Preview: Premiership, Round Eight
TWISTS AND TURNS: Exeter Chiefs ended 2019 top of the Premiership pile, but in the first round of the New Year it is anyone’s guess as to which four teams will contest the semifinals in June.
While the Chiefs are top, Northampton Saints are just one point further back.
Gloucester is in third and Harlequins in eighth are separated by just a single point too.
That means that Round Eight could have major consequences, and it all gets underway on Friday – as Sale Sharks host Harlequins at the AJ Bell Stadium.
On Saturday Bristol Bears travel to Leicester Tigers, before a West Country derby – as Gloucester welcome Bath to Kingsholm.
Also on Saturday are Saracens and Worcester Warriors, who do battle at Allianz Park.
Round Eight then concludes with two Sunday games – as London Irish host league-leaders Exeter Chiefs, before Northampton Saints travel to the Ricoh Arena to take on Wasps.
We look at all the Round Eight action!
Friday, January 3
Sale Sharks v Harlequins
(AJ Bell Stadium – Kick-off: 19.45)
Sale Sharks only victory in their last five matches in all competitions was 22-10 at home to Northampton Saints in Round Six of Premiership.
The Sharks’ only defeat in their last seven Premiership matches at AJ Bell Stadium was 16-18 to Gloucester on the opening weekend of this campaign.
Harlequins are unbeaten in their last three Premiership encounters since their 14-19 reversal to Worcester Warriors at Twickenham Stoop on 9 November.
Harlequins’ 28-22 victory at Wasps in Round Six ended a run of six straight away defeats in the competition.
The last eight clashes between the two clubs in Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day. Harlequins’ most recent victory at AJ Bell Stadium was in April 2015.
Sale: 15 Luke James, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain) 5 Jean-Luc du Preez, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Will-Griff John, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Valery Morozov, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 James Phillips, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Gus Warr, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Marland Yarde.
Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Gabriel Ibitoye, 13 Cadan Murley, 12 Paul Lasike, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Tom Lawday, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 James Chisholm, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Jack Musk, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Will Collier, 19 Tevita Cavubati, 20 Semi Kunatani, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Brett Herron, 23 Aaron Morris.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant referees: Andrew Jackson & Steve Lee.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Saturday, January 4
Leicester Tigers v Bristol Bears
(Welford Road – Kick-off: 13.00)
Leicester Tigers’ only victory in their last 10 Premiership matches was 16-13 against Gloucester in Round Three.
The Tigers’ defeat to Exeter in their most recent home game on 21 December ended a run of three successive wins at Welford Road.
Bristol Bears are without a win in the last three rounds of Premiership since beating Exeter at Sandy Park on 10 November.
The Bears have won four of their last seven away games in Premiership.
Bristol has won their last two matches against Leicester but have never won three in succession against the Tigers in Premiership.
Bristol has won just twice at Welford Road since 1987, in the Zurich Championship quarter final in 2002 and last year’s round 20 encounter in Premiership.
Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Jordan Olowofela, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Jordan Taufua, 6 Harry Wells, 5 Calum Green, 4 Tomás Lavanini, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Nephi Leatigaga, 19 Guy Thompson, 20 Tommy Reffell, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Noel Reid, 23 George Worth.
Bristol: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Toby Fricker, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Will Hurrell, 11 Alapati Leiua, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 5 Ed Holmes, 4 Chris Vui, 3 John Afoa, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jordan Lay.
Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Jake Heenan, 21 Nic Stirzaker, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Luke Morahan.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Michael Hudson & Jonathan Healy.
TMO: Nigel Carrick
Gloucester v Bath
(Kingsholm – Kick-off: 15.00)
Gloucester has won just one of their last five Premiership fixtures: 36-3 at home to Worcester in Round Six.
Gloucester’s solitary home defeat in Premiership at Kingsholm since December 2018 was against Saracens on 9 November.
Bath have won their last two Premiership encounters, at London Irish and at home to Sale Sharks, but have not won three in succession in the competition since November 2016.
Bath’s only away win in Premiership this season was on their most recent trip, to London Irish in Round Six.
Gloucester has lost just one of their last four fixtures against Bath in Premiership: 2043 at Kingsholm in April 2018.
