PREVIEW: Premiership, Round 16
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: What happens between now and the end of the Premiership season is anyone’s guess, but what we can be sure of ahead of Round 16 is there are plenty more twists and turns still to come.
While the top three sides all picked up victories last time out, fourth-placed Gloucester were unable to follow suit as they lost at Bristol Bears in a thrilling Friday fixture that kickstarted the weekend’s action in style.
And with bottom club Newcastle Falcons winning at home to Worcester Warriors on Sunday, there are tight contests at both ends of the Premiership table with just seven rounds remaining.
That excitement is set to continue in Round 16 which kicks off with two Friday clashes as Bath hosts second-placed Saracens and Leicester Tigers travel to Sale Sharks.
There are three games on Saturday, beginning with Wasps hosting Newcastle Falcons before Northampton Saints take on Bristol Bears at Franklin’s Gardens and Exeter Chiefs battle Worcester Warriors at Sixways.
And the round concludes on Sunday as third-place Harlequins welcome fourth-place Gloucester to The Stoop.
We take a closer look at all Round 16’s match:
Friday, March 8:
Bath v Saracens
(Recreation Ground, Bath – Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Bath’s only victory in the last four rounds of the Premiership was 30-13 at home to Newcastle Falcons on February 16. Bath’s 29-31 defeat to Harlequins last weekend was their first reversal at the Recreation Ground in any competition since early December.
Saracens have lost just one of their last seven first-team matches: 24-30 at Gloucester in Round 14 of the Premiership. Saracens have lost their last three away games in the Premiership but have not lost four in a row on the road since 2010.
The last five meetings between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day whilst Saracens only victory at the Recreation Ground in the last five years was 30-10 in April 2016.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Will Chudley (captain), 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Miles Reid, 6 Elliott Stooke, 5 Levi Douglas, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Jack Davies, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Max Clark.
Saracens: 15 Max Malins, 14 David Strettle, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Alex Lozowski, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Alex Goode (co-captain), 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray (co-captain), 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Mike Rhodes, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Tom Woolstencroft, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Dom Day, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 Matt Gallagher.
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Assistant referees: Jack Makepeace, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Geoffrey Warren
Sale Sharks v Leicester Tigers
(AJ Bell Stadium, Salford – Kick-off: 20.00; 20.00 GMT)
Sale Sharks have lost just twice in the last eight rounds of the Premiership. However, both of those defeats have been in the last three games. The Sharks have lost their last two matches at AJ Bell Stadium, against Newcastle in the Premiership Rugby Cup and to Exeter in Round 15 of the Premiership, they have not lost three in succession at home since New Year 2017.
Leicester Tigers beat Wasps at Welford Road last weekend but have not won successive Premiership encounters since Rounds Five and Six. Tigers only away win in any competition since they beat Sale in Round 22 last season was against Northampton at Twickenham Stadium in October.
The Tigers have won their last four matches against Sale in Premiership Rugby since Sale’s 34-30 victory at AJ Bell Stadium in October 2016.
Sale: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Arron Reed, 10 Sam James, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Beaumont, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 5 James Phillips, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Valery Morozov.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 James Jones, 19 Matt Postlethwaite, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Gus Warr, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Paolo Odogwu.
Leicester: 15 Jonah Holmes, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 George Worth, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Sam Aspland-Robinson, 10 Joe Ford, 9 Harry Simmons, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Will Spencer, 3 Joe Heyes, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Facundo Gigena.
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 David Feao, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Will Evans, 21 Sam Lewis, 22 Tom Hardwick, 23 Jordan Olowofela.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Jamie Leahy, Peter Allan
TMO: Graham Hughes
Saturday, March 9:
Wasps v Newcastle Falcons
(Ricoh Arena, Coventry – Kick-off: 14.00; 14.00 GMT)
Wasps only victory in any competition since early January was 29-22 at Bristol in Round 13 of the Premiership. Wasps have won just three times in any tournament at the Ricoh Arena this season, all in the Premiership, against Leicester in Round Three, Bristol in Round Eight and Northampton in Round 12.
Newcastle Falcons five-game losing run in the Premiership ended with their 17-6 victory against Worcester at Kingston Park on Sunday. The Falcons have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since they visited Northampton on December 1.
