Preview: Premiership, Round Nine
Premiership action returns this weekend and things heat up with a host of intriguing Round Nine fixtures.
The log-leading Harlequins kick-off the round as they travel to the Recreation Ground to take on an inconsistent Bath side sporting a 50 percent win record this season.
Second-placed Saracens are also in action on Friday and will look to pick up maximum points against the Warriors which could see them move to the top of the standings.
History will be made on Saturday when the Northampton Saints and London Welsh meet for the first time in the Premiership at Franklin's Gardens while London Wasps will face a tough home assignment against the Leicester Tigers on Sunday.
We look at all the Round Nine action!
Friday, November 23:
Bath v Harlequins
(Recreation Ground – 19.45 GMT)
Bath's only defeat in their last six matches at The Rec in all competitions was a 14-18 loss to Northampton Saints in Premiership action on September 14, and they have not tallied a four-try bonus point in the Premiership since March.
Harlequins have won their last six encounters in all competitions, and have lost just once away from home this season, a 28-42 Premiership defeat at Exeter on October 6.
Harlequins have won their last three clashes with Bath including a 21-12 victory last Friday at the Twickenham Stoop in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Kyle Eastmond, 13 Semesa Rokoduguni, 12 Matt Banahan, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Josh Ovens, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Charlie Beech.
Replacements: 16 Brett Sheehan, 17 Alan Cotter, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Ryan Caldwell, 21 Will Skuse, 22 Mark McMillan, 23 Jack Cuthbert.
Harlequins: 15 Tom Williams, 14 Ugo Monye, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Karl Dickson, 8 Nick Easter (captain), 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Tom Guest, 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 Will Collier, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Mark Lambert.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Pete Browne, 20 Joe Trayfoot, 21 Jordan Burns, 22 Rory Clegg, 23 Seb Stegmann.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Paul Burton, Andrew Pearce
TMO: David Grashoff
Worcester Warriors v Saracens
(Sixways – 20.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors' last five games in all competitions have all been won by the home side on the day. The Warriors are unbeaten in their last five matches at Sixways since their 23-24 reversal there to Bath on September 1.
Saracens' 23-25 defeat at Sale Sharks in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on Friday ended a seven-game winning run in all tournaments. Sarries’ only defeat on the road in Premiership rugby this season was a 12-14 loss at Exeter Chiefs in Round Four.
Worcester won the most recent encounter between the two clubs 16-11 at Sixways on February 24, whilst Saracens have not won at Sixways since October 6, 2007.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Nikki Walker, 13 Josh Matavesi, 12 Joe Carlisle, 11 Errie Claassens, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Paul Hodgson, 8 Semisi Taulava, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Neil Best, 5 Chris Jones, 4 James Percival (captain), 3 John Andress, 2 Ed Shervington, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Rob O'Donnell, 18 James Currie, 19 Dean Schofield, 20 Sam Betty, 21 Jonny Arr, 22 Alex Grove, 23 Andy Short.
Saracens: 15 Ben Ransom, 14 David Strettle, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Kameli Ratuvou, 11 Duncan Taylor, 10 Nils Mordt, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Ernst Joubert, 7 Andy Saull, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Carlos Nieto, 2 Jamie George, 1 Matt Stevens.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Lorenzo Romano 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 Will Fraser, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Sam Stanley, 23 James Short.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Paul Dix, Robin Goodliffe
Saturday, November 24:
Gloucester v Sale Sharks
(Kingsholm – 12.00 GMT)
Gloucester tripped up to table-topping Harlequins in Round Eight of the Premiership – only their second defeat in the competition this season.
Gloucester have won their last six competitive matches at Kingsholm since Northampton won there on September 1.
Sale Sharks beat Saracens 25-23 at the Salford City Stadium in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on Friday but have not won back-to-back games since April.
The Sharks opened their winning account in this season's Premiership with a 21-9 home victory over London Irish in Round Eight.
Sale achieved the Premiership double over Gloucester in 2011/12.
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Shane Monahan, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Tom Savage, 5 Jim Hamilton (captain), 4 Will James, 3 Rupert Harden, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Dan Murphy.
Replacements: 16 Koree Britton, 17 Nick Wood, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 Peter Buxton, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Tim Molenaar, 23 Martyn Thomas.
