Preview: Premiership, Round 17
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: One of the tightest races in Premiership Rugby history continues with the weekend opening at Welford Road on Friday, a huge crowd heading to see the arrival of the Tigers most fierce rivals, Northampton Saints.
The derby is one of four matches on a bumper weekend of action, moving into Saturday with matches from Ashton Gate, London Stadium, Kingsholm Stadium and St James’ Park. The games between Saracens and Harlequins and Newcastle Falcons and Sale Sharks are the double-header.
That will bring a breathless afternoon for Premiership Rugby fans, the weekend ending with another red-letter day as Bath Rugby make the short journey to Sandy Park for an eagerly-awaited west country derby.
Friday, March 22
Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints
(Welford Road, 19.45)
Leicester Tigers only victory in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was 19-14 at home to Wasps in round 15. The Tigers have won their last three home games in Premiership Rugby, their best run in the tournament since December 2016.
Northampton Saints have lost their last two Gallagher Premiership Rugby encounters but have not lost three in a row since last April. The Saints are yet to win away from home in any tournament in 2019 with their most recent victory on the road being at Worcester in round 10 of Premiership Rugby.
Northampton have won two of their last three matches against Leicester in Premiership Rugby, although the Tigers were victorious when the two met at Twickenham last October.
Leicester: 15 Jordan Olowofela, 14 Sam Aspland-Robinson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Guy Thompson, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Will Spencer, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Mike Fitzgerald, 21 Ben White, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 Gareth Owen
Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Tom Collins, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison (captain), 7 Heinrich Brüssow, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Paul Hill, 2 James Fish, 1 Francois van Wyk
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Ben Franks, 19 James Craig, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Andrew Kellaway, 23 George Furbank
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Paul Dix.
TMO: Graham Hughes
Saturday, March 23
Bristol Bears v Worcester Warriors
(Ashton Gate, 15.00)
Bristol Bears have won their last two matches, against Gloucester and Northampton, but have not won three in a row in Gallagher Premiership Rugby since season 2006-07. The Bears only defeat in their last four Premiership Rugby games at Ashton Gate was 22-29 to Wasps in round 13.
Worcester Warriors have lost their last two Premiership Rugby fixtures since beating Leicester at Sixways on 24 February.
Worcester have lost their last six away games in Premiership Rugby since beating Leicester at Welford Road on 23 September. Worcester beat Bristol at Sixways in round 6 but have not achieved a league double against the Bears since they won all four encounters they played in the RFU Championship in season 2010/11. The two clubs have met on three previous occasions at Ashton Gate with Warriors only victory being by a single point in the first leg of the RFU Championship final in May 2015.
Bristol Bears: 15 Luke Daniels, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau (co-captain), 11 Tom Pincus, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Jordan Crane (co-captain), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Steve Luatua, 5 Chris Vui, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 Lewis Thiede, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jake Woolmore.
Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 John Afoa, 19 Joe Batley, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Mat Protheroe.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Ryan Mills (captain), 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Anton Brelser, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Pierce Philips, 20 Carl Kirwan, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Will Butler.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley & Thomas Foley.
TMO: Rowan Kitt.
Saracens v Harlequins
(London Stadium, 15.00)
Saracens are in second place in the table despite their record in the last seven rounds of Premiership Rugby being won three, lost four. Saracens have won their last seventeen home games in all tournaments including their only previous visit to London Stadium, beating Harlequins there 364 days ago.
Harlequins five game winning run in Premiership Rugby ended with their 7-29 home defeat to Gloucester in round 16. Quins have won their last two away games in Premiership Rugby, at Newcastle and at Bath, but have not won three in a row on their travels since February 2013. Saracens beat Harlequins 25-20 at Twickenham Stoop in round 6 but have not achieved a Premiership Rugby double over their London rivals since 2014-15.
Saracens: 15 Liam Williams, 14 David Strettle, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Goode, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Titi Lamositele.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Joel Kpoku, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Max Malins, 23 Nick Tompkins.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Ross Chisholm, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw (co-captain), 6 Jack Clifford, 5 James Horwill (co-captain), 4 Matt Symons, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Renaldo Bothma, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Demetri Catrakilis, 23 Alofa Alofa.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Roy Maybank.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Gloucester Rugby v Wasps
Gloucester Rugby’s only defeat in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was away at Bristol in 1 March. The Cherry & Whites have lost just once at Kingsholm in Premiership Rugby since September: 15-30 to Sale Sharks in round 11.
Wasps only victory in their last seven first team matches was 29-22 at Bristol in round 13 of Premiership Rugby. This is their only away victory in any competition since the end of September. Gloucester beat Wasps 35-21 at the Ricoh Arena in round 6 but have not achieved a Premiership Rugby double over them since 2010/11. Wasps most recent victory at Kingsholm was in December 2014.
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 Franco Marais, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Henry Walker, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Freddie Clarke, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Matt Banahan, 23 Charlie Sharples.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Rob Miller, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Nizaam Carr, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Zurabi Zhvania.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Ashley Johnson, 21 Will Porter, 22 Jacob Umaga, 23 Josh Bassett.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Simon McConnell.
TMO: Stuart Terheege.
Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks
(St James’ Park, 17.30)
Newcastle Falcons have won their last two matches, against Worcester and Wasps but have not won three in a row in Premiership Rugby for twelve months. Newcastle’s home record in Premiership Rugby this season is won two, lost five, but this is only their second visit to St James’ Park where twelve months ago they beat Northampton Saints 25-22.
Sale Sharks have lost only two of their last nine Premiership Rugby matches, at Northampton in round 13 and at home to Exeter in round 15. The Sharks only defeat in their last four away games in Premiership Rugby was 17-67 at Northampton on 16 February. Sale beat Newcastle at AJ Bell Stadium in round 6 but have not achieved a Premiership Rugby double over them since 2014-15.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 John Hardie, 6 Mark Wilson (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 Gary Graham, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Johnny Williams.
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Sam James, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Ben Curry, 6 Tom Curry, 5 James Phillips, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon,17 Tom Bristow, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Gus Warr, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Arron Reed.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal & Wayne Falla.
TMO: Sean Davey.
Sunday, March 24
Exeter Chiefs v Bath Rugby
(Sandy Park, 15.00)
Exeter Chiefs have won their last three matches since their 17-24 reversal at Gloucester in round 13 of Premiership Rugby. The Chiefs have not lost at home in Premiership Rugby since Worcester visited Sandy Park in February 2018.
Bath Rugby’s record in Premiership Rugby since the turn of the new year is won two lost three. Bath’s only away win in any competition since mid-September was 24-14 over Wasps in Premiership Rugby at Ricoh Arena on 23 December. The Chiefs have won their last four fixtures against Bath in Premiership Rugby since Bath’s 13-11 victory at Sandy Park in October 2016.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Santiago Cordero, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Nic White, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Sam Skinner, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Will Chudley (captain), 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Levi Douglas, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Max Clark.
Referee: Karl Dickson
Assistant Referees: Philip Watters & Jonathan Healy.
TMO: Keith Lewis.