Bath have won on seven of their last eight visits to Kingsholm to face Gloucester in all competitions.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Freddie Clarke, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Alex Craig, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Todd Gleave, 17 Alex Seville, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Gerbrandt Grobler, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Louis Rees-Zammit.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Francois Louw (captain), 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Josh McNally, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Ollie Fox, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Aled Brew.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Roy Maybank.
TMO: David Rose.
Saracens v Worcester Warriors
(Allianz Park – Kick-off: 15.00)
Saracens’ defeat at Exeter last Sunday was their first in Premiership since they tripped up at home to Northampton on the opening round of this season.
That was Saracens’ first defeat at Allianz Park in Premiership since Leicester won there in February 2018.
Worcester Warriors have lost just one of their last four Premiership encounters: 3-36 at Gloucester in Round Six.
The Warriors have won only once away from home in Premiership since March: 19-14 at Harlequins in Round Four.
Worcester beat Saracens 31-29 at Sixways in May to end a three-game losing streak against the Londoners in Premiership.
Worcester’s only previous victory on Saracens soil was 20-17 at Vicarage Road in Premiership in November 2006.
Saracens: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Ben Earl, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Titi Lamositele, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jack Singleton, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Joel Kpoku, 20 Jackson Wray, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Manu Vunipola, 23 Duncan Taylor.
Worcester: 15 Jamie Shillcock, 14 Ed Fidow, 13 Ashley Beck, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Tom Howe, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Michael Heaney, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Richard Palframan, 2 Matt Moulds (captain), 1 Callum Black.
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Conor Carey, 19 Michael Fatialofa, 20 Marco Mama, 21 Francois Hougaard, 22 Scott van Breda, 23 Ollie Lawrence.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Adam Leal & Philip Watters.
TMO: Claire Hodnett.
Sunday, January 5
London Irish v Exeter Chiefs
(Madejski Stadium – Kick-off: 14.30)
London Irish have won just one game since Round One of Premiership: 36-11 at home to Leicester on 10 November.
This is the Exiles’ only home victory in the competition since February 2018.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last three Premiership fixtures since slipping up at home to Bristol in Round Four.
Chiefs have won their last four away games in all tournaments since their 10-13 reversal at Bath in Round Two of Premiership.
Chiefs have lost only one of their last eleven Premiership meetings with London Irish: 26-28 at Madejski Stadium on 11 January 2015.
London Irish: 15 Alivereti Veitokani, 14 Belgium Tuatagaloa, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Albert Tuisue, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Steve Mafi, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Franco van der Merwe (czptain), 3 Ollie Hoskins, 2 Saia Fainga’a, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Lovejoy Chawatama, 19 Barney Maddison, 20 Matt Rogerson, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Jacob Atkins, 23 Bryce Campbell.
Exeter: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Dave Dennis (captain), 4 Jannes Kirsten, 3 Enrique Pieretto, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Elvis Taione, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Sean Lonsdale, 20 Matt Kvesic, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Phil Dollman.
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald & Tim Wigglesworth.
TMO: Geoff Warren.
Wasps v Northampton Saints
(Ricoh Arena – Kick-off: 15.00)
Wasps doubled their tally of Premiership wins this season with their thrilling last gasp 26-21 victory at Bristol last Friday.
Wasps have lost their last two matches at the Ricoh Arena, against Edinburgh in the European Challenge Cup and Harlequins in Round Six of Premiership.
Northampton Saints last six matches in Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day, since they beat Saracens at Allianz Park on the opening weekend.
Wasps’ only loss in their last eight meetings with Northampton in Premiership was 17-36 at Franklin’s Gardens in November 2018.
The Saints have played seven previous matches at Ricoh Arena in all tournaments (six against Wasps) and won only once, and that by a single point in the Premiership Cup in November 2018.
Wasps: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Michael Le Bourgeois, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Tom West.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Jack Owlett, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 Thibaud Flament, 20 Sione Vailanu, 21 Will Porter, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Juan de Jongh.
Northampton: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison (co-captain), 7 Tom Wood, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 David Ribbans, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller (co-captain).
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Jack Makepeace & Hamish Smales.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Preview by @premrugby