Premiership preview: Saturday, Sunday

Date published: April 14 2017

Table-toppers Wasps and champions Saracens are away to Northampton Saints and Bristol respectively on Sunday and Leicester Tigers host Newcastle Falcons on Saturday. 

Gloucester v Sale Sharks

Gloucester make eight changes following the bruising encounter against the Newcastle Falcons last Friday evening, the majority of them in the pack where only John Afoa and Mariano Galarza retain their places.

Back into the starting line-up come Josh Hohneck, Richard Hibbard, Jeremy Thrush, Ross Moriarty and Lewis Ludlow. And, after featuring in the Anglo-Welsh and European Rugby Challenge Cup this season, Freddie Clarke will make his Premiership debut.

There are fewer changes in the back-line. It's a different half-back pairing, but a familiar one as Callum Braley and Billy Burns start at scrum-half and fly-half respectively.

And, amongst the replacements, Academy and England U20 prop Ciaran Knight could make his first Premiership appearance if he takes the field of play.

Interim head coach Jonny Bell was on media duties this week and is expecting a tough examination against Steve Diamond's Sale side who are just six points and two places behind Gloucester in the Premiership table.

Meanwhile, Sale Sharks boss Steve Diamond has made just one change to his starting XV following their bonus point victory over Worcester last Friday evening. 

Ben Curry, who scored one of the five tries against the Warriors, replaces his brother Tom at openside flanker. On the bench, prop James Flynn returns to the bench, replacing Jake Pope.

Looking forward to the game, Diamond said: "Our ambition is to finish as high up in the table as we can, we set a target at Christmas, after we lost to Bristol, that we needed to get to 35 points, and we got there, with three games to go. 

"I'm pretty confident we can get 40 plus, and there is no bigger challenge of Kingsholm at the weekend. It's a daunting place to go, but we've got no pressure on us."

Form: Gloucester’s only defeat at Kingsholm in their last six first team encounters was 27-30 to Harlequins in Premiership Rugby on March 4. Sale Sharks have won just once on the road in the tournament this season, on a visit to Bristol in late October. Gloucester have won their last three fixtures against the Sharks since Sale’s 23-6 win at AJ Bell Stadium in March 2015. The Sharks have won on two of their last five visits to Kingsholm – in April 2012 and in September 2013.

The teams:

Gloucester: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Callum Braley, 8 Freddie Clarke, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Ross Moriarty, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 Richard Hibbard, 1 Josh Hohneck 
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 David Halaifonua

Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Josh Beaumont (c), 7 Ben Curry, 6 Cameron Neild, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison 
Replacements: 16 Tom Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 George Nott, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Josh Charnley

Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Kingsholm
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Adam Leal, Peter Allan
TMO: Rowan Kitt

Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons

Leicester Tigers head coach Matt O'Connor has brought Mike Williams, George McGuigan and Jack Roberts into his starting line-up for this encounter.

O'Connor is in charge for the first time at Welford Road since his return to the club and brings McGuigan and Williams into the starting pack, with Tom Youngs and Mike Fitzgerald among the replacements this week. Roberts comes into the backline, with Mathew Tait on the bench.

There is also a place in the squad for scrum-half Sam Harrison on his return to fitness after a knee injury.

Ben Youngs takes over from older brother Tom as captain this week after making his 200th appearance for the club in the Round 19 encounter with Bath at Twickenham last Saturday.

Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons have made three changes to their side after last weekend's narrow win over Gloucester.

Matchwinner that night, Joel Hodgson, replaces Mike Delany at fly-half after the Kiwi broke his thumb last time out, Sinoti Sinoti coming into the side as an injury to Alex Tait sees Marcus Watson switch to full-back.

The only change in the pack sees Tonga captain Nili Latu replacing Ally Hogg, the Falcons looking to win at Welford Road for the first time in almost two decades.

Form: Newcastle have beaten Leicester just once in the last eight years, 26-14 at Kingston Park in Premiership Rugby in February 2016. The Falcons only previous victory at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby was 25-19 on 30 December 1997 – Dean Richards’ last game for Tigers. Leicester Tigers have lost two of their last six Premiership Rugby matches, at home to Exeter in Round 17 and against Bath at Twickenham in Round 19. The Tigers have not lost successive home matches in the tournament since October 2011. The Falcons have won just three times on the road this season, twice in Premiership Rugby, at Gloucester in Round 4 and at Northampton in Round 9, and 18-6 at Newport Gwent Dragons in an abandoned match in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in January.

