Preview, Premiership Round 19
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: You can cut the tension with a knife in Premiership Rugby this weekend as we move into the final four rounds before the semifinal and Final, at Twickenham.
This weekend could be a record breaker with bumper crowds at Twickenham, Wembley Stadium, Sandy Park and the Ricoh Arena edging us close to the biggest one-weekend record attendance for the competition.
The clash between Bath Rugby and Leicester Tigers will be one of the crucial matches, with Leicester going into it three points ahead of Bath in fourth place as the race to reach the semifinals heats up.
Tigers’ O’Connor said: "Myself and a few of the other boys have never played there or even been to the stadium.
"From what I’ve heard, they’ve sold over 50 000 tickets and I’m sure there will be more sold by the time the game comes around.
"A lot of us are really excited to get out there and experience playing rugby at Twickenham. Everyone wants to be part of the team in that game,"
Leicester have gone through a spring renaissance after what was a very troubling winter that saw them fall to some heavy defeats both in Premiership Rugby and in the European Champions Cup.
It also led to the departure of director of rugby Richard Cockerill after eight years in charge, with the Tigers seemingly in danger of missing out on the semifinals for the first time.
But after closing the gap on the top four, they gained confidence in winning the Anglo-Welsh Cup before leapfrogging Bath into fourth following a vital 36-31 victory at rivals Northampton Saints two weeks ago.
"I think that game was massive for us," O’Connor added.
"We’ve had a good few weeks in winning the Anglo-Welsh and winning a few games on the trot to get some momentum going.
“To keep those winning habits going was massive for us and hopefully we can take that into this weekend.
"For us, it’s been about getting our process right and playing the way we want to play.
"Unforced errors had been costing us in the past, but if we can get our detail right that will go a long way towards helping us to win games,"
Saturday’s showpiece is set to be the first match in charge for new head coach Matt O’Connor, who was part of Cockerill’s backroom staff the last time the Tigers won and Premiership Rugby title in 2013.
After replacing Aaron Mauger at the helm, he’ll be looking to make sure Leicester return to Twickenham towards the end of next month.
Former Blues man O’Connor concluded: "It’s been a tough season with plenty of things going on and our playing performances have been up and down, so getting into that top four finally was a nice feeling.
"We’ll be doing everything we can to keep us there and hopefully get another game at Twickenham in the final,"
We look ahead to all the Round 19 action!
Friday, April 7
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors
(AJ Bell Stadium, Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Sale Sharks have lost their last three matches since beating Wasps 34-28 at AJ Bell Stadium, February 19. The Sharks home record in Premiership Rugby this season is won four, lost five.
Worcester Warriors only victory in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was 41-24 at home to Bristol on March 5.
The Warriors have not won away from home in the competition since a visit to Harlequins in round 17 last season.
Sale had won seven successive matches against the Warriors in all tournaments up until February 2016, but since then the two encounters both played at Sixways have ended in a Worcester win and a draw. The Warriors have not won on Sharks soil since a 17-9 victory at Edgeley Park in November 2008.
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont (captain), 7 Tom Curry, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Ben Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 George Nott, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Josh Charnley
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Ryan Mills,9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Chris Vui, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Ryan Bower
Replacements: 16 Jaba Bregvadze, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Darren Barry, 20 Dewald Potgieter, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Wynand Olivier
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Hamish Smales, Wayne Falla
TMO: Trevor Fisher
Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester Rugby
(Kingston Park,Kick-off: 20.00; 20.00GMT)
Newcastle Falcons have slipped to three straight defeats in Premiership Rugby since beating Northampton 46-31 at Kingston Park in round 15.
The Falcons home record in Premiership Rugby this season is won five, lost four with the defeats all being to four of the teams currently occupying the top five spots in the league.
Gloucester Rugby's record in the last four rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby is won two, lost two, outscoring their opponents by 13 tries to twelve, but only tallying one try bonus point - three times finishing a match on three. Gloucester won their most recent away game 32-14 at Bristol, and have not achieved successive away victories in the tournament since season 2014/15.
Newcastle won 18-13 when they played the Gloucester at Kingsholm in round 4 but have not achieved a Premiership Rugby double over the west countrymen since 2011/12.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Marcus Watson, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Michael Young, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Calum Green, 3 David Wilson, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Will Witty, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Sinoti Sinoti
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Twelvetrees, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Paddy McAllister
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Tom Denton, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Lloyd Evans, 23 Henry Purdy
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Geoffrey Warren
Saturday, April 8
Bath Rugby v Leicester Tigers
(Twickenham Stadium, Kick-off: 14.00; 14.00 GMT)
After 221 successive home Premiership Rugby matches played at the Recreation Ground, Bath move to a new “home” venue for the first time - Twickenham. Bath have lost their last three matches since beating Harlequins 22-12 at the Recreation Ground on February 18. Bath have played four previous Premiership Rugby matches at HQ, losing two finals to Wasps in 2004 and Saracens in 2015, but beating Wasps there twice in "St George's Day" matches in 2010 and 2011.
