PREVIEW: Premiership, Round nine
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Gloucester Rugby’s comeback victory over Saracens and Exeter Chiefs’ ascent to the summit were just some of the highlights of Round Eight.
And this weekend sees another couple of mouth-watering picks as the top two come together at Allianz Park and Newcastle Falcons welcome the in-form Cherry & Whites to the North East.
The Chiefs triumphed in the Premiership Rugby Final against Wasps in May, but both Rob Baxter’s side and Saracens occupied the top two spots frequently throughout last season, and do so again as we head into Round 9.
The West Country outfit currently has their noses in front, sitting two points above Mark McCall’s men, but Saracens will fancy their chances at Allianz Park as they seek revenge following last season’s semi-final defeat at Sandy Park.
Exeter also achieved a brilliant result on the double European Champions’ turf last season, drawing 13-13 in January thanks to Jack Nowell’s early try, and won’t be intimidated on Sunday.
This weekend’s action begins on Friday at Kingston Park, with Dean Richards’ Falcons aiming to get back to winning ways against Johan Ackermann’s troops.
And the results could see ninth-placed Newcastle overtake fifth-placed Gloucester if they can get a victory.
The Falcons may have fallen to a 10-40 defeat to a strong Wasps side on Saturday, but they have the always-deadly Sinoti Sinoti back in their ranks.
Gloucester, meanwhile, fly into this one off the back of three straight Premiership Rugby wins and are spearheaded by No.8 Ruan Ackermann, in fantastic form, and have been bolstered by excellent performances from youngsters Tom Hudson and scrumhalf Ben Vellacott.
We look at all the Round Nine action!
Friday, November 24
Newcastle Falcons v Gloucester Rugby
(Kingston Park - Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons have slipped to three straight defeats in Premiership Rugby since beating London Irish at Kingston Park at the end of September. The Falcons have lost only one of their last seven games at Kingston Park in all tournaments: 13-30 to Leicester Tigers in round 7 of Premiership Rugby.
Gloucester Rugby’s only defeat in their last five first-team games was 24-26 to Leicester at Welford Road in the Anglo-Welsh Cup. Gloucester won their most recent away game in Premiership Rugby, 22-21 at Bath, but have not won successive away games in the competition since the turn of the New Year 2015.
The Falcons achieved the Premiership Rugby double over Gloucester in the last campaign for the first time since 2011-12 and have never won three in succession against the Cherry & Whites in the professional era.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Alex Tait, 13 Belisario Agulla, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Sam Stuart, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Will Witty, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Rob Vickers.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Sami Mavinga, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Calum Green, 20 Gary Graham, 21 Ruaridh Dawson, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Chris Harris.
Gloucester: 15 Tom Hudson, 14 Henry Purdy, 13 Andy Symons, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Jeremy Thrush, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Lloyd Evans, 23 Mark Atkinson.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth & Peter Allan
TMO: Claire Hodnett
Saturday, November 25
Bath Rugby v Harlequins
(Recreation Ground - Kick-off: 12.45; 12.45 GMT)
Bath Rugby’s only defeat in their last eight first-team encounters was by a single point at home to Gloucester in Premiership Rugby on 29 October. Bath have lost two of their last three Premiership Rugby home games.
Harlequins three-game winning run in all tournaments ended with their 17-31 reversal at Exeter on Sunday. ‘Quins have won just once on the road in Premiership Rugby since March: 24-21 at Wasps on 17 September.
Bath beat Harlequins 22-12 at the Recreation Ground in February to end a three-game losing streak to the Londoners. ‘Quins have won just once at Bath since 2011: 38-28 in October 2015.
Bath: 15 James Wilson, 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Matt Banahan, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Paul Grant, 7 Zach Mercer, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Michael van Vuuren, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Levi Douglas, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Darren Atkins.
Harlequins: 15 Ross Chisholm, 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Alofa Alofa, 12 James Lang, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Jono Kitto, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 James Chisholm, 6 Ben Glynn, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Will Collier, 2 Dave Ward, 1 Lewis Boyce.
Replacements: 16 Elia Elia, 17 Cameron Holenstein, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Archie White, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Henry Cheeseman, 23 Gabriel Ibitoye.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Andrew Jackson & Philip Watters
TMO: David Rose
Leicester Tigers v Worcester Warriors
(Welford Road - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00GMT)
Leicester Tigers have won their last six Premiership Rugby fixtures – their best run in the tournament since season 2013-14. Tigers have lost only one of their six home games in all competitions this season: 23-27 to Bath in round 1 of Premiership Rugby.