The teams:

Leicester: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Jack Roberts, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs (c), 8 Luke Hamilton, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Dom Barrow, 3 Dan Cole, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Ellis Genge 
Replacements: 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Harry Thacker, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Mathew Tait

Newcastle: 15 Marcus Watson, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Calum Green, 3 David Wilson, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Will Witty, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Zach Kibirige

Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Welford Road
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Steve Lee, Tim Wigglesworth
TMO: David Sainsbury

Worcester Warriors v Bath

Tighthead prop Biyi Alo will make his first Premiership start this Saturday for Worcester Warriors.

Alo is the only change to the starting line-up as he replaces Nick Schonert, who misses out through a finger injury.

Director of Rugby Gary Gold keeps the faith with the other 14 players that started against Sale Sharks last weekend.

In the replacements there is a welcome return for tighthead prop Gareth Milasinovich, who could make his first Warriors appearance in over a year after lengthy injury setbacks.

Milasinovich played 40 minutes for Worcester Cavaliers in their A League win at Leicester Tigers on Sunday, along with Jack Singleton and Alafoti Faosiliva, who are also both restored to the Warriors matchday 23 for this weekend.

Both Singleton and Faosiliva haven’t featured for the first-team since picking up knee injuries in February.

Warriors have opted for two back row replacements ahead of the clash, with Faosiliva joined by Dewald Potgieter on the bench.

Meanwhile Barh director of rugby Todd Blackadder has named an unchanged starting line-up.

Anthony Watson, who scored twice in the last 14 minutes to give Bath a 27-21 victory against Leicester Tigers at Twickenham last week, will look to continue his impressive run of form at full-back. 

Matt Banahan and Semesa Rokoduguni will complete the back three on the left and right wing respectively.

Jonathan Joseph, also a try scorer last weekend, takes his place in the midfield alongside Ben Tapuai as the Blue, Black and White look to make it two wins out of two against the Warriors this season.

George Ford will be looking to put his stamp on the game from fly-half just as he did a week ago at The Clash, as the co-captain links up with Kahn Fotuali’i to complete the half-back pairing.

Nathan Catt, Ross Batty and Kane Palma-Newport combine to make-up the front row, supported by the powerful combination of Charlie Ewels and Elliott Stooke in the second row. The pack is completed by the in-form trio of Tom Ellis, co-captain Francois Louw and Taulupe Faletau.

Nathan Charles is the only change amongst the replacements, with the Australian international coming into the matchday squad for Chris Brooker.

Form: Worcester Warriors have lost just one of their last four Premiership Rugby encounters at Sixways: 32-48 to Exeter in Round 15. Bath ended a three-game losing run in Premiership Rugby with their 27-21 victory over Leicester in “The Clash” at Twickenham last weekend. Bath have not won away from home in the tournament since a visit to Exeter at the end of October. Bath have won their last eight encounters with Worcester since the Warriors 16-7 triumph at Sixways in November 2011.

The teams:

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Ryan Mills, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Chris Vui, 5 Will Spencer, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (c), 3 Biyi Alo, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 1 Ryan Bower 
Replacements: 16 Jack Singleton, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Wynand Olivier

Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford (cc), 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Francois Louw (cc), 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Charlie Ewels, 3 Kane Palma-Newport, 2 Ross Batty, 1 Nathan Catt 
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 David Denton, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Tom Homer

Date: Saturday, April 15
Venue: Sixways
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace, Ross Campbell,
TMO: Geoff Warren

Northampton Saints v Saracens

A pair of changes in Northampton's backs see Ken Pisi and Luther Burrell start, while their places on the bench are filled by Rory Hutchinson and Juan Pablo Estelles. 

Meanwhile, Saracens welcome back lock forward George Kruis to the starting XV, with the England international making his first Premiership start for Saracens since the Men in Black’s Christmas Eve fixture against Newcastle Falcons.

Kruis will be partnered by England U20 lock-forward Nick Isiekwe in the heart of the Saracens engine room. The academy second-rower will be making his Premiership debut after making four appearances in the Anglo-Welsh Cup earlier this season.

Jamie George will skipper the side from hooker, with Titi Lamositele coming in for Mako Vunipola at loosehead prop, with the England prop rested after he picked up a slight knock to his knee in Saracens’ 40-19 win over Harlequins. Vincent Koch continues at tighthead prop.

Kruis and Isiekwe start at lock with Jim Hamilton (back injury) and Maro Itoje (rested) both missing, whilst in the back-row there is a welcome to return to action for Schalk Burger, who takes his place at openside flanker.

