Premiership - Predictions and Teams, Round 18
PLAY-OFF CONTENDERS: With just five rounds to go in the Premiership the race for the semifinals is hotting up, just 12 points separating the sides from third to eighth.
One of those sides, Bristol Bears, get an early opportunity to move into a home semifinal berth this weekend, when they travel to Sixways to take on Worcester Warriors in the early Friday fixture.
The other Friday match sees Premiership leaders, Exeter Chiefs, take their five-match winning league run to Franklin’s Gardens where Northampton Saints lie in wait.
With a set of midweek fixtures to follow there are no matches on Sunday this weekend, Super Saturday kicks off at Allianz Park where Saracens are protecting a ten-match winning run in all competitions against Wasps, who are fresh from a thrilling victory at Bath last weekend, that moved Wasps into fourth.
The second match on Saturday is significant for the whole of Premiership as the Harlequins v Bath has been chosen as a ‘pilot’ game, the first Premiership match where spectators will be in attendance since the League resumed last month.
Some 3 500 supporters will be at the Stoop as both sides look to prove their semifinal credentials.
Leicester Tigers entertain high-flying Sale Sharks, while the round concludes at Kingsholm where London Irish will be trying to beat Gloucester away from home for the first time in the Premiership since January 2013.
This week’s predictions
Friday, September 4:
Worcester Warriors v Bristol Bears
(Sixways, Worcester – Kick-off: 18.00; 17.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors only victory in the last ten rounds of the Premiership was 29-14 at home to Harlequins on 26 August, that victory ended a run of five straight defeats at Sixways in all tournaments.
Bristol Bears have lost their last two Premiership encounters since beating Gloucester 33-24 at Kingsholm on 21 August, their first maximum point victory in the Premiership since Round One.
Bristol beat Worcester 13-10 at Ashton Gate in Round 11 and have not achieved a Premiership season’s double over the Warriors since 2006/07 although they did repeat this in the RFU Championship in 2014-15. Bristol have won just twice at Sixways in any competition, in Premiership Rugby in September 2006 and the RFU Championship in April 2015.
Prediction: Bristol Bears by eight points
Worcester: 15 Melani Nanai, 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 Isaac Miller, 17 Callum Black, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Gareth Simpson, 22 Billy Searle, 23 Ashley Beck.
Bristol: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 5 Chris Vui, 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 Piers O’Conor.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Sara Cox & Paul Dix
TMO: Geoff Warren
Northampton Saints v Exeter Chiefs
(Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton – Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Northampton Saints have won just twice in the last nine rounds of the Premiership, both away from home, at Worcester on March 6 and at London Irish on August 22. Northampton have slipped to five straight defeats at Franklin’s Gardens in the Premiership to equal their worst ever home run in the competition, originally set in 2004.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last five Premiership fixtures, four with maximum league points, since losing 30-34 at Harlequins on 29 February. That defeat was their first on the road in any competition since their loss at Bath in October.
Exeter have lost only one of their last eight meetings with Northampton in all competitions: 28-31 at Franklin’s Gardens in Premiership Rugby in December 2018. The Chiefs have won just once at Northampton since 2014: 35-14 in December 2017.
Prediction: Exeter Chiefs by 10 points
Northampton: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Tom Collins, 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 Francois van Wyk.
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Shaun Adendorff, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Exeter: 15 Josh Hodge, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Tom Hendrickson, 11 Corey Baldwin, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 8 Don Armand, 7 Sean Lonsdale, 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 Alfie Petch, 19 Tom Price, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Joe Snow, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Tom Wyatt.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald & Andrew Jackson
TMO: Keith Lewis
Saturday, September 5:
Saracens v Wasps
(Allianz Park, London – Kick-off: 12.30; 11.30 GMT)
Saracens only defeat in the last six rounds of the Premiership was 12-16 to Bristol at Ashton Gate on August 15. Sarries have won their last ten fixtures at Allianz Park in all tournaments since Northampton beat them there in Round One of the Premiership.
Wasps have lost only once in the last seven rounds of the Premiership: 11-20 at home to Sale on August 25.
Wasps have won their last three away games in the Premiership, their best run on the road since February 2018. Wasps beat Saracens 60-10 at Ricoh Arena in Round 11 but have not achieved a Premiership season’s double over them since 2006-07. Wasps only previous victory at Allianz Park was 64-23 in the Premiership in February 2016.
Prediction: Saracens by 14 points
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys & Adam Leal
TMO: David Grashoff
Harlequins v Bath
(Twickenham Stoop, London – Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT)
Harlequins last seven fixtures have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst ‘Quins most recent defeat at Twickenham Stoop being 15-29 to London Irish on February 15. Bath’s run of three successive victories since the restart ended with their 23-27 home defeat to Wasps on Monday.
Bath’s only defeat in their last four away games was 20-57 at Exeter in Round 13 of the Premiership. Bath beat Harlequins 19-12 at the Recreation Ground in February but have not achieved a Premiership season’s double over the Londoners since 2014-15.
Prediction: Harlequins by five points
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley & Simon McConnell
TMO: Sean Davey
Leicester Tigers v Sale Sharks
(Welford Road, Leicester – Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers only victory in the last five rounds of the Premiership Rugby was 13-7 against London Irish at Welford Road on August 26. The Tigers have lost only once at Welford Road in any competition in 2020: 16-38 to Bath in Round 15 of the Premiership. Sale Sharks have won their last two Premiership fixtures, at Wasps and at home to Bristol.
The Sharks have won three of their last five away games in the Premiership, at Exeter in Round Nine, Gloucester in Round 12 and Wasps in Round 16. Sale have won their last two matches against Leicester Tigers in the Premiership, but both were at AJ Bell Stadium. The Sharks have been victorious just once at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby since 2008, 10-3 in February 2016.
Prediction: Sale Sharks by eight points
Leicester Tigers: TBC
Sale Sharks: TBC
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson & Jack Makepeace
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Gloucester v London Irish
(Kingsholm, Gloucester – Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 GMT)
Gloucester have won just two of their last nine Premiership matches, at Worcester in Round 14 and at home to Leicester in Round 17, the victory over Leicester ending an unwanted run of three successive defeats at Kingsholm.
London Irish have lost their last six Premiership encounters since beating today’s opponents Gloucester at Madejski Stadium in February. The Exiles have won three times on the road this season in the Premiership, at Wasps in Round One, Northampton in Round Nine and Harlequins in Round 10.
London Irish have not achieved a season’s Premiership double over Gloucester since 2005-06. They won on their most recent visit to Kingsholm 49-29 in the Premiership Rugby Cup in September but have not been victorious there in the Premiership since January 2013.
Prediction: Gloucester by 15 points
London Irish: TBC
Referee: Hamish Smales
Assistant referees: Simon Harding & Phil Watters
TMO: David Rose