PREMIERSHIP PREDICTIONS AND TEAMS: ROUND 17
TOP FOUR BATTLE: Karl Dickson is the referee for the first Premiership Rugby game of Round 17, in a contest that could also go a long way to helping shed more light on the race for the top four.
Bristol Bears and Sale Sharks, currently occupying second and third spots in the table respectively, kick off the 17th round of action at 15.00 (local time) on Saturday where Dickson will be on the whistle.
The former Harlequins scrumhalf, who made 169 appearances in the famous quarters during his playing career, will have Andrew Jackson and Hamish Smales as his assistants at the AJ Bell Stadium, with Ian Tempest as the TMO.
Sharks and Bears’ battle is the only Saturday contest in Round 17 but Sunday will see a triple header of intriguing fixtures.
Craig Maxwell-Keys is the man in the middle at the Twickenham Stoop where Harlequins will look to re-ignite their top-four push against fellow Semi-Final chasers Northampton Saints.
Maxwell-Keys will be ably assisted by Simon Harding and Dean Richards, as TMO duties go to David Grashoff.
Adam Leal is the referee for table-topping Exeter Chiefs’ contest against Worcester Warriors at Sandy Park on Sunday afternoon, where Jonathan Healy and Christophe Ridley are the assistants and David Rose the TMO.
Sunday’s final game between Gloucester Rugby and Leicester Tigers will be officiated by Matthew Carley as Jack Makepeace and Paul Dix run the line at Kingsholm – Claire Hodnett in the van as the TMO.
And Bank Holiday Monday serves up a Premiership Rugby doubleheader as Tom Foley takes charge of London Irish against Saracens before the experienced Wayne Barnes does likewise at the Bath Rugby v Wasps clash, which will also have huge top-four connotations.
Greg MacDonald and Mike Hudson are Foley’s assistants at the Twickenham Stoop with Stuart Terheege as his TMO, while Barnes will have Christophe Ridley and Sara Cox running the lines at the Rec, where Luke Pearce is TMO.
Saturday, August 29:
Sale Sharks v Bristol Bears
(AJ Bell Stadium– Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
World Cup finalists Tom Curry, Faf De Klerk and Manu Tuilagi to make their return against Bristol as Sale Sharks.
Steve Diamond makes six changes to his matchday squad ahead of the Bears’ visit to the AJ Bell on Saturday, as the Sharks Director of Rugby chooses to redeploy his international firepower as the club prepares for its first appearance on free-to-air television this weekend.
After an impeccable performance on Tuesday evening, Ross Harrison remains at loose head prop amidst a number of changes in the forwards. Harrison is joined in the front row by South African hooker Akker van der Merwe and the versatile Coenie Oosthuizen who lines up on his preferred side of the scrum this weekend.
The Sharks’ all Springbok second row partnership of Lood De Jager and Jean-Luc du Preez will return to the starting line-up on Saturday afternoon, Du Preez’s twin brother Daniel returns after dropping out last week with a bout of sickness. The 25-year-old South African international take’s his place at number 8 is joined in a mouth-watering back row by Tom and Ben Curry at blind and openside respectively. Ben Curry will captain the side again this weekend.
World Cup winning scrumhalf Faf De Klerk moves back into the number nine jersey and will marshal the team alongside AJ MacGinty. The USA Eagles flyhalf kicked 15 points in his return to Premiership action on Tuesday after suffering a shoulder injury earlier in March.
Manu Tuilagi takes his place at inside centre with the ever-present Sam James outside him, the highly experienced midfield partnership will combine with Denny Solomona and Marland Yarde on the wings, with 21-year old Luke James holding down his spot at fullback for the visit of second placed Bristol.
After impressive displays in round sixteen, Curtis Langdon and Valery Morozov join Will-Griff John as front row replacements, with Matt Postlethwaite also remaining in the matchday 23 after a dominant showing at the Ricoh. Club Captain Jono Ross provides cover for a youthful back row.
Will Cliff, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Arron Reed complete the Sharks’ 23 man squad, leaving potential for Sharks fans to get a glimpse of the highly anticipated Tuilagi-Van Rensburg centre partnership.
