PREVIEW: Premiership, Round 16
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Sale Sharks' Mark Jennings believes is confident his in-form side can continue their progress in the upcoming Premiership Rugby encounter with Saracens.
The Sharks scored four tries against at the AJ Bell Stadium against Wasps last Sunday – three of which came from the talismanic Denny Solomona – and resisted a spirited comeback from the league leaders to record their fifth straight win in all competitions.
And Jennings, who also crossed the whitewash himself after clinically finishing a training-ground move from a line-out, is adamant his side can capitalise on their encouraging displays to target a result against Mark McCall’s side.
"If there’s any time to play Sarries then it’s while they’ve got the internationals away, but at this level, they’ve still got a lot of strength and depth and they’re a tight-knit unit," Jennings said.
"It’s going to be a tough game but we’re going to go down there full of confidence, play our game, and just see what happens and hopefully come out on top on the day. Morale is high in team at the moment,"
Saturday’s encounter at Allianz Park will be the fourth clash between the two sides this season given their previous meetings in the European Champions Cup, and Sale will no doubt have learnt from their 50-3 humbling the last time they visited Allianz Park.
But the Namibian-born player has suggested that such bruising European fixtures were crucial building blocks in developing the team.
"We obviously have a lot of analysis we can do on them, having played them so much," Jennings said.
"There’s a lot of pros and cons we’ve taken from the games we’ve already played against them, so hopefully we can get a result.
"I think now we’re seeing the fruits of having played in Europe, definitely. I think we were about eight losses on the bounce when we played Toulon away and everyone expected us to go there and get whitewashed, and the boys put in a good performance then.
"There was obviously a lot of frustration and training was getting grittier due to the losses.
"We just needed a change and to re-evaluate our goals for the season, such as targeting our home games and games in the Anglo-Welsh Cup as well – we’re using those as a platform to get back into the league and to keep driving forward,"
And Jennings only had words of praise for Sale’s new superstar Denny Solomona, who became the first Premiership Rugby player to score in his first five league matches during his hat-trick against the table-toppers on Sunday.
He said: "Denny reads the game so well defensively and attack, he’s always looking for work around the field and his try talent speaks for itself really.
"He pops up where you want him which is what you want from any winger. He leads from the front and he’ll only get better from there,"
We look ahead to all the Round 16 action!
Friday, February 24:
Harlequins v Leicester Tigers
(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Harlequins are one of only two sides with a 100 percent home winning record in Premiership Rugby this season, however, the Londoners have lost their last two matches at Twickenham Stoop in other tournaments, to Edinburgh (Challenge Cup) and to Sale Sharks (Anglo-Welsh).
The Tigers beat Harlequins at Welford Road in Round eight and have not achieved a Premiership Rugby season double over them since 2010/11. Leicester have lost on their last five visits to Twickenham Stoop in all tournaments.
Harlequins: 15 Aaron Morris, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Matt Hopper, 11 Alofa Alofa, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Charlie Mulchrone, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Dave Ward (captain), 6 James Chisholm, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 George Merrick, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Mark Lambert
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Matt Shields, 19 Stan South, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Luc Jones, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Charlie Walker
Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Peter Betham, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Lachlan McCaffrey, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Dom Barrow (c), 4 Harry Wells, 3 Greg Bateman, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Riccardo Brugnara, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Jono Kitto, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Matt Smith
Referee: Dean Richards
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Nigel Carrick
TMO: Graham Hughes
Saturday, February 25
Saracens v Sale Sharks
(Allianz Park, Kick-off: 14.45; 14.45 GMT)
Saracens are without a win in their last three Premiership Rugby fixtures and have not gone four in a row without a victory in the competition since 2006.
Saracens are unbeaten in their last 17 home games in all tournaments since Northampton won at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby last March.
Sale Sharks have won their last five matches in all competitions including their victory over table-topping Wasps on Sunday.
The Sharks only away win in Premiership Rugby this season was on a visit to Bristol in Round sevens.
Saracens: 15 Duncan Taylor, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Joel Conlon, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Titi Lamositele
Replacements: 16 Jared Saunders, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Samu Vunisa, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Max Malins, 23 Matt Gallagher
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Will Addison (captain), 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Josh Charnley, 10 Sam James, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont, 7 Magnus Lund, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 George Nott, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Cameron Neild, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 Tom Curry, 20 David Seymour, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Johnny Leota
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant referees: Simon McConnell, Roy Maybank
TMO: David Rose
Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors
(Franklin’s Gardens, Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
The Saints have won their last four home games since the reversal to Leinster in the European Champions Cup on December 9.