Sale Sharks: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Charlie Amesbury, 13 Will Addison, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Andy Powell, 7 David Seymour (captain), 6 Richie Vernon, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Fraser McKenzie, 3 Tony Buckley, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Joe Ward, 17 Eifion Lewis-Roberts, 18 Vadim Cobilas, 19 Tom Holmes, 20 James Gaskell, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Nick Macleod, 23 Cameron Shepherd.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Stuart Terheege, Ashley Rowden
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Northampton Saints v London Welsh
(Franklin's Gardens – 13.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints' unwanted four-game losing run ended at Newport Gwent Dragons in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on Sunday.
The Saints have slipped to three successive defeats in the Premiership – their worst run for twelve months.
Northampton have lost their last two games at Franklin's Gardens but have not lost three in a row at the famous old ground since 2007.
London Welsh beat Bath 16-9 at Kassam Stadium in Round Eight. The Exiles have lost their last two away games in all competitions.
This is the two clubs' first ever meeting in the Premiership, but Northampton have won the last four matches between the two in lower leagues and cups.
London Welsh's most recent competitive victory over the Saints was a 16-14 win in a League Division Two match at Franklin's Gardens on January 2, 1988.
Northampton Saints: 15 Tom May, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Dom Waldouck, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Martin Roberts, 8 GJ Van Velze, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Calum Clark (captain) 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Soane Tonga'uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Rhys Oakley, 21 Alex Day, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Vasily Artmeyev.
London Welsh: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Dan Caprice, 13 Sonny Parker, 12 Hudson Tonga'uiha, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Gordon Ross, 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Adam Balding, 7 Ed Jackson, 6 Daniel Browne, 5 Kirill Kulemin, 4 Jonathan Mills (captain), 3 Paulica Ion, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Franck Montanella.
Replacements: 16 Greg Bateman, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 James Tideswell, 19 Matt Corker, 20 Alfie To'oala, 21 Jamie Stephenson, 22 Alex Davies, 23 Seb Jewell.
Referee: David Rose
Assistant referees: Peter Huckle, Nigel Carrick
Sunday November 25:
London Wasps v Leicester Tigers
(Adams Park – 14.30 GMT)
London Wasps’ last seven matches in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day. Wasps have a 100% winning record at Adams Park in all competitions this season.
Leicester Tigers’ last seven competitive games have also all been won by the home side on the day. The Tigers have slipped to three straight away defeats but haven't lost four in a row on the road since 2009.
The last seven games between the two sides have all been won by the home team, whilst Leicester have not won at Adams Park since 2007.
London Wasps: : 15 Hugo Southwell (captain), 14 Tom Varndell, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Chris Bell, 11 Christian Wade, 10 Nick Robinson, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jonathan Poff, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 James Cannon, 3 Phil Swainston, 2 T Rhys Thomas, 1 Tim Payne.
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Will Taylor, 19 Josh Brown, 20 Sam Jones, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Lee Thomas.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 George Ford, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jordan Crane, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 George Chuter, 1 Jonny Harris.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Michael Holford, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Richard Thorpe, 21 Patrick Phibbs, 22 Dan Bowden, 23 Geordan Murphy.
Referee: Sean Davey
Assistant referees: Gareth Copsey Kevin Stewart
TMO: Graham Hughes
London Irish v Exeter Chiefs
(Madjeski Stadium – 15.00 GMT)
London Irish have won just one of their last four games: 34-28 at home to Sale Sharks in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. The Exiles have won four of their last five contests at Madejski Stadium in all competitions.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last three fixtures in all competitions, but are yet to be victorious on the road in the Premiership this season.
The Chiefs claimed a maiden victory over London Irish last season with their 18-11 win at Sandy Park in March.
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 12 Shane Geraghty, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Darren Allinson, 8 Chris Hala'ufia, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Declan Danaher (captain), 5 Bryn Evans, 4 Matt Garvey, 3 Leo Halavatau, 2 Brian Blaney, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Gerard Ellis 17 Richard Palframan, 18 Cai Griffiths, 19 Kieran Low, 20 Alex Gray, 21 Conor Gaston, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Jack Moates.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 James Hanks, Tom Hayes (captain), 3 Carl Rimmer, 2 Chris Whitehead, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Simon Alcott, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Hoani Tui, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Sireli Naqelevuki.
Referee: Llyr Apgeraint-Roberts
Assistant referees: Roy Maybank, Alan Hughes