Preview: Premiership, Round 21
DOWN TO THE WIRE: Incredibly there are nine teams still in the hunt for a place in the Premiership Rugby semi-finals with just two rounds to go.
In one of the most competitive seasons on record the penultimate weekend kicks off where it all started back in September, at Ashton Gate. This time Sale Sharks are the visitors with both teams also battling for a place in the top six, to guarantee qualification for next season’s Champions Cup.
It is a #FridayNightLights double header this weekend with Harlequins also hosting Leicester Tigers. Either the Tigers or Newcastle Falcons will be relegated to the Greene King IPA Championship next season, following London Irish’s promotion. The Tigers need two points to guarantee their safety at the Twickenham Stoop.
The re-run of last year’s Premiership Rugby Final stands out on Saturday, with the Saracens versus Exeter Chiefs clash staged at Allianz Park.
Matches at Kingsholm Stadium and Franklin’s Gardens complete the fixtures on Saturday, with Round 21 ending at the Recreation Ground.
Friday, May 3
Bristol Bears v Sale Sharks
(Ashton Gate, 19.45)
Bristol Bears have won their last two Premiership Rugby matches but have not won three in a row in the tournament for 12 years. The Bears have lost two of their last six fixtures at Ashton Gate in Premiership Rugby, to Wasps in round 13 and to Worcester in round 17. Sale Sharks last five games in Premiership Rugby have all been won by the home side on the day.
The Sharks only away win in any competition in 2019 was 24-18 at Wasps in round 14. Sale’s only defeat in their last seven fixtures with Bristol in Premiership Rugby was 23-24 at AJ Bell Stadium on New Year’s Day 2017. The Sharks were victorious on their only previous visit to Ashton Gate in Premiership Rugby: 31-13 in October 2016.
Bristol: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Tom Pincus, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Alapati Leiua, 10 Callum Sheedy (co-captain), 9 Andy Uren, 8 Nick Haining, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steve Luatua (co-captain), 5 Chris Vui, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 John Afoa, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Yann Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Nick Fenton-Wells, 17 James Lay, 18 Lewis Thiede, 19 Jordan Crane, 20 George Smith, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Daniels.
Sale: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 James O’Connor, 11 Chris Ashton, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jono Ross (captain), 7 Tom Curry, 6 Ben Curry, 5 James Phillips, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Valery Morozov, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Matt Postlethwaite, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Arron Reed.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Paul Dix.
TMO: David Grashoff
Harlequins v Leicester Tigers
(Twickenham Stoop 19.45)
Harlequins have lost their last five Premiership Rugby fixtures since beating Bath at the Recreation Ground 31-29 on 2 March. Two of those defeats were at Twickenham Stoop, where they have not lost three in a row in the same season in the tournament since 2006. Leicester Tigers only victory in the last five rounds of Premiership Rugby was 27-22 at Newcastle in round 19.
Tigers only other ‘away’ win this season in Premiership Rugby was against Northampton at Twickenham Stadium in October. Leicester have won their last five matches against Harlequins since their 19-25 reversal at The Stoop in February 2016.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Gabriel Ibitoye, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Charlie Walker, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Chris Robshaw (co-captain), 6 Alex Dombrandt, 5 James Horwill (co-captain), 4 Mat Symons, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Nic Auterac, 18 Will Collier, 19 Stan South, 20 Semi Kunatani, 21 Sam Hildago-Clyne, 22 James Lang, 23 Ross Chisholm.
Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Sam Aspland-Robinson, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford (captain), 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Will Spencer, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Brendon O’Connor, 21 Ben White, 22 George Worth, 23 Jordan Olowofela.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys & JP Doyle.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Saturday, May 4
Gloucester Rugby v Newcastle Falcons
Gloucester’s 20-27 defeat at Worcester on Sunday ended a four-game winning run. The Cherry & Whites have won their last four encounters at Kingsholm in Premiership Rugby but have not won five in a row at the famous venue since February 2018. Newcastle Falcons have slipped to three straight defeats in Premiership Rugby since beating Sale 22-17 in ‘The Big One’ at St James’ Park on 23 March. The Tynesiders have won only once away from home in Premiership Rugby since December, and that was by a single point at Wasps in round 16.
