Preview: Premiership, Round 21
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Premiership Rugby goes into its penultimate round with many of the key issues unsettled and the identity of all four semifinalists and Champions Cup qualifiers still in the balance.
Round 21 kicks off with one of the oldest rivalries in British sport – Harlequins against Wasps.
The big matches just keep on coming through the weekend, the round ending with a mouth-watering west country derby at the Recreation Ground, with Gloucester Rugby arriving in Bath.
The battle for sixth is fascinating with just two points currently separating Northampton Saints, Harlequins and Gloucester Rugby.
While Saracens will bid farewell to two of the club’s most revered players, with Kelly Brown and Neil de Kock playing their final games of their illustrious careers.
In what promises to be an emotional day at Allianz Park the two Sarries legends will bring down the curtain on highly successful time at the club in which both Brown and De Kock have helped the north Londoners to three Premiership titles, an Anglo-Welsh Cup win and the club’s maiden European Champions Cup.
More importantly, the two have contributed in helping Saracens become a leading club off the pitch, with their selfless attitude and unwavering commitment to the club helping breed the healthy culture now prevalent at the club.
"Both Kelly Brown and Neil de Kock will go down as legends of this club," hailed Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall.
"Kelly [Brown] has been an amazing player and person for Saracens. On the field, he has been unbelievably consistent setting a superb example to our younger players, constantly giving everything he had. Off the field, he is one of the most selfless people you’ll ever meet, always putting the team first – his decency and humility have always shone through in his time here.
"Neil [de Kock] will always be remembered as one of the true greats of Saracens. His contribution to this club over 11-years really is hard to put into words – he will rightly be remembered as a Saracens legend and hopefully on Saturday afternoon we can give him and Kelly the send-off they so richly deserve," he added.
We take a look at all the Round 21 action!
Friday, April 28
Harlequins v Wasps
(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 19.45; 19.45 GMT)
Harlequins have lost their last two Premiership Rugby matches, to Saracens and Exeter Chiefs, but have not lost three in a row in the tournament since February 2016. The Londoners have won only one of their last five fixtures at Twickenham Stoop in all tournaments, 53-17 over Newcastle Falcons in Premiership Rugby on March 25.
Wasps have won their last five Premiership Rugby encounters since their 28-34 reversal at Sale on February 19 – their only defeat in the competition since mid-November.
Wasps have lost only one of their last five fixtures against Harlequins in all competitions, 21-26 in this equivalent fixture in round one last year.
Wasps’ only victory at Twickenham Stoop in Premiership Rugby since 2007 was by a single point in February 2013.
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 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Dave Ward, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa
Wasps: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Guy Thompson, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Alapati Leiua
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant referees: Paul Dix, Simon McConnell
TMO: Sean Davey
Newcastle Falcons v Worcester Warriors
(Kingston Park- Kick-off: 20.00; 20.00 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons have won just one of their last five Premiership Rugby matches, 16-14 at home to Gloucester Rugby in round 19. The Falcons solitary home defeat in Premiership Rugby in 2017 came when Saracens were the visitors on March 5.
All of Worcester Warriors matches in the last five rounds have been won by the home side on the day. The Warriors have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since visiting Harlequins in round 17 last season.
Worcester’s only defeat in their last nine encounters with Falcons in all competitions was 11-16 at Sixways in Premiership Rugby in October 2013. The Warriors have not lost at Kingston Park since November 2009.
Newcastle: 15 Marcus Watson, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Callum Chick, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Opeti Fonua, 20 Will Witty, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Alex Tait
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Perry Humphreys, 10 Ryan Mills (captain), 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Chris Vui, 3 Biyi Alo, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin
Replacements: 16 Jack Singleton, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Darren Barry, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Cooper Vuna
Referee: Greg M Garner
Assistant referees: John Meredith, Roger Baileff
TMO: Stuart Terheege
Saturday, April 29
Leicester Tigers v Sale Sharks
(Welford Road- Kick-off; 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers have suffered just two reversals in the last seven rounds of Premiership Rugby at home to Exeter Chiefs and against Bath at Twickenham. The Tigers other two home defeats in Premiership Rugby this season came at the hands of Wasps and Saracens.
