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Preview: Premiership, Round 20

Thu, 17 Apr 2014 11:58
Leicester-tigers-v-harlequi
We are not looking beyond this Friday's clash with Leicester
Quote-end

Harlequins centre Tim Molenaar insists the players are enjoying being under the spotlight as they hunt down a Premiership play-off spot with just three rounds remaining.

In a must-win clash last Friday night Harlequins didn't disappoint, securing a bonus-point victory over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium.

The triumph saw Harlequins record a first away win since December but more importantly it meant they leapfrogged Sale in the table.

Conor O'Shea's men now sit fifth and are five points behind Bath who currently occupy fourth and the final semifinal berth.

The two sides are set to do battle on the final day of the season but Quins need to ensure they win their two games between now and then - at home to Leicester Tigers this Friday and an away trip to Exeter Chiefs in the penultimate round - for that clash at the Stoop to mean anything.

This would be enough to send shivers down any team's spine but Molenaar insists no-one at Quins is panicking; instead they are relishing the challenge.

"We are in a bit of a pressure cooker at the moment, every game has to be a win so there is that pressure there for sure," he said.

"But this is why you play the game and if you want to win the Premiership then you have to beat everybody.

"Not many teams have come away from Sale with a bonus point win so we were really happy to do that on Friday and obviously it was massively important that we got the win first and foremost.

"It does not matter how you are playing earlier in the season, it only matters how you finish the season so hopefully we are timing it right.

"If we can beat Leicester and Bath then we might get the psychological edge over them for later in the play-offs so while we have made it difficult for ourselves it could ultimately prove to be a good thing."

Harlequins can't afford to put all their eggs in a Premiership-shaped basket as they also have a Challenge cup semifinal with Northampton Saints to look forward to.

And Molenaar insists a club of Harlequins' stature is not about to let European ambitions slip despite domestic dominance being on the line.

"This club has massive ambitions and while everyone is gunning for the top four we are really keen to get to a European final too," he added.

"We are not looking beyond this Friday's clash with Leicester yet but we are not about to give one competition more focus than another and we feel like we have the squad to do that.

"The semifinal is also against Northampton too so again we could get the edge over them for later down the line in the Premiership so every game is really important between now and the end of the season."

We take a look at all the weekend's matches:

Friday, April 18

Harlequins v Leicester Tigers

(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)

Harlequins have won three of their last four Premiership games and have won their last seven home games in the tournament since losing 12-22 to Saracens at the Twickenham Stoop in Round Four.

Leicester Tigers need to win to ensure participation in the play-offs for a tenth successive season. Tigers are unbeaten in their last nine Premiership matches, including seven straight victories.

Leicester's only victory in their last five Premiership encounters with Harlequins was 33-16 in last season's Premiership semifinal at Welford Road. The Tigers have lost on their last two visits to the Stoop in all tournaments.

Teams:

Harlequins:
15 Mike Brown, 14 Ollie Lindsay-Hague, 13 Tim Molenaar, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Sam Smith, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (c), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 George Robson, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Tom Guest, 20 Maurie Fa'asavalu, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ross Chisholm.

Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Ed Slater (c), 3 Logovi'i Mulipola, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 David Mele, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Niall Morris.

Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Andy Watson, Roy Maybank
TMO: Sean Davey

Saturday, April 19

Bath v Worcester Warriors
(Recreation Ground - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)

Bath's last four matches in the Premiership have all unusually been won by the away side on the day. Bath have lost their last two home games in the tournament, to Saracens and to Sale, but have not lost three successive Premiership games at The Rec since November 2010.

Worcester were successful in their most recent away game, beating Newcastle 17-12 at Kingston Park, but have not won successive fixtures on the road in the tournament since New Year 2007.

The Warriors' only victory over Bath since 2007 came at Sixways in the Premiership in November 2011. Worcester have visited The Rec on nine previous occasions in all competitions and have lost all nine, the last six with a 0-5 league point tally.

Teams:

Bath:
15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 George Ford, 9 Micky Young, 8 Leroy Houston, 7 Carl Fearns, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Paul James, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Gavin Henson, 23 Jonathan Joseph.

Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Andy Symons, 11 David Lemi, 10 Ryan Lamb, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Jonathan Thomas (captain), 7 Sam Betty, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 James Percival, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Ofa Fainga'anuku.
Replacements: 16 Ed Shervington, 17 Paul Andrew, 18 Rob O'Donnell, 19 Semisi Taulava, 20 Richard de Carpentier, 21 Paul Hodgson, 22 Paul Warwick, 23 Ravai Fatiaki.

Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Peter Huckle, Paul Dix
TMO: Rowan Kitt

Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks
(Sandy Park - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)

Exeter Chiefs beat Worcester 38-33 at Sixways in Round 19 but have not won successive Premiership  matches since November. The Chiefs only victory in their last four encounters at Sandy Park was 18-0 over London Irish in the Premiership in March.

A Sale Sharks victory will guarantee them a place in the European Rugby Champions Cup for next season. The Sharks have lost their last two matches at home to Northampton in the European Challenge Cup and home to Harlequins in the Premiership, but have not lost three in a row since November 2013.

The Sharks have won their last four away games in the Premiership and they have never won five in succession on the road in the tournament's’ history.

Sale's solo victory over Exeter in their seven previous encounters came at AJ Bell Stadium on 8th February 2013. The Sharks have been defeated on all three previous visits to Sandy Park.

