Preview: Premiership, Round 22
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: We have reached the final, compelling, round of Premiership Rugby with just two points separating the top three in the table with two of those clubs namely - Wasps and Saracens- facing each other on Saturday.
With all matches kicking off at the same time we have a similarly congested state of affairs in the battle for fourth place, between Bath Rugby and Gloucester Rugby, and in the race to finish fifth, sixth or seventh (Harlequins, Northampton Saints, Gloucester Rugby and Newcastle Falcons) as qualification of next season’s Rugby Champions Cup reaches its climax.
Wasps James Haskell knows a win at the Ricoh Arena this weekend over Saracens will guarantee home advantage in the semifinals.
Wasps have already sold over 27 000 tickets for the visit of the defending champions and Haskell believes they are in for a tough test.
He said: "They have a very good side. What they’re doing and what they’ve done over the last couple of years is pretty special.
"We’re looking forward to having them at the Ricoh Arena for our last official home game this season. For us as a team it’s a real test. Two sides with differing styles but an underlying physicality in both teams and it will be interesting to see what happens at the weekend.
"You have to respect everything they do, because they do it very well, but you have to make sure we get our gameplan out there on the field and we deliver where we need to,"
Wasps came up short against Saracens in the semifinal of the European Rugby Champions Cup last season and the England international says Wasps must learn from that experience to avoid falling short this time.
He added: "I thought that when we played them in that semi-final last season they were more clinical than us, they looked after the ball better and they have guys who can cause you a lot of problems. I think with Saracens they have a lot of attention to detail, which is something we are striving to do as a team as well, to make sure we match up in all of those areas.
"I’m excited by the challenge, I think it’s going to be a big test for everyone. There’s a lot of quality players in both sides who will want to put their hands up and make sure they start on end of season tours and keep their shirt for their club side.
"Saracens are a giant rolling machine now, they don’t make a lot of mistakes and they deliver consistency, so we have to match that and bring our own brand of rugby, which is an exciting attack and players with real ability and then tie it all together with what you need to do,"
Despite losing just four times this season and currently topping the league, Wasps know that one slip-up in the play-offs and their season will be over.
And Haskell says Wasps are determined to make sure that does not happen and have a season to remember rather than one of regret.
He added: "I think there’s always the threat that a season with so much potential could end prematurely. Unlike with football, it doesn’t matter if you finish top, we’re all aware of that.
"Wasps made a habit years ago of coming third or fourth and then beating everyone to lift the trophy.
"It’s just a case of making sure all the hard work you’ve put in during the season pays off at the end,"
We look ahead to all Round 22's action!
Saturday, May 6
Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers
(Sixways - Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors only victory in the last four round of Premiership Rugby was 25-19 at home to Bath on April 15. The Warriors have won three of their last four home games at Sixways since Gary Gold took over as head coach.
Leicester Tigers require two league points to guarantee participation in the play-offs for the 13th successive season. Tigers only defeat in their last six first team matches was 21-27 to Bath at Twickenham in round 19 of Premiership Rugby.
Leicester have won their last fourteen matches against Worcester since the Warriors 23-19 victory at Sixways in March 2008.
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Wynand Olivier, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Perry Humphreys, 10 Ryan Mills, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Phil Dowson, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Gareth Milasinovich, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Ryan Bower.
Replacements: 16 Jack Singleton, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Biyi Alo, 19 Darren Barry, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Cooper Vuna.
Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Jack Roberts, 12 Owen Williams, 11 Peter Betham, 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 George Worth.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Simon McConnell and Paul Dix
TMO: Sean Davey
Sale Sharks v Bath Rugby
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00 GMT)
Sale Sharks only victory in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby was 36-26 at home to Worcester on April 7. The Sharks have lost just one of their last six matches in all tournaments at AJ Bell Stadium: 12-32 to Northampton in round 17 of Premiership Rugby.
Bath Rugby must obtain a big victory to give themselves any hope of overhauling Leicester to reach the semi-finals. Bath have won just two of their last six Premiership Rugby encounters – against Leicester at Twickenham in round 19 and over Gloucester at the Recreation Ground last weekend. Bath have not won away from home in the competition since a visit to Exeter on October 30.
Bath’s only defeat in their last five fixtures with Sale was 17-29 at AJ Bell Stadium in April 2016.
Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Johnny Leota, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont (captain), 7 Tom Curry, 6 Ben Curry, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Ross Harrison, 2 Rob Webber, 1 James Flynn.
