Preview: Premiership, Round 19
WHEN OLD RIVALS MEET: Having lifted the Anglo-Welsh Cup trophy aloft on Good Friday, Exeter Chiefs will turn their attention back to Premiership Rugby as the defending Champions head into Round 19 sitting pretty in first place.
Whatever happens in their clash at home against Gloucester Rugby on Sunday they are guaranteed to end the weekend top of the pile, but there is plenty to keep your eyes on as the race for a top-four finish this season continues.
Joining Exeter in those top-four spots heading into Round 19 are Saracens, Wasps and Newcastle Falcons, all of whom are on the road this weekend, visiting Sale Sharks, Northampton Saints and Worcester Warriors respectively.
Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Twickenham on Saturday as Bath Rugby and Leicester Tigers meet in one of rugby’s oldest rivalries. Both sides still have plenty of hopes for their final four regular season games.
The old foes have had some epic encounters down the years and none more so than at The Clash last season, also at Twickenham, in which Bath came out on top 27-21 thanks to two late tries from Anthony Watson.
There is no love lost between the two clubs, in a rivalry that reached fever pitch in the 90s with Leicester and Bath fighting it out for many an end-of-season trophy.
There aren’t too many players who have played for both clubs but we spoke to one, Lewis Moody, to get his thoughts ahead of Saturday’s fascinating match-up.
"The Leicester Bath games are a huge rivalry because Bath were such an incredible side in the 80s and 90s and then Leicester took over that mantle in the professional era," said Lewis Moody, who played for Tigers from 1996-2010 and Bath between 2010 and 2012.
"Those first encounters I just remember being absolutely brutal, Bath had old players like Nigel Redman, Martin Haag, Jeremy Guscott was still around and Leicester had the likes of Dean Richards, John Wells and Joel Stransky.
"It always was a special encounter and I think it’s growing that way again.
"For us old boys, the Leicester-Bath rivalry never diminishes. People always ask me which side of the fence I sit on having played for both clubs and I spent 14 years playing for Leicester, grew up watching Leicester – it’s always been a part of my makeup so I always support Leicester.
"But when Bath play any other teams I always support them because of the time I spent there but I am an ardent Leicester fan!"
Two current players who have played for both clubs are Leicester’s George Ford and Bath’s Freddie Burns, with the flyhalves trading places last summer.
Others over the years to have crossed the divide include Dan Hipkiss, Sam Vesty and Dan Lyle, and Moody admits that when he transferred to Bath in 2010 it wasn’t the easiest move to make.
"When Leicester released me I still wanted to play for my country and that meant staying in the Premiership," Moody added.
"When I decided to stay in England I wanted to play at a club that had a history akin to Leicester that I understood and I would be able to buy into.
"I remember going to Jonno’s 40th (Martin Johnson) and meeting old Leicester players like Aadel Kardooni, Stuart Potter and Darren Garforth.
"All those boys who played through those historic days and they certainly gave me a lot of stick when I was moving over to the enemy.
"It was such a huge day in the calendar – Leicester v Bath – because it was such a close affair and they were so hotly-contested,"
To add to the intensity of playing at Twickenham, in a fierce club rivalry, there is added spice this year with both clubs chasing a play-off place in Premiership Rugby
Bath are currently eighth in the Premiership Rugby table, five points behind fifth-placed Leicester, who in turn are three points behind fourth-placed Newcastle Falcons – everyone has four regular-season fixtures remaining.
Moody added: "I don’t think anyone can claim dominance over the other at the moment and I think having had those boys cross over – Ford and Burns – just adds to the occasion because there’s so much made about that switch for those guys.
"The Leicester and Bath rivalry now, the two sides are very close in terms of where they sit on the table and probably have been for the last couple of years,"
Take a look at all the upcoming fixtures of Round 19!
Friday, April 6
Sale Sharks v Wasps
(AJ Bell Stadium - Kick-off: 19.45, 19.45 GMT)
Sale Sharks have won their last two Premiership matches with maximum points but have not achieved three five-point wins in a row in the tournament since November 2002. Sale’s only loss in their last five Premiership Rugby encounters at AJ Bell Stadium was 3-13 to Saracens on 16 February.
Wasps defeat at Leicester in round 18 was only their second defeat in Premiership Rugby since October. Wasps have won just one of their last five away games in all competitions: 44-22 at Harlequins on 11 February.
The last nine fixtures between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day whilst Wasps most recent victory on Sale soil was by a single point at Edgeley Park in Premiership Rugby on 1 October 2010. They have lost on all seven previous visits to AJ Bell Stadium in all competitions.
JP Doyle becomes only the 4th referee to take charge of 150 Premiership Rugby matches – after Chris White, Dave Pearson and Wayne Barnes.
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 James O'Connor, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf De Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross (captain), 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 Luke James, 23 Byron McGuigan.
Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 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 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Tommy Taylor, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 James Haskell, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Juan De Jongh, 23 Guy Armitage
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Jonathan Healy & Tim Wigglesworth
TMO: Keith Lewis
Saturday, April 7
Bath Rugby v Leicester Tigers
( Twickenham Stadium - Kick-off: 14.00, 14.00 GMT)
Bath Rugby’s only victory in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was by the narrowest of margins at home to Sale on 24 February courtesy of a James Wilson conversion in the 80th minute. Bath have won on three of their last four visits to Twickenham Stadium, the exception being the 16-28 reversal to Saracens in the 2015 Premiership Rugby final.
Leicester Tigers have won their last four Premiership Rugby matches since their 17-24 defeat to Gloucester at Kingsholm on 10 February. Tigers’ record away from home in the tournaments this season is won five lost four whilst their only victory at Twickenham Stadium in their last four visits was 37-17 against Northampton Saints in the 2013 Premiership Rugby final.