Teams:

Exeter Chiefs:
15 Phil Dollman, 14 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Ben White, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm (captain), 3 Alex Brown, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Hoani Tui, 19 James Phillips, 20 James Scaysbrook, 21 Haydn Thomas, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Luke Arscott.

Sale Sharks: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Jonny Leota, 12 Sammy Tuitupou, 11 Charlie Ingall, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 Viliami Fahiki, 7 David Seymour (captain), 6 James Gaskell, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Jonathan Mills, 3 Vadim Cobilas, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Eifion Lewis-Roberts.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Andrei Ostrikov, 20 Mark Easter, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mark Jennings.

Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant referees: Gareth Copsey, Paul Burton
TMO: Geoffrey Warren

London Wasps v Gloucester  
(Twickenham Stadium - Kick-off: 15.15; 14.15 GMT)

The two sides are both vying for a seventh place finish and a European play-off spot against their equivalents in the French Top-14. London Wasps have won only one of their last seven Premiership fixtures: 13-11 over Worcester at Sixways in Round 17.

Wasps have won just one of their last six visits to Twickenham: 20-15 over Saracens in the London double-header in 2011.

Gloucester have been defeated in their last two matches, 24-36 against Wasps at Adams Park in the quarterfinal of the European Challenge Cup and at home to Bath in the Premiership.

Gloucester have lost on their last four visits to Twickenham since beating Northampton there in the final of the Powergen Cup in April 2003.

The two sides have already met on three occasions this season in all tournaments with the Londoners having the slight edge by two wins to one.

Gloucester's only victory in their last four encounters with Wasps in the Premiership was 29-22 at Kingsholm in September 2012.

Teams:

London Wasps:
15 Andrea Masi, 14 Will Helu, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Chris Bell (captain), 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Tom Palmer, 20 Sam Jones, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Joe Carlisle, 23 Charlie Hayter.

Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Jonny May, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Martyn Thomas, 10 Billy Twelvetrees (captain), 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Sione Kalamafoni, 5 James Hudson, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Dan George, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Yann Thomas, 19 Lua Lokotui, 20 Ross Moriarty, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Bill Meakes.

Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Stuart Terheege, Roger Baileff
TMO: David Grashoff

Sunday, April 20

Northampton Saints v London Irish

(Franklin's Gardens - Kick-off: 14.00; 13.00 GMT)

Northampton Saints have won just one of their last five matches in all competitions: 28-14 at Sale Sharks in the quarterfinal of the European Challenge Cup.

The Saints nine game home winning run in the Premiership ended at the hands of Leicester in Round 18.

London Irish's four game losing run was broken on Sunday with their 40-12 victory at home to Newcastle. The Exiles have not scored a try away from home in the Premiership since David Paice touched down at Wasps on 15th February, 218 minutes ago.

The Saints have won three of their last four encounters with London Irish in the Premiership, whilst the Exiles only victory at Franklin's Gardens since 2004 was 14-13 in September 2011.

Teams:

Northampton Saints:
15 Ben Foden, 14 Jamie Elliott, 13 George Pisi, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Tom Wood (captain), 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Ross McMillan, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Matt Williams, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Calum Clark, 20 GJ Van Velze, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Will Hooley, 23 James Wilson.

London Irish: 15 Alex Lewington, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Eamonn Sheridan, 11 Andrew Fenby, 10 Shane Geraghty (captain), 9 Tomás O'Leary, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Gerard Ellis, 6 Blair Cowan, 5 Nic Rouse, 4 Kieran Low, 3 Leo Halavatau, 2 Mike Mayhew, 1 Matt Parr.
Replacements: 16 Jimmy Stevens, 17 Johnny Harris, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Jebb Sinclair, 21 Tom Homer, 22 Ian Humphreys, 23 Darren Allinson.

Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Andrew Pearce, Nigel Carrick
TMO: Geoffrey Warren

Newcastle Falcons v Saracens
(Kingston Park - Kick-off: 15.00; 14.00 GMT)

Newcastle Falcons have lost their last thirteen Premiership matches, their worst ever run in the tournament. The Falcons have lost their last six home games in the Premiership since they beat London Irish 13-11 at Kingston Park in Round Six.

Saracens have already secured a place in the Premiership Rugby semifinals for the fifth year in a row, whilst victory here will ensure that match is played at Allianz Park.

Saracens have lost only one game in the tournaments since Round six: 13-22 at home to London Irish in February. Saracens have won their last nine encounters with Newcastle in all tournaments since the Falcons 13-9 victory in the Premiership at Kingston Park in February 2009.

Teams:

Newcastle Falcons:
15 Alex Tait, 14 Noah Cato, 13 Adam Powell, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Richard Mayhew, 5 Scott Macleod, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Oliver Tomaszczyk, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Grant Shiells.
Replacements: 16 Matt Thompson, 17 Gary Strain, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Ian Nagle, 20 Chris York, 21 Warren Fury, 22 Phil Godman, 23 Danny Barnes.

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Michael Tagicakibau, 13 Tim Streather, 12 Chris Wyles, 11 Jack Wilson, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Will Fraser, 6 Nick Fenton-Wells, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Eoin Sheriff, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Hayden Smith, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 Ben Ransom.

Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant referees: Ross Campbell, Robin Goodliffe
TMO: Graham Hughes

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