Preview: Premiership, Round Five
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: There are just five points covering the eight teams pursuing Premiership Rugby leaders Exeter Chiefs, in the most competitive start to a campaign in our history.
South African hooker Shaun Malton insisted that competition for places within the Exeter Chiefs squad is helping to drive up standards week by week.
Malton got his first taste of Premiership action this season, coming off the bench to score one of his side's five tries in their 31-17 victory over Wasps at Sandy Park.
His touchdown, coupled with scores for Olly Woodburn (2), Dave Dennis and Don Armand, were the key highlights in another polished performance from the champions, who remain in pole position after four rounds of the season.
Despite a lengthy injury list, Exeter's Director of Rugby Rob Baxter has not been afraid to utilise his options to the full during the opening weeks of the campaign, thrusting any one of a number of players into the heat of battle.
However, it seems whoever is entrusted with a role within the match-day 23, they are stepping up to the plate and delivering the kind of displays that helped Devon's finest go all the way last season.
"Every day we come in it's a challenge for all of us," explained Malton. "We've got a massive squad, all of whom are pushing for the same goal, but everyone is putting pressure on one another to perform. Even in training, it's very competitive, but that's how we like it and it's helping push us forward,"
Sunday's victory over Wasps not only allowed the Chiefs to pick off one of their arch-rivals, but it ensured they were given the perfect lift ahead of this weekend's coming trip to Leicester Tigers.
Widely regarded as one of the toughest away-days on the seasonal calendar, Malton says the Chiefs will head to the East Midlands in bullish mood having accrued three successive try bonus victories.
"We came in on Tuesday, review the game fully, and then moved onto Leicester," added the all-action hooker. "All week we had built up steadily for the Wasps game and it will be the same this week. We talked about what we wanted to do, the game we wanted to play, and we took that out onto the field.
"You could see from the first five minutes how pumped the boys were. I remember saying to the guys alongside me on the bench, we've still got 35 minutes to go, but it was just five minutes of continuous pressure and eventually, it took its toll on them."
In what was an impressive first-half display from the champions, the Chiefs had already accrued the try bonus thanks to touchdowns from Woodburn, Dennis and Armand.
Malton entered the fray early in the second period, but it didn't take the former Nottingham man long to make his mark, burrowing over from close range for his first-ever Premiership score.
"It was 50m out, wasn't it?" joked Malton. "Seriously, it was great to go over for my first Premiership try. Stu [Townsend] popped it up for me and all I had to do was just drive over."
Meanwhile, Owen Farrell goes into the weekend on a streak of 13 consecutive successful kicks, needing just 25 points to go through the 1 000-point barrier for Premiership Rugby. While Danny Care needs just one try for the 50th of his Premiership career and if he plays this will be the 100th Premiership match of Marland Yarde’s career.
We take a look at Round Five action!
Friday, September 29
Newcastle Falcons v London Irish
(Kingston Park - Kick-off: 19.45; 18.45 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons only defeat in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby was 7-29 to Saracens in Philadelphia on September 16. The Tynesiders have won their last three Premiership Rugby fixtures at Kingston Park since Saracens beat them there in round 17 last season.
London Irish have slipped to three straight defeats in Premiership Rugby since beating Harlequins 39-29 at Twickenham Stadium on the opening weekend. The Exiles have lost their last sixteen away games in Premiership Rugby – only Worcester (2012-14), Rotherham (2000-04) and London, Welsh (2012-15) have gone more matches in succession without a win away from home in the history of the tournament.
Newcastle’s 13-6 victory at Kingston Park the last time the two clubs met in April 2016 ended a four-match winning run by the Exiles in this fixture. London Irish have won just once at Newcastle since 2010: 20-18 in September 2014.
Newcastle: 15 Alex Tait, 14 DTH van der Merwe, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Vereniki Goneva, 10 Craig Willis, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Santiago Socino, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Sami Mavinga, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Josh Matavesi.
London Irish: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 James Marshall, 9 Scott Steele, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Josh McNally, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 David Paice (captain), 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Teofilo Paulo, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Tom Fowlie.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Peter Allan.
TMO: Stuart Terheege.
Worcester Warriors v Saracens
(Sixways - Kick-off: 19.45, 18.45GMT)
Worcester Warriors have been defeated in their last six Premiership Rugby matches since beating Bath 25-19 at Sixways in April. The Warriors have lost three in succession at home in the tournament, their worst run at Sixways since February 2016.
