PREVIEW: Premiership, Round 18
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: With five rounds left of Premiership Rugby action there is still plenty to play for, and Round 18 promises to be another cracker.
It all starts on Friday as Sale Sharks welcome Harlequins to the AJ Bell Stadium, with the visitors hoping to cling on to their top-four spot following back-to-back League defeats. And with Sale just nine points behind fourth-placed Quins in sixth the hosts will be hoping to make it three home wins on the bounce to stay in the semi-final hunt themselves.
Attentions then turn to Saturday and Twickenham Stadium as local rivals Bath Rugby and Bristol Bears do battle in The Clash. Bristol have won their last two matches against Bath but have not won three in a row against their local rivals since 2005. Bath, meanwhile, will be hoping Rugby HQ is kind to them again having beaten Leicester Tigers there in 2017 in the inaugural Clash.
As for Leicester Tigers, they are the next game on Saturday as they host Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road, with the visitors leading the League and having already secured a top-four finish.
There are two more games on Saturday as Newcastle Falcons travel to Saracens with the hosts looking to make it 20 straight victories at Allianz Park in all competitions, while Wasps and Worcester Warriors battle it out at the Ricoh Arena.
And the round concludes on Sunday as fifth-place Northampton Saints welcome third-place Gloucester Rugby to Franklin’s Gardens in a game which could have ramifications for who finishes in the top four come the end of the season.
Friday, April 5
Sale Sharks v Harlequins
(AJ Bell Stadium, 19.45)
Sale Sharks record in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby is won three, lost three. The Sharks have won their last two matches at AJ Bell Stadium, against Leicester in Premiership Rugby and Connacht in the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup.
Harlequins have slipped to two straight defeats in Gallagher Premiership Rugby, at home to Gloucester and away at Saracens. ‘Quins have won four of their last five away games in all tournaments.
The last seven meetings between the two clubs in Premiership Rugby have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Harlequins most recent victory at AJ Bell Stadium was 25-23 in April 2015.
Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Beaumont, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 5 James Phillips, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Valery Morozov, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Josh Strauss, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Arron Reed
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Alofa Alofa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Jack Clifford, 5 James Horwill , 4 Matt Symons, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Max Crumpton, 1 Lewis Boyce
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Mat Luamanu, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Francis Saili
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Peter Allan.
TMO: Stuart Terheege.
Saturday, April 6
Bath Rugby v Bristol Bears
(Twickenham Stadium, 14.00)
Bath Rugby’s only victory in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was 18-9 over Saracens at the Recreation Ground in round 16. Bath have won just once on their last three visits to Twickenham Stadium: 27-21 against Leicester in the inaugural ‘Clash’ in 2017.
Bristol Bears have won just twice in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby, in successive matches, at home to Gloucester and away at Northampton Saints early last month. The Bears solitary victory in their last six visits to Twickenham Stadium since 1983 was in the Pilkington Challenge Cup Final against Waterloo in 2004. Their only previous visit to Twickenham in Premiership Rugby was a 19-21 defeat in the London Double Header in September 2016.
Bristol have won their last two matches against Bath, both at Ashton Gate in Premiership Rugby, but have not won three in a row against their nearest rivals in the tournament since 2005.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Kahn Fotuali’I, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels (captain), 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Nathan Catt
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Miles Reid, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Max Clark
Bristol: 15 Luke Daniels, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Alapati Leiua, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steve Luatua, 5 Chris Vui, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 John Afoa, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jake Woolmore
Replacements: 16 Nick Fenton-Wells, 17 James Lay, 18 Lewis Thiede, 19 Jack Lam, 20 George Smith, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Tusi Pisi
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Wayne Falla.
TMO: Rowan Kitt.
Saracens v Newcastle Falcons
(Allianz Park, 15.00)
Saracens record in Premiership Rugby since early December is won four, lost four. Saracens have won their last nineteen home games in all tournaments since Leicester beat then at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby in February 2018.
Newcastle Falcons have won their last three matches, against Worcester, Wasps and Sale, but still occupy 12th spot in the table, a position they’ve held since round 6. The Falcons single point victory atWasps in round 16 was their first win on the road in Gallagher Premiership Rugby since 1 December at Northampton.