@rugby365com: Sale Sharks by three points
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Ben Curry (captain), 6 Tom Curry, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jean-Luc du Preez, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Valerey Morozov, 18 Will-Griff John, 19 Matt Postlethwaite, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Arron Reed
Bristol Bears: 15 Max Malins, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau (captain), 11 Jack Bates, 10 Tiff Eden, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Jake Heenan, 6 James Dun, 5 Joe Joyce, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 Yann Thomas, 2 Will Capon, 1 Jake Woolmore
Replacements: 16 George Kloska, 17 Peter McCabe, 18 Kieron Assiratti, 19 John Hawkins, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Charlie Powell
Assistant Referees: Ian Tempest, Hamish Smales
TMO: Andrew Jackson
Sunday, August 30:
Harlequins v Northampton Saints
(Twickenham Stoop – Kick-Off: 14.00, 13.00 GMT)
Harlequins only victory in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was 16-10 at home to Sale on 14 August. The Londoners have been defeated at home just once in Gallagher Premiership Rugby since November: 15-29 to their now co-tenants London Irish in February.
Northampton Saints astonishing run continues with the visiting team now winning their last five encounters. The Saints only reversal in their last five away games in all competitions was to Exeter Chiefs in round 11 of Premiership Rugby.
The Saints have lost only one of their last five fixtures with Harlequins in Premiership Rugby and also just two of the last thirteen meetings. Northampton visit Twickenham Stoop for the second weekend in succession having beaten London Irish there last Saturday.
The Saints only defeat at the venue in the last five visits was 9-20 to Harlequins in October 2016.
@rugby365com: Northampton Saints by 7 points
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Simon Harding, Dean Richards
TMO: David Grashoff
Exeter Chiefs v Worcester Warriors
(Sandy Park – Kick-Off: 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
The table-topping Chiefs have resumed top-flight action with a bang, claiming bonus-point victories over Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks, as well as claiming a last-gasp victory over second-placed Bristol Bears on Tuesday.
That latest triumph helped stretch their lead at the summit to 11 points and Hepher is keen that his players continue to keep the pedal down as they build towards what could be an exciting conclusion to this prolonged 2019/20 season.
Having stuck with a largely unchanged 23 for the opening two games, the Chiefs rang the changes for their midweek trip to Ashton Gate. Only winger Olly Woodburn remained in the starting line-up from the Sale game, but the fresh stock truly delivered as the visitors claimed a 25-22 victory.
Certainly, Tuesday’s squad stepped up to the mark, but so too have the other players who have featured previously. Many of them will again take to the field on Sunday as the Chiefs look to edge ever closer to securing that all-important home advantage in the play-offs.
Standing in their way on Sunday, however, will be a Worcester outfit who, having lost their opening two games since restart against Gloucester and Wasps, bounced back on Wednesday with a powerful home win over Harlequins.
Hepher and the Exeter coaches have used the time since to study that performance, as well as revisit past performances against the Midlanders, to devise what they hope will be a winning game plan.
Not surprisingly, the Chiefs have changed their complete starting line-up for Sunday’s clash. The biggest news is the introduction of England and British Lions wing Jack Nowell for the first time since restart. He is joined in a stellar back-line, which also includes the likes of Stuart Hogg, Alex Cuthbert, Henry Slade and skipper Joe Simmonds.
Upfront, it’s an all-England front-row of Ben Moon, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams, while behind recent recruit Jonny Gray gets another home start alongside Jonny Hill in the Exeter engine room. The pack is completed with the all-action trio of Dave Ewers, Jacques Vermeulen and Sam Simmonds.
On the bench, Bristol match-winner Billy Keast is included, as are fellow youngsters Jack Innard, Marcus Street, Richard Capstick and Harvey Skinner.
@rugby365com: Exeter Chiefs to win by 10 points
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Alex Cuthbert, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jacques Vermeulen, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Will Witty, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Tom Hendrickson
Worcester Warriors: 15 Scott van Breda, 14 Nick David, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Will Butler (captain), 11 Alex Hearle, 10 Billy Searle, 9 Michael Heaney, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Tom Dodd, 5 Andrew Kitchener, 4 James Scott, 3 Richard Palframan, 2 Beck Cutting, 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 Isaac Miller, 17 Lewis Holsey, 18 Joe Morris, 19 Justin Clegg, 20 Caleb Montgomery, 21 Matt Cox, 22 Jono Kitto, 23 Oli Morris
Referee: Adam Leal
Assistant Referees: Jonathan Healy, Christophe Ridley
TMO: David Rose
Gloucester Rugby v Leicester Tigers
(Kingsholm – Kick-off: 16.30, 15.30 GMT)
It’s wholesale changes for Gloucester Rugby, as Skivington rotates his squad once more after the short turnaround from Wednesday at Allianz Park.