Saracens only defeat so far this campaign was 21-31 at Bath in round 2 of Premiership Rugby. Saracens two most recent away victories have not been at their opponent’s usual home grounds – against Newcastle in Philadelphia and Northampton at Milton Keynes. Their last victory on a ‘genuine’ away ground was against Falcons at Kingston Park in March.
Worcester beat Saracens 24-18 at Sixways in February to end a six-game winning run by Saracens in this fixture.
Worcester: 15 Josh Adams, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Bryce Heem, 10 Jamie Shillcock, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Gerrit-Janse van Velze, 7 Alafoti Faosiliva, 6 David Denton, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Biyi Alo, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ryan Bower.
Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Pierce Phillips, 20 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 21 Jono Kitto, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Chris Pennell.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Duncan Taylor 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Calum Clark, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 George Kruis, 4 Dominic Day, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Hayden Thompson-Stringer.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Nick Tompkins.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Jonathan Healy.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Sale Sharks v Gloucester Rugby
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 20.00, 19.00 GMT)
Sale Sharks only victory in the first four rounds of Premiership Rugby was 36-7 over London Irish at AJ Bell Stadium on September 15. Sale has won three of their last four home games in the tournament.
All of Gloucester Rugby’s four games so far have been won by the home side on the day, with the Cherry & Whites' only victory on the road in the tournament since they last visited Sale twelve months ago being on the short trip to Bristol in March.
Gloucester has won their last four matches against Sale – their best ever sequence against the Northerners – including victories on their last two visits to AJ Bell Stadium.
Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings,11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 5 Josh Beaumont, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Alex Tarus, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 James Flynn, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 Andre Ostrikov, 20 Tom Curry, 21 Cameron Neild, 22 Will Cliff, 23 James O'Connor.
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 David Halaifonua, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Freddie Clarke, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Gareth Denman; 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Val Rapava Ruskin.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 John Afoa, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Jacob Rowan, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Ben Vellacott.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Andrew Jackson & Wayne Falla.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Saturday, September 30
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs
(Welford Road - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers have won their last two Premiership Rugby fixtures, at home to Gloucester and away at Harlequins. Tigers have won three of their last four games at Welford Road since Exeter beat them there in early March.
Champions Exeter Chiefs top the table after three successive victories over London Irish, Worcester and Wasps. The Chiefs only defeat in their last ten away games in Premiership Rugby was 21-28 at Gloucester on the opening evening of the new season.
Leicester have won just one of their last four Premiership Rugby encounters with the Chiefs: 31-27 at Welford Road in March 2016, they did, however, beat the Devonians 16-12 in the final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup at Twickenham Stoop in March.
Leicester Tigers: TBC
Exeter Chiefs: TBC
Referee: Thomas Foley
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Paul Dix.
TMO: David Sainsbury.
Northampton Saints v Harlequins
(Franklin’s Gardens - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints only defeat in their last five Premiership Rugby matches was 24-55 to Saracens at Twickenham Stadium in the London doubleheader. Saints only defeat at Franklin’s Gardens in any tournament since early December was 31-36 to Leicester in Premiership Rugby on March 25.
Harlequins have a won two, lost two records so far this season in Premiership Rugby with their away victory at Wasps two weeks ago ending a run of four successive away defeats in all tournaments.
The Saints have lost just one their last nine encounters with Harlequins in all competitions: 9-20 at Twickenham Stoop in October 2016. The Londoners have not been victorious at Franklin’s Gardens since a visit in Premiership Rugby in December 2012.
Northampton Saints: TBC
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Philip Watters & Simon McConnell.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Sunday, October 1
Wasps v Bath Rugby
(Ricoh Arena - Kick-off: 15.00, 14.00GMT)
Wasps have slipped to successive defeats, against Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs, but have not lost three
in a row in Premiership Rugby since January 2016. This was last the occasion when they last lost successive matches at the Ricoh Arena – against Exeter and Saracens.
Bath Rugby have lost their last two Premiership Rugby fixtures, at Northampton and at home to Newcastle, whilst their solitary away win in the tournament since last October came at Leicester in round 1.
Wasps have won their last four encounters with Bath in all tournaments whilst Bath’s only win in three visits to the Ricoh Arena was 25-23 in the European Champions Cup in December 2015.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Roy Maybank & Adam Leal.
TMO: David Rose.
Source: @premrugby & @exeterchiefs