PREVIEW: PREMIERSHIP, ROUND 17
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Newcastle Falcons’ Fijian flyer Vereniki Goneva hopes to sow the seed of doubt in Saracens’ minds when the Premiership and European champions come to Kingston Park Stadium on Sunday.
The wing is in a rich vein of form with six league tries this campaign, running second in the Opta stats for metres made all season and having topped last week’s charts for line-breaks, metres and carries.
Showing no signs of slowing down at the age of 32, the former RPA players’ player of the season has made a speciality of pilfering interception tries in recent months – a trend he is out to continue this weekend.
Goneva said: "I just sense the opportunity for interceptions.
"It’s not an easy thing to explain but when we are defending for a few phases I get the feeling they’re going to go for the big pass, and it’s just about that anticipation. Before the guy has even started passing the ball I can see what’s going to come, and I just go from there.
"Luckily in the last few weeks it has paid off, but I guess opposition teams will be looking out for it now. Even if it means they don’t throw the wide pass I suppose it acts as a bit of a deterrent, but I hope Saracens still chuck a couple my way on Sunday,"
With a top-six finish still a realistic ambition for a Falcons side who have seen a marked improvement this season, Goneva admitted last week’s loss at Exeter was a bump in the road after a promising first half in which he scored one of two Newcastle tries.
"The team overall are disappointed with what we put out last weekend at Exeter," he said.
"I can’t speak for the rest of the boys but to come away with no points after the start we made – I think we can be better than that.
"Saracens this weekend is a massive challenge for us because we want to put right what happened last weekend when we struggled in the second half. Exeter are a good side and we always knew it would be a tough game, but we have a chance now to show what we are really about,"
Goneva added: "Every game in the Premiership is a hard game, and that’s the same for Saracens as it is for us. They are going to come up here knowing they will meet a good Newcastle side, knowing it is a big challenge and I think it will be an exciting one for the fans.
"The boys’ confidence is still there. We just need to make sure we play for the full 80 minutes on Sunday and get the result. I feel we can do that.”
Topping the Falcons’ Premiership try stats for the season, the Fijian added: "Personally, it’s nice to be scoring a good number of tries recently, but I’m just finishing off the good work of other people. The forwards are putting in a lot of hard work and creating opportunities, and hopefully, we can keep them coming.
"We’ll see if I can add to that on Sunday, but the main thing is that it’s a massive game for the team and one that we want to win. Our supporters were great during our last home game against Northampton [a 46-31 Falcons victory], we look forward to playing at home and our crowd give us so much love. Beating Saracens would be a great way to repay them,"
We look ahead to all the Round 17 action!
Friday, March 3:
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs
(Welford Road - Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Leicester Tigers have won their last three Premiership Rugby fixtures, but have not won four in a row in the tournament for two years. Tigers only defeat in their last seven Premiership Rugby home games was to Saracens on New Year’s Day.
Exeter Chiefs are unbeaten in their last nine Premiership Rugby matches since Bath defeated them at Sandy Park in October. The Chiefs have tallied a try bonus-point in each of their last seven first team encounters.
The last four Premiership Rugby fixtures between the two clubs have all been won by the home side.
The Chiefs have won three previous games at Welford Road, beating Nottingham there in the Championship in 2009, Leicester in Premiership Rugby in 2011 and the Tigers in the semi-final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2015.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Jono Kitto, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Greg Bateman, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Michele Rizzo
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Lachlan McCaffrey, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Peter Betham
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Stuart Townsend, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Kai Horstmann, 6 Don Armand (captain), 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Carl Rimmer
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Jonny Hill, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Anthony Woodthorpe
TMO: Graham Hughes
Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 20.15; 20.15 GMT)
Sale Sharks five game winning run in all competitions ended at Saracens on Saturday. The Sharks have won their last four home games since Bristol beat them by the closest of margins at AJ Bell Stadium on New Year’s Day.
Northampton Saints home win over Worcester Warriors last weekend followed a pair of back-to-back defeats in Premiership Rugby. The Saints only two victories in their last seven away games in Premiership Rugby were both by a single point, at Worcester in November and at Gloucester in January.
The last eight fixtures between the two clubs in Premiership Rugby have both gone the way of the home side on the day, whilst Northampton’s two victories at AJ Bell Stadium have been in Premiership Rugby in November 2012 and the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup in April 2014.
Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Josh Charnley, 10 Sam James, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont (captain), 7 Magnus Lund, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Jonathan Mills, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Tom Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 George Nott, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Byron McGuigan
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 James Craig, 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 Juan Pablo Estelles, 23 James Wilson
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales, Andrew Jackson
TMO: Keith Lewis
Saturday, March 4:
Bath Rugby v Wasps
(Recreation Ground - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Bath Rugby’s only two victories in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby were in their two most recent home games, against Northampton and Harlequins.
Bath have lost just once at the Recreation Ground in Premiership Rugby since last April, 11-17 to Exeter Chiefs on December 31.
Wasps have lost just once in the last eight rounds of Premiership Rugby, 28-34 at Sale in Round 15. Wasps have not won away from home since they visited Zebre in the European Champions Cup on January 22.
Wasps only defeat in their last five Premiership Rugby encounters against Bath was 26-39 at the Recreation Ground in January 2015. Wasps have won on their last two visits to Bath’s citadel in all tournaments, but have never won three in a row at the venue in the professional era.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Max Clark, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Anthony Watson, 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 David Denton, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels (captain), 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nathan Catt
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Will Homer, 22 Rory Jennings, 23 Kristian Phillips
Wasps: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Alapati Leiua, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 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 Guy Armitage, 23 Josh Bassett
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Ross Campbell, Simon McConnell
TMO: David Sainsbury
Gloucester Rugby v Harlequins
(Kingsholm - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Gloucester Rugby’s last four fixtures in Premiership Rugby have all gone the way of the home side on the day, whilst Gloucester’s solitary defeat at Kingsholm in any tournament since early October was by a single point to Northampton Saints in Round 12 of Premiership Rugby.
Harlequins have lost their last two Premiership Rugby matches, against Bath and Leicester, but have not lost three in a row since this time last year. The Londoners have won just once on the road in Premiership Rugby this season: 42-8 at Bristol in Round 14.
Harlequins have lost just one of their last five Premiership Rugby fixtures with Gloucester, 6-28 in this equivalent fixture at Kingsholm in Round 12 last season. Harlequins have won only once at Kingsholm in Premiership Rugby since 1999, 22-15 in November 2014.
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 Mariano Galarza, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Yann Thomas
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Paul Doran-Jones, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Sione Kalamafoni, 21 Callum Braley, 22 James Hook, 23 Henry Trinder
Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Matt Hopper, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Charlie Mulchrone, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Dave Ward (captain), 6 James Chisholm, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 George Merrick, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Mark Lambert
Replacements: 16 Rob Buchanan, 17 Owen Evans, 18 Matt Shields, 19 Stan South, 20 George Naoupu, 21 Luc Jones, 22 James Lang, 23 Alofa Alofa
Referee: Greg M Garner
Assistant referees: Adam Leal, Matthew O'Grady
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Sunday, March 5:
Newcastle Falcons v Saracens
(Kingston Park - Kick-off: 14.00; 14.00 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons last four matches in Premiership Rugby have all gone in favour of the home side, whilst the Falcons only defeat at Kingston Park in the tournament since November was 30-34 to Wasps in Round 12.
Saracens victory over Sale at Allianz Park on Saturday ended a three-game winless run in Premiership Rugby. Saracens have won only once away from home in the tournaments since November, 16-12 at Leicester on New Year’s Day.
Saracens have won their last sixteen fixtures against Newcastle in all tournaments since the Falcons 13-9 win at Kingston Park in Premiership Rugby in February 2009.
Newcastle Falcons: TBC
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Roger Baileff, Andrew Pearce
TMO: Stuart Terheege
Worcester Warriors v Bristol Rugby
(Sixways - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors only victory in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was at home to Saracens on February 11.
The Warriors record at Sixways in Premiership Rugby this season is an even won three, drawn two, lost three.
Bristol Rugby’s 12-11 victory at home to Bath on Sunday ended a run of seven successive first team defeats.
Bristol’s only away win in Premiership Rugby this season was 24-23 at Sale on New Year’s Day.
Bristol beat Worcester 28-20 at Ashton Gate in Round 11 and have not achieved a Premiership Rugby season’s double over the Warriors since 2006/07 although they did achieve a double in the regular season of the Championship in 2014/15.
Worcester Warriors: TBC
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley, Paul Dix
TMO: David Grashoff