Worcester Warriors climbed off the bottom of the Premiership Rugby table for the first time since round 1 with their 30-15 victory at home to Northampton Saints on Saturday. The Warriors have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since a trip to Harlequins in March 2016.
Worcester have beaten Leicester just twice in their history, both at Sixways, in Premiership Rugby in 2005 and 2008. The Warriors have visited Welford Road on fourteen previous occasions since their first in the Midland Counties Cup in 1895, and have lost them all.
Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Nick Malouf, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Gareth Owen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Joe Ford, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Valentino Mapapalangi, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow (captain), 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Greg Bateman.
Replacements: 16 George McGuigan, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Chris Baumann, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Will Evans, 21 Ben White, 22 Tom Hardwick, 23 Mathew Tait.
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Alafoti Faosiliva, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Donncha O‘Callaghan (c), 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ethan Waller.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Christian Scotland-Williamson, 20 David Denton, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Dean Hammond.
Referee: Greg Macdonald
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Simon McConnell.
TMO: Keith Lewis
Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 17.30, 17.30 GMT)
Sale Sharks have slipped to three straight defeats in Premiership Rugby since beating Gloucester 57-10 at AJ Bell Stadium in round 5. The Sharks record at AJ Bell Stadium this season is won three, drawn one and lost two in all tournaments.
Northampton Saints have won only one of their last seven first-team fixtures: 41-7 at home to Dragons in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on 11 November. The Saints only away win this campaign came at London Irish in round 4 of Premiership Rugby.
Northampton have won their last three encounters with Sale since the Sharks 20-13 win in Salford two years ago. The Saints have won twice before at AJ Bell Stadium in Premiership Rugby – in November 2012 and March 2017.
Sale: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Francois de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 5 Andre Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 James Flynn, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 George Nott, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Rohan van Rensburg, 23 Will Addison.
Northampton: 15 Harry Mallinder, 14 Juan Pablo Estelles, 13 Rory Hutchinson, 12 Tom Stephenson, 11 Ben Foden, 10 James Grayson, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Sam Dickinson (c), 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Alex Moon, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Tom Collins.
Referee: Karl Dickson
Assistant Referees: John Meredith & Wayne Falla.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Sunday, November 26
London Irish v Wasps
(Madejski Stadium - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
London Irish have won just once in any competition since the opening weekend of the new season: 44-7 over Stade Francais in Paris in round 2 of the European Challenge Cup. The Exiles most recent victory at Madejski Stadium in Premiership Rugby was in their St Patrick’s Day clash with Gloucester in 2016.
Wasps only defeat in their last five first-team matches was 41-53 at home to Newcastle in round 1 of the Anglo-Welsh Cup: Wasps have recorded a try bonus point in their last five fixtures.
London Irish have not beaten Wasps since a 23-20 win at Adams Park in Premiership Rugby in February 2014.
London Irish: 15 James Marshall, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Fergus Mulchrone, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Tommy Bell, 9 Ben Meehan, 8 Blair Cowan, 7 Max Northcote-Green, 6 Mike Coman, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Ollie Hoskins, 2 David Paice (captain), 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Tom Fowlie.
Wasps: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 James Gaskell, 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Ashley Johnson (captain), 1 Simon McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Rob Miller.
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Nigel Carrick.
TMO: Stuart Terheege.
Saracens v Exeter Chiefs
(Allianz Park - Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Saracens have lost their last three matches in all tournaments but have not lost four first-team games in a row since 2010. Sarries are unbeaten in their last nineteen home games in Premiership Rugby since Northampton beat them 20-15 at Allianz Park in March 2016.
Exeter Chiefs have lost just once in any competitions since the opening weekend of the season: 13-20 at Leicester in Premiership Rugby at the end of September. The Chiefs 31-17 victory over Harlequins in round 8 took them back to the top of the Premiership Rugby table for the first time since round 4.
The clubs met on three occasions last season – all in Premiership Rugby – with Saracens winning at Exeter in September, the two sides drawing at Allianz Park in January and Exeter taking the semi-final at Sandy Park in May. The Chiefs only previous win at Allianz Park was 24-20 in May 2015.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Max Malins, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Calum Clark, 5 George Kruis, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Richard Barrington.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 Mike Ellery.
Exeter: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Nic White, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Don Armand, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Ben Moon.
Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Moray Low, 19 Toby Salmon, 20 Sam Skinner, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 James Short.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Roy Maybank.
TMO: David Sainsbury.