Saracens have won their last twenty fixtures against Newcastle in all tournaments since the Falcons 13-9 victory at Kingston Park in Premiership Rugby a decade ago. Newcastle’s most recent victory on Saracens soil was at Vicarage Road in December 2007.
Saracens: 15 Max Malins, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Mike Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Tom Woolstencroft, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Ralph Adams-Hale, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Dom Morris, 23 Alex Lewington
Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Callum Chick, 7 John Hardie, 6 Gary Graham, 5 Andrew Davidson, 4 Evan Olmstead, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Logovi’i Mulipola
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Sam Lockwood, 18 David Wilson, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Will Witty, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Alex Dunbar
Referee: Karl Dickson
Assistant Referees: George Selwood & Steve Lee.
TMO: David Rose.
Wasps v Worcester Warriors
(Ricoh Arena, 15.00)
Wasps only victory in any competition since early January was 29-22 against Bristol Bears at Ashton Gate in round 13 of Premiership Rugby. Wasps have won just twice at Ricoh Arena since September, both in Premiership Rugby, against Bristol in round 8 and Northampton Saints in Round 12.
Worcester Warriors won their most recent Premiership Rugby fixture against Bristol at Ashton Gate, but have not managed back-to-back victories in the tournament for over twelve months, whilst they have not won successive away games in Premiership Rugby since March 2016.
Wasps have won their last nine fixtures against Worcester in Premiership Rugby since the Warriors 29-23 win at Sixways six years ago. Worcester’s most recent victory on Wasps soil was 6-0 at Adam’s Park on New Year’s Day 2012.
Wasps: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes,: 7 Nizaam Carr, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Zurabi Zhvania
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Ben Morris, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Rob Miller, 23 Juan de Jongh
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Tom Howe, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Ryan Mills (captain), 11 Josh Adams, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Callum Black
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Francois Venter, 23 Scott van Breda
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Andrew Jackson & Philip Watters.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs
(Welford Road, 16.30)
Leicester Tigers only victory in their last eight first team games was 19-14 at home to Wasps in round 15 of Premiership Rugby. Tigers record at Welford Road this season in Premiership Rugby is won five, lost three.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last four Premiership Rugby matches since their 17-24 defeat at Gloucester in round 13. The Chiefs have won three of their last four away games in all tournaments.
Leicester have beaten Exeter just once in their last five encounters in Premiership Rugby, 20-13 at Welford Road in round 5 last season.
Leicester: 15 Matt Toomua, 14 Jonny May, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 George Ford, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Brendon O’Connor, 7 Mike Williams, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 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 Valentino Mapapalangi, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Ben White, 22 Gareth Owen, 23 Sam Aspland-Robinson
Exeter: 15 Santiago Cordero, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Ollie Atkins, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Sean Lonsdale, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Sam Hill, 23 Ian Whitten
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Roy Maybank.
TMO: Geoff Warren.
Sunday, April 7
Northampton Saints v Gloucester Rugby
(Franklin’s Gardens, 15.00)
Northampton Saints only victory in the last three rounds of Premiership Rugby came in their most recent match at Leicester on 22 March. The Saints have been defeated just once in any tournament at Franklin’s Gardens since early December; 24-26 to Bristol in round 16 of Gallagher Premiership Rugby.
Gloucester Rugby have lost just once in the last five rounds of Premiership Rugby: 24-28 at Bristol on 1 March. The Cherry & Whites have won their last two matches in the competition but have not won three in a row since December 2017. Gloucester’s three away wins in Premiership Rugby this season were at Wasps in round 6 Newcastle in round 10 and Harlequins in Round 16.
Gloucester’s only two victories over Northampton in Premiership Rugby since 2013 were both at Kingsholm, the Cherry & Whites have not been won at Franklin’s Gardens since February 2013.
Northampton: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison (captain), 7 Heinrich Brüssow, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Reece Marshall, 1 Francois van Wyk
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Luther Burrell, 23 Ken Pisi
Gloucester: 15 Tom Hudson, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Charlie Sharples, 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 Mike Sherry, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Jake Polledri, 22 Callum Braley, 23 Tom Seabrook
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Matthew O’Grady & Paul Dix.
TMO: David Grashoff.