Ludlow returns to skipper the side, with 15 changes to the starting line-up, including Jason Woodward coming into the full-back berth.
Matt Garvey will make his second start for the Cherry & Whites in the second row alongside Ed Slater, behind Rapava-Ruskin, Singleton and Balmain in the front-row.
On the bench, Jordy Reid looks set to make his second appearance for the Club following his debut on Wednesday evening, and youngster, Stephen Varney continues in the matchday squad after scoring 3 tries in 3 games so far.
Meanwhile, Leicester have made 17 changes to the matchday squad that defeated London Irish in midweek, including a new-look starting team for this fixture.
Thom Smith will captain the side from openside flanker, with the 20-year-old partnering Jordan Coghlan and debutant Ollie Chessum in the back-row.
In the second-row, Tomás Lavanini and Blake Enever return after also playing together against Bath in Round 15.
Enever, in just his second Tigers appearance, has been named as one of two vice-captains alongside full-back George Worth.
Ryan Bower makes his first starting appearance for the club in almost a decade, after returning to Tigers last month, and is joined by fellow Tigers Academy graduates Charlie Clare and Joe Heyes in the front-row.
Jack van Poortvliet and Zack Henry combine in a new-look half-back pairing, with Tom Hardwick and Guy Porter combining for the first time in midfield.
Jordan Olowofela and Harry Potter are the wings, with Worth returning to full-back after starting at centre against Bath a week ago.
Facundo Gigena is in line for his first appearance in almost six months after returning to Leicester earlier this month from Argentina and is joined by Jake Kerr and Nephi Leatigaga as front-row cover on the bench.
Cameron Henderson is also included among the replacements alongside Jordan Taufua, Ben Youngs and George Ford who back-up from Wednesday’s win.
Ireland U20s cap Dan Kelly is in line for his debut after joining the club from Loughborough Students in June.
@rugby365com: Gloucester by seven points
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Ollie Thorley, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Jake Polledri, 7 Lewis Ludlow (captain), 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Matt Garvey, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Val Rapava-Ruskin
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Jack Stanley, 19 Jordy Reid, 20 Jack Clement, 21 Stephen Varney, 22 Tom Seabrook, 23 Lloyd Evans
Leicester Tigers: 15 George Worth, 14 Harry Potter, 13 Guy Porter, 12 Tom Hardwick, 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 Zack Henry, 9 Jack Van Poortvliet, 8 Jordan Coghlan, 7 Thom Smith (captain), 6 Ollie Chessum, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Tomás Lavanini, 3 Joe Heyes, 2 Charlie Clare, 1 Ryan Bower
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Nephi Leatigaga, 19 Cameron Henderson, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 George Ford, 23 Dan Kelly
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace, Paul Dix
TMO: Claire Hodnett
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) August 28, 2020
Monday, August 31:
London Irish v Saracens
(Twickenham Stoop – Kick-off: 13.00, 12.00 GMT)
London Irish have slipped to five successive Premiership Rugby defeats since beating Gloucester 24-20 at Madejski Stadium in February. The Exiles most recent ‘home’ win at Twickenham Stoop was 45-24 against Wasps in May 2000.
Saracens last four Premiership Rugby matches have all been won by the home side on the day. Saracens have won just once away from home in Premiership Rugby since November: 27-21 at Northampton on 29 February.
Saracens have won their last seven encounters with London Irish since the Exiles 22-13 victory at Allianz Park in February 2014.
The two clubs have met just once before at The Stoop with Saracens running out 41-27 victors in April 2000.
@rugby365com: Saracens by 15 points
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Greg MacDonald, Mike Hudson
TMO: Stuart Terheege
Bath Rugby v Wasps
(The Rec – Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00GMT)
Bath Rugby have won all three fixtures since the return to rugby but have not won four in succession in Premiership Rugby since November 2016. Bath have lost just once at the Recreation Ground in Premiership Rugby since November: 13-19 to Bristol Bears in round 12.
Wasps five-game winning run in Premiership Rugby ended with their 11-20 reversal to Sale at the Ricoh Arena on Tuesday. Wasps have lost only once away from home since December: 9-18 at Leicester in Premiership Rugby in February.
Wasps gained a first victory over Bath since 2017 when the two clubs last met at Ricoh Arena in November. Wasps have lost on their last two visits to the Recreation Ground, in January 2019 in the European Champions Cup and in May 2019 in Premiership Rugby.
@rugby365com: Bath by seven points
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Christophe Ridley, Sara Cox
TMO: Luke Pearce