Leicester Tigers only defeat in their last seven first team matches was 15-34 at home to Exeter Chiefs in round 17 of Premiership Rugby. The Tigers have played ten previous Premiership Rugby matches at Twickenham, winning on four of their nine Final appearances and drawing 26-all there against Harlequins in the "Big Game" in 2008.
Leicester have lost just one of their last four encounters with Bath in all competitions: 27-38 at the Recreation Ground in round 22 last season. The two clubs have met on four previous occasions at Twickenham with Bath winning three Cup Finals in 1989, 1994 and 1996, but Leicester taking the Zurich Championship title there in 2001.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Kane Palma-Newport, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nathan Catt
Replacements: 16 Chris Brooker, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 David Denton, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Tom Homer
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Harry Thacker, 21 Ben White, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Jack Roberts
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Simon McConnell, Andrew P Jackson
TMO: Graham Hughes
Exeter Chiefs v Bristol Rugby
(Sandy Park, Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs are unbeaten in their last eleven Premiership Rugby matches since tripping up at home to Bath on 30 October. The Chiefs have picked up a try bonus in their last five encounters in the competition and have not lost at Sandy Park since Bordeaux were the visitors in round 3 of the European Champions Cup.
Bristol Rugby have won just once in any competition since New Year's Day: 12-11 at home to Bath in round 16 of Premiership Rugby. Bristol's only away win in the tournament this season was by a single point at Sale in round 12.
Exeter have won their last four matches against Bristol, both legs of the 2010 RFU Championship final and the two meetings at Ashton Gate this season in Premiership Rugby and the Anglo-Welsh cup. Bristol's only previous victory at Sandy Park was 25-16 in the RFU Championship in December 2009.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Henry Slade, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Don Armand (captain), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Michele Campagnaro
Bristol: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Jack Tovey 10 Billy Searle, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8. Mitch Eadie, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Sam Jeffries, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Marc Jones (captain), 1 Ryan Bevington
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Jack O’Connell, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Nick Fenton-Wells, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 James Newey, 23 Charlie Amesbury
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Adam Leal, Jonathan Healy
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Saracens v Harlequins
(Wembley Stadium, Kick-off: 16.30; 16.30 GMT)
Saracens have won their last three matches in Premiership Rugby, against Sale, Newcastle and Bath, since their 23-31 reversal at Gloucester on February 17. Saracens have played nine previous Premiership Rugby matches at Wembley Stadium winning seven, drawing one (Leicester 2012) and losing one (Harlequins 2012).
Harlequins have won their last two Premiership Rugby matches at Gloucester and at home to Newcastle, but have not won three in a row in the tournament since May 2014. Harlequins have visited Wembley Stadium on five previous occasions, all against Saracens but only winning once: 24-19 on March 31, 2012.
Saracens had won eight successive matches against Harlequins in all tournaments but since have lost two of the last three. Quins were victorious 17-10 at The Stoop in round 4 and have not achieved a Premiership Rugby double over Saracens since season 2008/09.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Joel Conlon, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Nick Tompkins
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown,14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (captain), 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Jack Clifford, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill, 4 George Merrick, 3 Will Collier, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Dave Ward, 21 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Roy Maybank
TMO: David Sainsbury
Sunday, April 9
Wasps v Northampton Saints
(Ricoh Arena, Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Wasps have lost just once in Premiership Rugby since round 8: 28-34 at Sale on February 19. Wasps have won their last 16 Premiership Rugby matches at Ricoh Arena since Saracens bet them there on December 27, 2015, a run which has also seen them obtain twelve maximum point victories.
Northampton Saints have gained just two victories in the last five rounds of Premiership Rugby, at home to Worcester and at Sale in their most recent away game - Saints have not won successive away games in Premiership Rugby in the same season since 2014/15.
Wasps have won their last three matches against Northampton (two of those at Franklin's Gardens). The Saints have lost on all three previous visits to Ricoh Arena, against Wasps in the semi-final of the European Cup in 2007, against Cardiff Blues in the semifinal of the Anglo-Welsh cup in 2009 and versus Wasps in round 19 of Premiership Rugby last season.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Kurtley Beale , 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, , 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Guy Thompson, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse,17 Tom Bristow,18 Paul Doran Jones,19 Matt Symons,20 Nathan Hughes,21 Dan Robson,22 Danny Cipriani,23 Alapati Leiua
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Nafi Tuitavake, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ben Foden , 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Tom Wood (captain), 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 David Ribbans, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Luther Burrell, 23 Ken Pisi
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Greg M Garner, Jack Makepeace
TMO: David Grashoff