Sale Sharks only win in their last five games was 36-26 at home to Worcester Warriors in round 19 of Premiership Rugby. Sale have won just once away from home in the tournament this season, 31-13 at Bristol in round seven.
Sale have won their last three matches against Tigers but have never won four in a row against the East Midlanders. The Sharks were victorious 10-3 on their most recent visit to Welford Road in February 2016 and have only once before won successive matches at the venue – in 2003 in Premiership Rugby and in the Knockout Cup.
Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Jack Roberts, 12 Owen Williams, 11 J P Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Harry Thacker, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Matt Smith, 23 Peter Betham.
Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Josh Charnley, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Laurence Pearce, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Rob Webber (captain), 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Ben Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Diogo Ferreira, 19 George Nott, 20 David Seymour, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Johnny Leota, 23 Byron McGuigan.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Nigel Carrick, Matthew O'Grady
TMO: Geoff Warren
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints
(Sandy Park - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00GMT)
Exeter Chiefs have won their last six matches in Premiership Rugby gaining a maximum 30 league points – no side has ever achieved seven maximum point wins in a row. The Chiefs most recent defeat in the competition came when Bath visited Sandy Park in round Seven. The Chiefs are unbeaten in their last eight first team games at Sandy Park, since Bordeaux won there in the European Champions Cup on December 11.
Northampton Saints have slipped to three straight late defeats in Premriship Rugby, in each instance Saints were leading with less than three minutes to go.
Northampton’s only away win in any competition since New Year’s Day was 32-12 at Sale in round 17 of Premiership Rugby.
The last four fixtures between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day whilst Northampton’s most recent victory at Sandy Park was by the narrowest of margins in February 2014.
Exeter: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Stuart Townsend, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Carl Rimmer.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill.
Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ben Foden, 10 JJ Hanrahan, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 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 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Sam Dickinson, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Nafi Tuitavake, 23 Juan Pablo Estelles.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Jack Makepeace, Ross Campbell
TMO: David Grashoff
Saracens v Bristol Rugby
(Allianz Park - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00GMT)
Saracens have won their last five first team matches since their defeat to Leicester at Allianz Park in the semifinal of the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Sarries have not lost at the venue in Premiership Rugby since Northampton were the visitors on March 5, 2016.
Bristol Rugby have lost their last four Premiership Rugby encounters since beating Bath by a solitary point at Ashton Gate on February 26. Bristol’s only away win in the tournament this season was also be a single point, at Sale on New Year’s Day.
Saracens have won their last five matches against Bristol in all competitions since the West Countrymen’s 18-3 victory at Memorial Stadium in Premiership Rugby in January 2008. This is Bristol’s first visit to Allianz Park.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Nick Tompkins, 12 Alex Lozowski, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Neil De Kock, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Titi Lamositele, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Jim Hamilton, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Matt Gallagher, 23 Mike Ellery.
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 Olly Robinson, 6 Sam Jeffries, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Marc Jones (captain), 1 Jack O’Connell.
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Ollie Dawe, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Nick Fenton-Wells, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Siale Piutau.
Referee: Andrew P Jackson
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Paul Burton
TMO: David Rose
Sunday, April 30
Bath Rugby v Gloucester Rugby
(Recreation Ground - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00GMT)
Bath Rugby’s only victory in the last five rounds of Premiership Rugby was 27-21 over Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in round 19.
Bath’s only defeat at the Recreation Ground in any tournament in 2017 came when Wasps were the visitors in round 17 of Premiership Rugby.
Gloucester Rugby’s only loss in their last five matches in all tournaments was 14-16 at Newcastle in Premiership Rugby on April 7. Gloucester have won just once on the road in Premiership Rugby since September, 32-14 at Bristol on 24 March.
Bath have lost only one of their last ten fixtures against Gloucester in all tournaments: 11-15 at the Recreation Ground in this equivalent fixture in Premiership Rugby in round 11 last year.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Max Clark, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Rhys Priestland (captain), 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Francois Louw 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Chris Brooker, 1 Nathan Catt.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Chris Cook, 22 George Ford, 23 Robbie Fruean.
Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Jonny May, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 David Halaifonua, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jacob Rowan, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Mariano Galarza, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Lewis Ludlow, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Charlie Sharples.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Wayne Falla, Adam Leal
TMO: Keith Lewis