Joining Burger in the loose-forwards are Joel Conlon (blindside flanker) and Jackson Wray (number eight) – Michael Rhodes and Billy Vunipola are both named as replacements.

In the halves, Ben Spencer continues at scrum-half with Richard Wigglewsorth rested, and he is partnered by Alex Lozowski at fly-half with Owen Farrell also rested for the trip to Milton Keynes.

Duncan Taylor starts at inside centre in the place of the rested Brad Barritt, with Marcelo Bosch returning to the fold at outside centre after missing Saracens win over Harlequins last weekend.

At full-back, Alex Goode continues with Sean Maitland (left-wing) and Nathan Earle (right-wing) joining him in the back three – Chris Ashton is named on the bench.

Form: Northampton Saints have played six previous matches at stadiumMK with a won two lost one record there in the European Cup and an identical record there in Premiership Rugby. Saracens only defeat in their last six first team matches was 10-32 at home to Leicester in the semi-final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup on March 11. Saracens have lost three of their last five away games in Premiership Rugby, at visits to Bath, Worcester and Gloucester. Saracens have played three previous matches in Milton Keynes winning the two “home” games they moved there from Vicarage Road, against Bristol in 2008 and Northampton in 2012, but losing 20-25 there in a Saints “home” game in 2015. Saracens only loss in their last five matches against Northampton in all tournaments was 15-20 at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby in March 2016.

The teams:

Northampton: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Tom Wood (c), 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 David Ribbans, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Juan Pablo Estelles

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Jackson Wray, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Joel Conlon, 5 George Kruis, 4 Nick Isiekwe, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George (c), 1 Titi Lamositele
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 Chris Ashton

Date: Sunday, April 16
Venue: Franklin's Gardens
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant Referees: Wayne Falla, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Graham Hughes

Bristol v Wasps

Bristol boss Mark Tainton makes one change from the side that secured two losing bonus points versus Exeter Chiefs last weekend.

Nick Fenton-Wells starts in the back row in place of the injured Jack Lam, while Ryan Edwards – who signed a new contract earlier in the week – is named on the wing.

Olly Robinson and Tusi Pisi recover from injury to be included among the replacements.

Meanwhile, the Wasps’ back-line is unchanged from the formation that started against Northampton Saints.

In the pack, James Haskell and Nathan Hughes return to Wasps’ backrow, alongside Guy Thompson. Haskell, who was rested last week, starts on the blindside while Thompson switches to openside from number eight, which is worn by Hughes after an impactful contribution from the bench last Sunday.

Thomas Young is rotated, having played most minutes this season in the forwards, while Ashley Johnson has been ruled out by a knee injury.

Packing down in the second row are Joe Launchbury and Matt Symons, who again impressed from the bench in Wasps’ last-gasp win against the Saints.

The only other change among the forwards sees Jake Cooper-Woolley joining the replacements, having recovered from a knee injury.

Form: Bristol have won just once in Premiership Rugby since New Year’s Day: 12-11 at home to Bath on February 26. Bristol’s three other victories at Ashton Gate this season were against Sale in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Pau in the European Challenge Cup and Worcester on Boxing Day in Premiership Rugby. Wasps have won their last four Premiership Rugby matches since their reversal at Sale on February 19, this is their only defeat in the tournament since mid-November. Wasps have won only once away from home in any tournament since January: 24-3 over Bath at the Recreation Ground in Round 17 of Premiership Rugby. Wasps are unbeaten in their last six encounters with Bristol since the west countrymen’s 26-21 victory at Memorial Stadium in Premiership Rugby in September 2006. This is Wasps first visit to Ashton Gate.

The teams:

Bristol: 15 Jason Woodward 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Jack Tovey, 10 Billy Searle, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Mitch Eadie, 7 Nick Fenton-Wells, 6 Sam Jeffries, 5 Mark Sorenson, 4 James Phillips, 3 Gaston Cortes, 2 Marc Jones (c), 1 Ryan Bevington 
Replacements: 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Jack O’Connell, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Charlie Amesbury

Wasps: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Guy Thompson, 6 James Haskell, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Phil Swainston, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse 17 Tom Bristow 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19, Kearnan Myall, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Dan Robson 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Alapati Leiua

Date: Sunday, April 16
Venue: Ashton Gate
Kick-off: 15:00 local (14:00 GMT)
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Roger Baileff
TMO: Stuart Terheege