester on August 15. Gloucester have not won successive away games in Premiership Rugby since April 2019.
Saracens have lost just one of their last five fixtures against Gloucester: 24-30 at Kingsholm in February 2019 whilst the Cherry & Whites most recent victory on Saracens soil was in November 2008 at Vicarage Road.
@rugby365com: Gloucester by seven points
Saracens: 15 Will Hooley, 14 Ben Harris, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Elliott Obatoyinbo, 10 Manu Vunipola, 9 Tom Whiteley, 8 Andy Christie, 7 Sean Reffell, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Tim Swinson, 4 Joel Kpoku, 3 Alec Clarey, 2 Tom Woolstencroft, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Kapeli Pifeleti, 17 Sam Crean, 18 Josh Ibuanokpe, 19 Cameron Boon, 20 Janco Venter, 21 Alex Day, 22 Harry Sloan, 23 Charlie Watson.
Gloucester: 15 Charlie Sharples, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson (captain), 11 Louis Rees-Zammit, 10 Lloyd Evans, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Jack Clement, 7 Jordy Reid, 6 Josh Gray, 5 Danny Drake, 4 Charlie Beckett, 3 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Logovi’i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 Henry Walker, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Cameron Jordan, 20 Joe Howard, 21 Charlie Chapman, 22 George Barton, 23 Tom Seabrook.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal, Roy Maybank
TMO: Karl Dickson
Worcester Warriors v Harlequins
(Sixways, Worcester – Kick-off: 18.00; 17.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors have lost their last eight first team matches since beating Russian opponents Enisei 66-10 at Sixways in January. Warriors most recent victory at Sixways in Premiership Rugby was against London Irish on December 28.
Harlequins last five matches have all been won by the home side on the day whilst the Londoners’ only away win in the Premiership since March 2019 was 28-22 at Wasps on December 21.
Worcester beat Harlequins 19-14 at Twickenham Stoop in Round Four but have not achieved a season’s double over them since 2004-05, their first meetings. ‘Quins have not been victorious at Sixways in Premiership Rugby since January 2016.
@rugby365com: Warriors by three points
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Tom Howe, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Noah Heward, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Ted Hill (captain), 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Ethan Waller.
Replacements: 16 Beck Cutting, 17 Callum Black, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Sam Lewis, 21 Gareth Simpson, 22 Billy Searle, 23 Ashley Beck.
Harlequins: 15 Aaron Morris, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Luke Northmore, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Brett Herron, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Tom Lawday (captain), 7 Will Evans, 6 Dino Lamb, 5 Tevita Cavubati, 4 Glen Young, 3 Will Collier, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta.
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Marc Thomas, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Archie White, 20 James Chisholm, 21 Danny Care, 22 Paul Lasike, 23 James Lang.
Referee: Jack Makepeace
Assistant Referees: Peter Allan, Phil Watters
TMO: Tom Foley
Northampton Saints v Bath
(Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton – Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Northampton Saints last four matches have all curiously been won by the away side on the day. The Saints have lost their last four Premiership fixtures at Franklin’s Gardens and have only once before lost five in a row at the famous old venue, from September to November 2004.
Bath have won both their matches since the restart with a try bonus point but have not gained three maximum point victories in succession in the tournament since April 2018. Bath have won three of their last five away games in the Premiership. Bath have lost just two of their last seven fixtures against The Saints in Premiership Rugby but their only victory at Franklin’s Gardens since April 2000 was 18-14 in September 2016.
@rugby365com: Saints by five points
Northampton Saints: 15 Harry Mallinder, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Henry Taylor, 8 Teimana Harrison (captain), 7 JJ Tonks, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 David Ribbans, 3 Owen Franks, 2 James Fish, 1 Nick Auterac.
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Ehren Painter, 19 Lewis Bean, 20 Tui Uru, 21 Tom James, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Tommy Freeman.
Bath: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Max Clark, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 10 Josh Matavesi, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Josh Bayliss (captain), 6 Mike Williams, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Will Spencer, 3 Christian Judge, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Miles Reid, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Ruaridh McConnochie.
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Jamie Leahy
TMO: Wayne Barnes