Worcester Warriors have won only three games of Premiership Rugby this season but two of those have come since the turn of the New Year. The Warriors have not been victories on their travels in Premiership Rugby since they visited Harlequins in March 2016.
Northampton’s only loss in their last eight fixtures with Worcester was by a single point at Sixways in October 2015 whilst the Warriors have not been victorious at Franklin’s Gardens since a 10-9 win on New Year’s Day 2007.
Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi 13 Nafi Tuitavake, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ben Foden (captain), 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Christian Day, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Sam Dickinson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 James Wilson, 23 Juan Pablo Estelles
Worcester: 15 Josh Adams, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Perry Humphreys, 10 Ryan Mills, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Dewald Potgieter, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Ryan Bower
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Na’ama Leleimalefaga, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Tevita Cavuabti, 20 Marco Mama, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Chris Pennell
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald, Roger Baileff
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons
(Sandy Park - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs only defeat in their last ten first team matches was at Clermont-Auvergne in the European Champions Cup on January 21, whilst their most recent loss in Premiership Rugby was in Round Seven at home to Bath.
Newcastle Falcons have won three of their last four matches in all competitions and in Premiership Rugby have tallied four try bonus points in the last six rounds.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Moray Low, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Kai Horstmann, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Will Hooley, 23 Sam Hill
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Dominic Waldouck, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Calum Green, 3 Scott Wilson, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Ben Harris, 18 David Wilson, 19 Glen Young, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Mike Delany, 23 Fred Burdon
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace, Anthony Woodthorpe
TMO: Keith Lewis
Sunday, February 26
Wasps v Gloucester Rugby
(Ricoh Arena - Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT)
Wasps have won their last 14 Premiership Rugby encounters at Ricoh Arena since Saracens won there at Christmas 2015.
Gloucester Rugby’s only defeat in their last seven first team fixtures was 9-34 at Leicester in Round 14 of Premiership Rugby. Gloucester have lost their last four away games in the competition since their 27-all draw at Exeter on October 8.
Gloucester have won their last two fixtures against Wasps but both encounters were played at Kingsholm. Gloucester have not beaten Wasps on their own soil since doing so by a single point at Adams Park in February 2011.
Wasps: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Jimmy Gopperth, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Willie Le Roux, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Alex Rieder, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan (captain)
Replacements: 16 Carlo Festuccia, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Jack Willis, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Alapati Leiua, 23 Josh Bassett
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 David Halaifonua, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Lewis Ludlow, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 John Afoa, 19 Mariano Galarza, 20 Sione Kalamafoni, 21 Callum Braley, 22 James Hook, 23 Henry Trinder
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Assistant referees: Wayne Falla, Peter Allan
TMO: Geoff Warren
Bristol Rugby v Bath Rugby
(Ashton Gate - Kick-off: 13.00; 13.00 GMT)
Bristol Rugby’s only two victories in Premriship Rugby this season came in successive matches, against Worcester and Sale over Christmas last year. Bristol’s last two home wins in Premiership Rugby have both been against Worcester, seven years apart.
Bath Rugby have lost just one of their last six first team fixtures and that by the narrowest of margins at Newcastle in the Anglo-Welsh Cup earlier this month. Bath have lost their last three away games in Premriship Rugby since their victory at Exeter in Round Seven.
Bath have won their last eight fixtures with Bristol, in all competitions since Bristol’s 16-6 victory at Ashton Gate in Premiership Rugby in December 2006.
Bristol: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 David Lemi, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Gavin Henson, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Jordan Crane (captain), 7 Jack Lam, 6 Mitch Eadie, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Dan Tuohy, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Ryan Bevington
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Jack O’Connell, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Nick Fenton-Wells, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Jack Wallace
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Harry Davies, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Paul Grant, 7 David Denton, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Beno Obano
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Levi Douglas, 20 Guy Mercer, 21 Will Homer, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Max Clark
Referee: Greg M Garner
Assistant referees: Adam Leal, Steve Lee
TMO: David Grashoff