Wasps have won their last seven matches against Newcastle in Premiership and are unbeaten in their last eleven since Newcastle’s 14-10 victory at Adams Park in May 2012. The Falcons only previous win at the Ricoh Arena was 53-41 in the opening round of last season’s Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Rob Miller, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Jack Willis, 6 Ashley Johnson (captain), 5 James Gaskell, 4 Will Rowlands, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ben Harris.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Tom West, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Ben Morris, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Jacob Umaga, 23 Ross Neal.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Johnny Williams, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Callum Chick, 7 Gary Graham, 6 Will Welch (captain), 5 Andrew Davidson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Sam Lockwood.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 David Wilson, 19 Evan Olmstead, 20 Nemani Nagusa, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Pedro Bettencourt.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald, Philip Watters
TMO: Nigel Carrick
Northampton Saints v Bristol Bears
(Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton – Kick-off: 14.45; 14.45 GMT)
Northampton Saints’ five-game winning run in all competitions ended at Saracens on Saturday. The Saints have not lost successive Premiership encounters since rounds Eight & Nine. Saints have lost just once at Franklin’s Gardens in any tournament since October: 14-16 to Newcastle in Round Nine of the Premiership.
Bristol Bears three-game losing run in all competitions ended with their home win over Gloucester last Friday. The Bears have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since their single point victory at Sale on New Year’s Day 2017.
Northampton have won their last seven matches against Bristol in all tournaments since the Bears 14-13 victory at Memorial Stadium in the Premiership in November 2008. Bristol’s only victory at Franklin’s Gardens since 2001 was in January 2007.
Northampton: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 James Grayson, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Mitch Eadie, 7 Lewis Ludlam, 6 Tom Wood (captain), 5 David Ribbans, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Reece Marshall, 1 Francois van Wyk.
Replacements: 16 James Fish, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Luther Burrell, 23 Tom Collins.
Bristol: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau (co-captain), 11 Luke Daniels, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Jordan Crane (co-captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Steve Luatua, 5 Chris Vui, 4 Joe Batley, 3 John Afoa, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Yann Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Lewis Thiede, 19 George Smith, 20 Jack Lam, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Mat Protheroe.
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant referees: Wayne Falla, Robert Warburton
TMO: Sean Davey
Worcester Warriors v Exeter Chiefs
(Sixways, Worcester – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors have won just twice in the last seven rounds of the Premiership, were both last gasp victories at Sixways, against Bath and Leicester. The Warriors have lost only twice at Sixways since September, to Northampton in Round 10 of the Premiership and against Saracens in the semifinal of the Premiership Rugby Cup.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last two Premiership encounters, at home to Newcastle and away to Sale, but have not won three in a row since November. The Chiefs victory at Sale last weekend ended a three-game losing run on the road in the Premiership.
Exeter’s only defeat to Worcester in their thirteen previous Premiership meetings was 5-6 at Sandy Park, 13 months ago. The Chiefs lost on their most recent visit to Sixways, 21-31 in last season’s Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Ryan Mills (captain), 11 Tom Howe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Isaac Miller, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Pierce Phillips, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Jono Lance, 23 Ollie Lawrence.
Exeter: 15 Santiago Cordero, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Sean Lonsdale, 21 Nic White, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Michael Hudson, Matthew O’Grady
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Sunday, March 10:
Harlequins v Gloucester
(Twickenham Stoop, London – Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT)
Harlequins have won their last five Premiership matches since their defeat at Leicester on December 22, they have not won six in a row in the tournament in the same season since 2011/12. Harlequins have not lost at Twickenham Stoop in Premiership Rugby since Saracens were the visitors on October 6.
Gloucester’s last four matches in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day. Gloucester are yet to win away from home in 2019 with their most recent victory on their travels being on a visit to Newcastle on December 23.
Harlequins only defeat to Gloucester in their last five encounters was 9-37 at Kingsholm in April 2018, whilst Gloucester’s most recent victory against ‘Quins at The Stoop in the Premiership was in September 2006, although they did beat Edinburgh there in the European Challenge Cup final in 2015.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Ross Chisholm, 10 James Lang, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw (co-captain), 6 Jack Clifford, 5 James Horwill (cc), 4 Matt Symons, 3 Will Collier, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Lewis Boyce.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 George Merrick, 20 James Chisholm, 21 Niall Saunders, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Alofa Alofa.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Franco Marais, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Freddie Clarke, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Matt Banahan.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Hamish Smales, Paul Dix
TMO: David Rose