Bath have won their last two Premiership Rugby encounters with Leicester but have never beaten the Tigers three times in succession in the tournament. Bath beat Leicester 27-23 at Welford Road in round 1 and have only once before achieved a Premiership Rugby season’s double over the East Midlanders – in 2003/04.
Bath: 15 James Wilson, 14 Matt Banahan, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aled Brew, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Shaun Knight, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Beno Obano.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Victor Delmas, 19 James Phillips, 20 Tom Ellis, 21 Max Green, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Cooper Vuna.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Mathew Tait, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford (captain), 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Luke Hamilton, 6 Valentino Mapapalangi, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Will Evans, 21 Harry Simmons, 22 Matt Smith, 23 Jordan Olowofela.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales & Wayne Falla.
TMO: Geoff Warren.
Northampton Saints v Saracens
(Franklin’s Gardens - Kick-off: 14.00, 14.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints only victory in their last six first-team fixtures was 25-17 at home to London Irish in round 15 of Premiership Rugby. The Saints slipped up 25-34 to Sale on their most recent match at Franklin’s Gardens to end a four-game winning run in all tournaments at the famous venue.
Saracens only two defeats in the last eight rounds of Premiership Rugby came in successive matches, at home to Leicester at the end of February and away at Exeter at the beginning of March.
Saracens record away from home in Premiership Rugby this season is won five, lost four.
Saracens have won their last six fixtures against Northampton including three this season, in round 1 of Premiership Rugby and rounds 1 and 6 in the Champions Cup, recording in excess of 50 points on each occasion. Saracens on their last three visits to Franklin’s Gardens in all tournaments.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Piers Francis, 11 George North, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 David Ribbans, 5 Christian Day (captain), 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Reece Marshall, 1 Campese Ma’afu.
Replacements: 16 Charlie Clare, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Ehren Painter, 19 Michael Paterson, 20 Ben Nutley, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Tom Collins, 23 Ben Foden.
Saracens: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Blair Cowan, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 Dominic Day, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Nathan Earle.
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe & Simon McConnell.
TMO: David Rose.
Harlequins v London Irish
(Twickenham Stoop - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Harlequins only victory in the last six rounds of Premiership Rugby was 20-5 at home to Bath on 4 March. Harlequins have lost three times at home in Premiership Rugby this season, to Leicester in round 4, Wasps in round 14 and Newcastle in round 16.
London Irish have won just twice in Premiership Rugby this campaign, 39-29 against ‘Quins at Twickenham Stadium in the London doubleheader and 22-9 at home to Worcester in round 16.
The Exiles victory over Harlequins in round 1 was their first over ‘Quins in the tournament for four years whilst they have not achieved a season’s double over them since 2004/05.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Charlie Walker, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Francis Saili, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Jack Clifford, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Mat Luamanu, 5 Stan South, 4 Charlie Matthews, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dave Ward (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Archie White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 James Lang, 23 Alofa Alofa.
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 Max Northcote-Green, 5 Josh McNally, 6 Jake Schatz, 4 Franco van der Merwe (captain), 3 Ollie Hoskins, 2 David Paice, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Josh Basham, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma.
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Roy Maybank & Phil Watters.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Worcester Warriors v Newcastle Falcons
(Sixways - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors have lost their last three Premiership Rugby matches since beating Gloucester 25-15 at Sixways on 17 February. Worcester’s three home wins in Premiership Rugby this season were against Northampton, London Irish and Gloucester.
Newcastle Falcons have lost just once in the last nine rounds of Aviva Premiership Rugby: 3-25 at Saracens on 10 February. Newcastle’s only defeats on the road in the competition this season were at Exeter, Wasps and Saracens.
The Falcons have won their last two encounters with the Warriors but both games were played at Kingston Park. Newcastle have never achieved a Premiership Rugby season’s double over Worcester, whilst their only victory at Sixways since 2004 was 16-11 in October 2013.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jamie Shillcock, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze (captain), 7 Sam Lewis, 6 David Denton, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Darren Barry, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ryan Bower.
Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Gareth Milasinovich, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 Andrew Kitchener, 20 Marco Mama, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Dorian Jones, 23 Dean Hammond.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sam Stuart, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (captain), 6 Evan Olmstead, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Scott Wilson, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Sam Lockwood.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Will Witty, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Joel Hodgson, 22 Dominic Waldouck, 23 Adam Radwan.
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson & Adam Leal.
TMO: Stuart Terheege.
Sunday, April 8
Exeter Chiefs v Gloucester Rugby
(Sandy Park - Kick-off: 15.00, 15.00 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs have won their last five matches in all competitions since Wasps beat them 13-7 at Ricoh Arena in round 15 of Premiership Rugby. Exeter’s only defeat at Sandy Park in the tournament since October 2016 was by a single point to Worcester on 10 February.
Gloucester’s 33-29 victory at London Irish in round 18 ended a three-game winless run in the tournament. Gloucester have won their last two away games in all competitions but have not won three in a row on the road for over three years.
Gloucester have lost only one of their last four encounters with Exeter but have not won at Sandy Park since a 26-25 victory in January 2015.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Ian Whitten, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand (captain), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Jack Nowell.
Gloucester: 15 Tom Hudson, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Owen Williams, 9 Willi Heinz (captain), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Ed Slater, 4 Tom Savage, 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Jeremy Thrush, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Billy Burns, 23 Billy Twelvetrees.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Greg Macdonald & Paul Dix.
TMO: Claire Hodnett.