Replacements: 16 Cameron Neild, 17 Jake Pope, 18 Diogo Ferreira, 19 George Nott, 20 Magnus Lund, 21 Peter Stringer, 22 Mark Jennings, 23 Josh Charnley.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Max Clark, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Rhys Priestland (co-captain), 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Francois Louw (co-captain), 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Chris Brooker, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Ross Batty, 17 Darryl Marfo, 18 Kane Palma-Newport, 19 Matt Garvey, 20 Paul Grant, 21 Chris Cook, 22 George Ford, 23 Robbie Fruean.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth and Andrew Jackson
TMO: Graham Hughes
Gloucester Rugby v Exeter Chiefs
(Kingsholm - Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00 GMT)
Potentially Gloucester Rugby have two chances to gain a European Champions Cup play-off spot over the next two weeks. First they must win this game to give them any hope of finishing seventh, and should they fail they could obtain the spot by beating Stade Francais in next week’s European Challenge Cup final.
Gloucester have won just two of their last six Aviva Premriship Rugby matches, but have been defeated at Kingsholm just once in any competition since New Year’s Day: 27-30 to Harlequins in round 17 of Premiership Rugby.
Exeter Chiefs have qualified for a second successive semi-final but are still battling with Wasps and Saracens to see if that will be at home.
The Chiefs have set new Premiership Rugby records of seven successive maximum point wins and claiming try bonus point in each of their last eight fixtures. The Devonians have not lost in Premiership Rugby since Bath beat them at Sandy Park on October 30.
The two clubs drew 27-all at Sandy Park in round Six whilst Exeter have been victorious on three of their last five visits to Kingsholm in Premiership Rugby.
Gloucester: 15 James Hook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Twelvetrees, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Freddie Clarke, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Paddy McAllister.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Ollie Thorley, 23 Henry Trinder.
Exeter: 15 Jack Nowell, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 James Short, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Stuart Townsend, 8 Kai Horstmann, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Ollie Atkins, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace and Phil Watters
TMO: Geoffrey Warren
Wasps v Saracens
(Ricoh Arena - Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00 GMT)
The winners of this encounter will guarantee themselves a home semifinal, the losers will have to wait on Exeter’s result to see if they too will play at home in the last four.
Wasps have reached a second successive semifinal despite losing at Harlequins last weekend to end a five game winning run in Premiership Rugby. Wasps are the only side in the tournament with a perfect played ten, won ten record at home this season – the last side with a 100% home winning record in a season of Premiership Rugby was Gloucester in 2010/11.
Saracens have reached the semifinals for an eighth successive year and have not lost in Premiership Rugby since a visit to Gloucester in round 15.
Saracens only defeat in their last twelve fixtures against Wasps in all competitions was 23-64 at Allianz Park in February 2016. Sarries have visited Ricoh Arena on three previous occasions with their only reversal being to Munster in the semifinal of the European Cup in April 2008.
Wasps: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Willie Le Roux, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Phil Swainston, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Alapati Leiua.
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Mike Ellery, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Schalk Burger, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Jim Hamilton, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits (captain), 1 Titi Lamositle.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Kelly Brown, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Alex Goode, 23 Nathan Earle.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Roger Baileff and Nigel Carrick.
TMO: David Sainsbury.
Northampton Saints v Harlequins
(Franklin’s Garden - Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00GMT)
This match is the battle for the final automatic European Champions Cup spot for next season. If Northampton are to overtake Harlequins they will need to obtain four more league point than their rivals in this match.
Northampton Saints have lost their last four Premiership Rugby matches but have not lost five in a row in the tournament since season 2010/11. The Saints have lost four of their nine Premiership encounters at Franklin’s Gardens this season.
Harlequins beat Wasps at Twickenham Stoop in round 21 and have won three of their last five Premiership Rugby matches. The Londoners have won twice on the road in the competition this season, at Bristol in round 14 and at Gloucester in round 17.
Harlequins won 20-9 at Twickenham Stoop in round 6 to end a seven game losing run to the Saints in all tournaments. They have not achieved a season’s double over the East Midlanders since 2012/13.
Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Nafi Tuitavake, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Harry Mallinder, 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 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Rory Hutchinson.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Karl Dickson, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill (captain), 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 Charlie Mulchrone, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe and Peter Allan
TMO: Rowan Kitt
Bristol Rugby v Newcastle Falcons
(Ashton Gate - Kick-off: 16.00; 16.00GMT)
Bristol have slipped to five straight defeats in Premiership Rugby since beating Bath 12-11 at Ashton Gate on February 26.
Newcastle Falcons still have an outside chance of finishing in seventh place in the table and maybe making the European Champions Cup play-offs. The Falcons last four matches have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst the Tynesiders two victories on the road in Premiership Rugby this season were at Gloucester in round 4 and at Northampton in round 9.
Newcastle’s only defeat in their last five fixtures with Bristol was 14-19 at Kingston Park in the Championship in April 2013. This is the Falcons first ever visit to Ashton Gate.
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 Andy Uren, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Siale Piutau.
Newcastle: 15 Marcus Watson, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Opeti Fonua, 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 Will Witty, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Alex Tait.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal and Andrew Pearce
TMO: Trevor Fisher