Preview: Premiership, Round 15
DOWN TO THE WIRE: As the Premership hit Round 15 the race to teh semi-final has been impossible to call.
Just seven points separate the top three, while the sides from fourth to tenth are just ten points apart.
This weekend presents another intriguing round with so much at stake.
In a repeat of last season's final Exeter Chiefs make the trip to the Ricoh Arena, to take on Wasps on Sunday.
While on Friday, the Premiership Round 15 kicks off with Newcastle Falcons taking on Bath, while and Sale Sharks host Saracens.
Newcastle Falcons have the luxury of the return of England flyhalf Toby Flood.
The flyhalf missed last week’s game at Saracens with a head knock but is fit to resume his place in the side as the Falcons go for a sixth successive home victory in all competitions.
England wing Denny Solomona and Marland Yarde return to the Sale Sharks side to face Saracens.
Liam Williams continues his return from injury and starts on the wing, as does Chris Wyles for Sarries.
Friday, February 16
Newcastle Falcons v Bath Rugby
(Kingston Park - Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Newcastle Falcons’ four-game winning run in Premiership Rugby ended at Saracens on Saturday. Falcons have won their last five home games at Kingston Park in all competitions since Gloucester beat them there in round nine of Premiership Rugby.
Bath Rugby have won their last four fixtures since their 17-35 reversal at home to Scarlets in the European Champions Cup on 12 January. Newcastle has won their last two encounters against Bath in Premiership Rugby although Bath was victorious 21-8 at the Recreation Ground in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on 27 January.
Newcastle beat Bath 33-32 at the Recreation Ground in round 4 of Premiership Rugby and have only achieved a season’s Premiership double over them once before – in the inaugural season of 1997/98.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Michael Young (captain), 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Nili Latu, 6 Evan Olmstead, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Sam Lockwood, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Ryan Burrows, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Maxime Mermoz
Bath: 15 James Wilson, 14 Aled Brew, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Paul Grant, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 James Phillips, 3 Max Lahiff, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Lucas Noguera
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Levi Douglas, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Jeff Williams
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys & Peter Allan.
TMO: Keith Lewis.
Sale Sharks v Saracens
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Sale Sharks only loss in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby was 16-20 at Gloucester on 30 December. The Sharks have lost just once at home since round 2in the tournament: 6-10 to Exeter at the end of October.
Saracens have won their last four Premiership Rugby fixtures since their 19-20 defeat to Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop on 3 December. Saracens have won their last two away games in Premiership Rugby but have not won three in a row on their travels in the competition in the same season since December 2015.
Saracens have lost only one of their last 13 clashes with Sale in Premiership Rugby: 10-14 at AJ Bell Stadium in February 2015. Sale beat Saracens 29-22 in the Anglo-Welsh Cup at Salford in November.
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Will Addison (captain), 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Sam James, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Josh Beaumont, 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 Luke James, 23 Josh Charnley
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt (captain), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Calum Clark, 5 George Kruis, 4 Nick Isiekwe, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Christopher Tolofua, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Scott Spurling, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 Mark Flanagan, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Tom Whiteley, 22 Max Malins, 23 Nathan Earle
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal & Wayne Falla.
TMO: Stuart Terheege.
Saturday, February 17
Leicester Tigers v Harlequins
(Welford Road - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers only victory in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby was 19-15 at home to London Irish on 6 January. The Tigers have lost three Premiership Rugby matches at Welford Road this season, against Bath in round 1, Worcester in round 9 and Saracens in round 11.
Harlequins have recorded just two wins in the last seven rounds of Premiership Rugby, 20-19 at home to Saracens in round 10 and 50-21 over Northampton in the ‘Big Game’ at Twickenham on 30 December. ‘Quins only away win in Premiership Rugby since last March was 24-21 against Wasps in Coventry in September.
Leicester have won their last three matches against Harlequins since the Londoner’s 25-19 victory at Twickenham Stoop in February 2016. ‘Quins most recent victory at Welford Road was 23-16 in November 2013.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Gareth Owen, 11 Jonah Holmes, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Greg Bateman.
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Harry Simmons, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mathew Tait
Harlequins: 15 Aaron Morris, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Jonno Kitto, 8 James Chisholm, 7 Dave Ward (captain), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 Stan South, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Lewis Boyce.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Piperm 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Sam Twomey, 20 Archie White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 James Lang, 22 Gabriel Ibitoye
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce & Hamish Smales.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Northampton Saints v London Irish
(Franklin’s Gardens - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00GMT)
Northampton Saints have won only one of their last nine Premiership Rugby matches: 22-19 at home to Gloucester in round 13. The Saints have won their last three home games in all competitions at Franklin’s Gardens since Exeter Chiefs beat them there in round 11 of Premiership Rugby.
London Irish are without a win in Premiership Rugby since their round 1 victory over Harlequins at Twickenham, whilst they have not won away from home in the tournament since a visit to London Welsh almost three years ago. Northampton’s solitary defeat to the Exiles since October 2012 was 23-25 at Madejski Stadium on Boxing Day 2015. London Irish’s only win at Franklin’s Gardens since 2004 was by a single point in September 2011.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Heinrich Brüssow, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Christian Day (captain), 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
London Irish: 15 James Marshall, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Max Northcote-Green, 6 Arno Botha, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 4 Franco van der Merwe (captain), 3 Ollie Hoskins, 2 David Paice, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements:16 Dave Porecki, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Simon Harding & Jonathan Healy.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Worcester Warriors v Gloucester Rugby
(Sixways - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors failed to obtain a Premiership victory in the first seven rounds but since have won four of the last seven. The Warriors have won twice at home in the tournament this season, against Northampton in round 8 and London Irish in round 11.
Gloucester Rugby’s last five matches in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day. Gloucester’s two away wins since March in Premiership Rugby came in successive trips, to Bath in October and Newcastle in November. Gloucester has lost just once to Warriors since May 2014: 20-28 at Sixways in March 2016.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jamie Shillcock, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 David Denton, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (captain), 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ethan Waller.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Anton Bresler, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Alafoti Faosiliva, 22 Luke Baldwin, 23 Dean Hammond
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Henry Trinder, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Ben Vellacott, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Tom Savage (captain), 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck,
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Mark Atkinson
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Paul Dix.
TMO: Geoff Warren.
Sunday, February 18
Wasps v Exeter Chiefs
(Ricoh Arena - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Wasps are the best team in Premiership Rugby on current form having obtained 24 league points from the last six rounds. Their only defeat in the tournament since early October was 15-38 to Saracens in their most recent match in the competition at the Ricoh Arena on 7 January.
Exeter Chiefs have lost their last two Premiership Rugby matches, away at Newcastle and at home to Worcester, but have not lost three in a row in the same season since January 2015. The Chiefs have lost their last three away games in all competitions since their 35-14 win at Northampton in Premiership Rugby on 23 December.
Exeter have lost only one of their last seven encounters with Wasps in all tournaments: 20-25 at Coventry in Premiership Rugby in the opening game of last season
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Juan De Jongh, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Guy Thompson, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 James Gaskell (captain), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Simon McIntyre.
Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Alex Rieder, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Gaby Lovobalavu, 23 Christian Wade
Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (captain), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Don Armand, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Ian Whitten
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Karl Dickson.
TMO: Sean Davey.