The last three matches between the two clubs in Premiership Rugby have all been won by the away side on the day. Newcastle have won on their last two visits to Kingsholm in the tournament – the only opposing side to have won three in a row at the famous venue being Bath with five successive wins between 2014 and 2018.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Ben Morgan (captain), 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 Lewis Ludlow, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Lloyd Evans, 23 Henry Purdy.
Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Michael Young, 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 Gary Graham, 6 Callum Chick, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Rodney Ah You, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Logovi’i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 Santiago Socino, 17 Sam Lockwood, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Will Witty, 20 Jamie Blamire, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 George Wacokecoke.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Simon McConnell.
TMO: Keith Lewis
Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors
(Franklin’s Gardens, 15.00)
Northampton Saints have won their last two Premiership Rugby fixtures, both on the road, at Harlequins and Newcastle, but have not won three in a row in the tournament since September 2017. Saints have lost their last two Premiership Rugby matches at Franklin’s Gardens, against Bristol and Gloucester.
Worcester Warriors have won their last two Premiership Rugby encounters, both at home, to Sale and Gloucester, but have not won three in a row in the competition since March 2016. The Warriors only away win in Premiership Rugby since September was 27-25 at Bristol in round 17.
Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Tom Collins, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Reece Marshall, 1 Alex Waller (captain).
Replacements: 16 Samson Ma’asi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Alex Coles, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Ken Pisi.
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 GJ van Velze (captain), 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Ethan Waller.
Replacements: 16 Jack Singleton, 17 Callum Black, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Michael Fatialofa 20 Andrew Kitchener, 21 Ted Hill, 22 Michael Heaney, 23 Jono Lance.
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant Referees: Steve Lee & Philip Watters.
TMO: Claire Hodnett
Saracens v Exeter Chiefs
(Allianz Park, 15.00)
Saracens only defeat in their last six fixtures in all tournaments was 21-23 away to Bristol in round 19 of Premiership Rugby.
Saracens have won their last twenty home games in all competitions since Leicester beat them at Allianz Park in February 2018. Exeter Chiefs only reversal in their last seven matches was 19-26 at home to Wasps in round 19. All of the Chiefs three away defeats in Premiership Rugby this season came in successive trips to Harlequins, Northampton and Gloucester, between November and February.
Exeter’s only defeat to Saracens in their last seven matches in all competitions came in last season’s Premiership Rugby final at Twickenham, Stadium with a 10-27 scoreline. The Chiefs record on their last four visits to Allianz Park is won two, drawn one lost one.
Saracens: 15 Matt Gallagher, 14 Rotimi Segun, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Alex Lewington 10 Max Malins, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Calum Clark, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Nick Isiekwe, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Dom Day, 20 Sean, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Manu Vunipola, 23 Dom Morris.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Max Bodilly, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Alex Cuthbert, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Tom Lawday, 7 Richard Capstick, 6 Sean Lonsdale, 5 Josh Caulfield, 4 Ollie Atkins, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Toby Salmon, 20 Onehunga Kaufusi, 21 Sam Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Tom Hendrickson.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Robert Warburton & Jonathan Healy.
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Sunday, May 5
Bath Rugby v Wasps
(Recreation Ground, 15.00)
Bath Rugby’s last five matches have all been won by the home side on the day. Bath have lost just twice at home in Premiership Rugby this season, to Exeter in round 6 and to Harlequins in round 15. Wasps only two victories in the last seven rounds of Premiership Rugby were in successive matches at home to Worcester and away at Exeter in rounds 18 and 19. Wasps only other away win in the tournament since September was at Bristol on 15 February.
The two clubs have already met three times this season with Wasps yet to record a victory, sharing a 35-all draw at the Ricoh Arena in the European Champions Cup, Bath winning at the Recreation Ground in the return fixtures and also triumphant in round 10 of Premiership Rugby. Wasps have won on their last three visits to the Recreation Ground in Premiership Rugby, only Leicester (between 1999 and 2003) and Saracens (2009-2014) are the only opponents to have won four successive Premiership Rugby matches at the venue.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Will Chudley, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels (captain), 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Sam Nixon, 19 Levi Douglas, 20 Elliott Stooke, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Alex Davies, 23 Max Wright.
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 Nathan Hughes, 7 Nizaam Carr, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Simon McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Ashley Johnson, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Ross Neal.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Wayne Falla.
TMO: Rowan Kitt