Preview: Premiership, Round 17
AS COLD AS ICE: The race for a place in the Aviva Premiership Rugby semi-finals and a spot in the European Rugby Champions Cup are heating up despite all parts of the country currently being affected due to the inclement weather.
The extreme weather conditions resulted in the clash between Exeter Chiefs and Saracens been put back by 24hours - scheduled for Saturday the match will now be played on Sunday.
Playing his last season for Exeter Chiefs, No.8 Thomas Waldrom admits the environment created by Rob Baxter down in Devon, and the cream teas, is one he will sorely miss.
Waldrom is a two-time Premiership Rugby winner, with Leicester Tigers and Exeter Chiefs has won the league’s Top Try-scorer Award and earned international caps with England.
He lifted the Premiership Rugby trophy at Twickenham in May and helped Chiefs to the top of the league as they look to repeat that feat again this season.
"It was a very tough decision because the Chiefs mean a lot to me, it’s hard to put into words what it means to me," he explained.
"It’s the environment at Exeter, it’s great to be a part of. We have big characters but everyone gets on and the changing room is a great place to be in because everyone does get on.
"The culture Rob Baxter has built is great and growing, we have fun on and off the field. The Devon cream teas I will miss too.
"Hopefully I can find a place in Wellington and import some clotted cream,"
Now he’s targeting a third title and knows Chiefs face a major hurdle in their bid to finish the league as leaders when they face Saracens this weekend.
"We know what they will throw at us and what we have to do to get a result. We’ve played them in some big games we know how they play but it’s down to us," he added.
"We’ll look at last weekend’s stuff where we need to improve on and then Saracens and how we can adapt, see what they have been doing and put that on the training field.
"It’s a tough one, it’s a top of the table clash and whoever wins will have a slight advantage (in the race for top spot).
"We want Sandy Park to be a fortress, we want teams to have to work hard, we gave away some soft points recently so we need to tidy up and make teams work harder,"
All the actions of Round 17!
Friday, March 2
Harlequins v Bath Rugby
(Twickenham Stoop, Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Harlequins have slipped to four straight Premiership Rugby defeats since beating Northampton Saints at Twickenham Stadium on 30 December; they have not lost five in a row in the competition since 2006-07. Harlequins have not won at Twickenham Stoop in Premiership Rugby since beating Saracens there on 3 December.
Bath Rugby’s only loss in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was 12-29 at Newcastle on 16 February. Bath have won only once on the road in Premiership Rugby since November: 46-25 at Worcester in round 13.
The last four matches between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Bath’s only victory at Twickenham Stoop in Premiership Rugby since 2004 was in May 2015.
Harlequins: 15 James Lang, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Dave Lewis, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 James Chisholm, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Ben Glynn, 3 Will Collier, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Mark Lambert
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Cameron Holenstein, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Archie White, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Francis Saili
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aled Brew, 10 James Wilson, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Josh Bayliss, 6 Zach Mercer, 5 Luke Charteris (captain), 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Beno Obano
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 James Phillips, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Josh Lewis, 23 Cooper Vuna
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Paul Burton.
TMO: Stuart Terheege.
Saturday, March 3
Gloucester Rugby v Newcastle Falcons
(Kingsholm, Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Gloucester Rugby have won just one of their last four Premiership Rugby matches: 24-17 at home to Leicester Tigers in round 14. Gloucester are the only side in the tournament unbeaten at home this season, although they did draw 25-all with Wasps at Kingsholm last weekend.
Newcastle Falcons only loss in the last seven rounds of Premiership Rugby was 3-25 at Saracens on 10 February. The Falcons have lost just one of their last four away games in the tournament. Newcastle have beaten Gloucester twice in the last six meetings between the clubs in Premiership Rugby, including an 18-13 success on their most recent visit to Kingsholm in September 2016.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Steve Lee.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks
(Franklin’s Gardens, Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints have won just two of their last eleven Premiership Rugby encounters, both in their last two home games, against Gloucester and London Irish. The Saints have won their last four matches at Franklin’s Gardens in all competitions since Exeter Chiefs beat them there in round 11 of Premiership Rugby.
Sale Sharks have slipped to two straight defeats in Premiership Rugby, 3-13 at home to Saracens and 32-33 away at Bath. Sales’ two away wins in Premiership Rugby this season have been at the home venues of the bottom two clubs, Worcester Warriors and London Irish.
Sale beat Northampton 18-15 at AJ Bell Stadium in round 9 and have not achieved a season’s Premiership Rugby double over The Saints since 2005/06. The Sharks have not been victorious at Franklin’s Gardens since May 2006.
Northampton Saints: TBC
Sale Sharks: TBC
Referee: Wayne Barnes (195th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson & Roy Maybank.
TMO: Sean Davey. Citing Officer: Chris Catling.
Sunday, March 4
Wasps v London Irish
(Ricoh Arena, Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Wasps have lost only one of their last ten Premiership Rugby matches: 15-38 at home to Saracens on 7 January. Wasps 50 league points this season have been evenly split with 25 points obtained at home and another 25 on their travels.
London Irish doubled their tally of Premiership Rugby victories this season with their home win over Worcester Warriors on Sunday. The Exiles have lost their last 22 away games in Premiership Rugby since beating London Welsh at Oxford in February 2015.
Wasps are unbeaten in their last five fixtures against London Irish in Premiership Rugby since the Exiles 23-20 win at Adams Park in February 2014.
London Irish: TBC
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Greg Macdonald & Nigel Carrick.
TMO: David Rose.
Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers
(Sixways, Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors five wins in Premiership Rugby this season have all been in the space of the last nine rounds. The Warriors have lost just once at Sixways in any competitions since early December: 25-46 to Bath in round 13 of Premiership Rugby.
Leicester Tigers have won three of their last four Premiership Rugby encounters, whilst their victory at Saracens on Sunday was their first on the road since the end of October.
Worcester beat Leicester at Welford Road for the first time ever in November and are attempting to achieve their first Premiership Rugby season’s double over the Tigers. The Tigers have won on their last nine visits to Sixways in all competitions, including beating Northampton there in the 2012 Anglo-Welsh Cup final.
Worcester Warriors: TBC
Leicester Tigers: TBC
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Simon McConnell.
TMO: Geoff Warren
Exeter Chiefs v Saracens
(Sandy Park, Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs last-minute victory over Northampton Saints last weekend ended a three-game losing run in Premiership Rugby. The Chiefs have suffered just one reversal at Sandy Park in the competition since October 2016: 5-6 to Worcester Warriors on 10 February.
Saracens five-game winning run in Premiership Rugby ended at home to Leicester Tigers on Sunday. Saracens have won their last three away games in Premiership Rugby since losing by a single point to Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop in round 10.
Exeter are unbeaten in their last three matches against Saracens in Premiership Rugby whilst Saracens record at Sandy Park in the tournament is won five, lost three.
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley & Paul Dix.
TMO: Keith Lewis.