Preview: Premiership, Round 18
MOMENTOUS OCCASIONS: The race for a place in the Premiership Rugby semi-finals and a spot in the European Rugby Champions Cup returns with a bang in a history-making Round 18 this weekend.
Round 18 kicks off on Friday with reigning Premiership Rugby Champions Exeter Chiefs travelling to The Rec to take on Bath Rugby, and it ends with a mouth-watering clash with fifth-place Leicester Tigers welcoming second-place Wasps to Welford Road on Sunday.
There is a first-ever Premiership Rugby game set to be played at the London Stadium on Saturday as Saracens take on Harlequins.
Part of a double bill for the latter as attentions then turn to another iconic stadium as Newcastle Falcons welcome Northampton Saints to St James’ Park for The Big One.
The other two matches on Saturday have implications for the top and bottom half of the table as London Irish and Worcester Warriors will battle it out for crucial points against Gloucester Rugby and Sale Sharks respectively – the latter two eyeing up a top-six finish and with it European Rugby Champions Cup next term.
All the action of Round 18!
Friday, March 23
Bath Rugby v Exeter Chiefs
(Recreation Ground - Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Bath Rugby’s last four matches have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Bath have won their last four matches at the Recreation Ground in all competitions.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last two Premiership Rugby matches, both at home, to Northampton Saints and Saracens. The Chiefs have lost their last four away games in all competitions since beating Northampton 35-14 at Franklins Gardens in round 11 of Premiership Rugby.
The two sides should have met in the final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup last weekend which unfortunately succumbed to the weather. Exeter’s only defeat in their last four meetings with Bath was 10-13 at Sandy Park in October 2016.
Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 James Wilson, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Tom Ellis, 6 Matt Garvey (captain), 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 James Phillips, 20 Paul Grant, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Cooper Vuna.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Phil Dollman, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Lachie Turner, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Jack Yeandle (captain), 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Dave Dennis, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Santiago Cordero.
Referee: Wayne Barnes.
Assistant Referees: Tom Foley & Paul Dix.
TMO: Rowan Kitt.
Saturday, March 24
London Irish v Gloucester Rugby
(Madejski Stadium - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
London Irish’s two victories in Premiership Rugby this season were against Harlequins at Twickenham Stadium in round 1 and Worcester in their most recent game at Madejski Stadium in February.
Gloucester Rugby’s only victory in the last five rounds of Premiership Rugby was 24-17 at home to Leicester on 10 February. The Cherry & Whites have not won away from home in Premiership Rugby since a trip to Newcastle at the end of November.
Gloucester’s solitary defeat in their last eight encounters with London Irish was 18-23 in the St Patrick’s Day match in Reading in 2016.
London Irish: 15 James Marshall, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Theo Brophy Clews, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Conor Gilsenan, 6 Arno Botha, 5 Josh McNally, 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 Jake Schatz, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Mariano Galarza; 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Gareth Denman, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 Tom Hudson
Referee: Matthew Carley.
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal & Paul Burton.
TMO: David Sainsbury.
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Sale Sharks last six games in Premiership Rugby have been evenly split with three wins and three defeats. The Sharks 3-13 home defeat to Saracens in round 15 ended a three-game winning run in Premiership Rugby at AJ Bell Stadium.
Worcester Warriors have lost their last two matches, at London Irish and at home to Leicester. The Warriors have won just twice away from home in any tournament this season, both in Premiership Rugby, at Leicester in November and last month at Exeter.
Sale’s only defeat in their last dozen contests with Worcester in all competitions was 23-31 at Sixways in Premiership Rugby in February 2016 whilst the Warriors have not been victorious on Sale’s soil since a trip to Edgeley Park in November 2008.
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Will Addison (captain), 12 Sam James, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 James Flynn, 18 Alexandru Tarus, 19 Josh Beaumont, 20 Tom Curry, 21 Will Cliff, 22 James O'Connor, 23 Byron McGuigan
Worcester Warriors: 15 Josh Adams 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Dean Hammond, 10 Jamie Shillcock, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze (captain), 7 Alafoti Faosiliva, 6 David Denton, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Darren Barry, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ethan Waller
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Sam Olver, 23 Tom Howe
Referee: Andrew Jackson
Assistant Referees: Steve Lee & Peter Allan.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
Saracens v Harlequins
(London Stadium, Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
London Stadium becomes Premiership Rugby’s 37th venue and the seventh different home venue for Saracens in the tournament.
Saracens have lost their last two matches, at home to Leicester and away at Exeter, and have not lost back-to-back home games in Premiership Rugby in the same season since they were at Vicarage Road in 2005/06.
Harlequins 20-5 win at home to Bath in round 17 ended a four-game losing run in Premiership Rugby. Harlequins only away victory in the tournament this season was against Wasps at Ricoh Arena in round 3.
The last six fixtures between the two clubs in Premiership Rugby have been evenly split with three wins apiece.
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Liam Williams, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Jamie George, 1 Richard Barrington
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Titi Lamositele, 19 Ben Earl, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Max Malins, 23 Chris Wyles
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Danny Care, 8 James Chisholm, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill (captain), 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Mark Lambert
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Collier, 19 Mat Luamanu, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Marcus Smith, 23 Francis Saili
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Jonathan Healy.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Newcastle Falcons v Northampton Saints
( St James’ Park - Kick-off: 17.30, 17.30 GMT)
St James’ Park becomes Premiership Rugby’s 38th venue and the fourth different home venue for the Falcons.
Newcastle’s only defeat in the last eight rounds of Premiership Rugby was 3-25 at Saracens on 10 February, whilst their tally of 22 league points from the last six rounds makes them the best team in Premiership Rugby on current form.
Northampton Saints have won just twice in the last twelve rounds of Premiership Rugby, both at home, to Gloucester in round 13 and London Irish in round 14, whilst their only victory on the road in the competition in the past twelve months was when they visited London Irish in September.
Newcastle have won their last four matches against Northampton in Premiership Rugby – already their best ever sequence against The Saints.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Michael Young, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Evan Olmstead, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Trevor Davison, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Sam Lockwood
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Scott Wilson, 19 Will Witty, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Maxime Mermoz
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Piers Francis, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Ben Nutley, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 David Ribbans, 5 Christian Day (captain), 4 Api Ratuniyawara, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Campese Ma’afu
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Mitch Eadie, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Harry Mallinder, 23 Ben Foden
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Ian Tempest & Hamish Smales.
TMO: Sean Davey.
Sunday, March 25
Leicester Tigers v Wasps
(Welford Road, Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers have won their last three Premiership Rugby matches since their 17-24 reversal at Gloucester on 10 February. The Tigers record at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby this season is a disappointing won five lost three.
Wasps have lost just once in the last eleven rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby: 15-38 at home to Saracens on 7 January. Wasps have not lost away from home in Premiership Rugby since they visited Saracens on 8 October.
Leicester have lost their last six matches against Wasps in all competitions, their worst ever sequence against their now near neighbours, although five of those games have been played at Ricoh Arena.
Wasps 34-22 victory on their most recent visit to Welford Road in September 2016 was their first victory at the venue since 2008.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Luke Hamilton, 6 Valentino Mapapalangi, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Greg Bateman
Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Will Evans, 21 Harry Simmons, 22 Mathew Tait, 23 Nick Malouf
Wasps: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Guy Thompson, 7 Thomas Young, 6 James Haskell, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Simon McIntyre
Replacements: 16 TJ Harris, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Kearnan Myall, 21 Jack Willis, 22 Joe Simpson, 23 Josh Bassett
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Craig Maxwell-Keys & Jack Makepeace.
TMO: David Grashoff.