Preview: Premiership semi-finals

Date published: May 18 2018

The Premiership season has reached its business end with Saracens and Exeter Chiefs hosting Wasps and Newcastle Falcons in their respective semi-finals. 

Saracens v Wasps

Jackson Wray will make his 200th appearance for Saracens in this weekend’s Premiership semi-final against Wasps.

The 27-year-old made his debut for the Men in Black 10 years previous and will lead the team out with his children Harper and Colby.

Fans’ and Players’ Player of the Season Wray switches to seven with the returning Billy Vunipola starting at number eight.

Elsewhere in the pack, the front-row is completely changed from the win over Gloucester last time out while George Kruis comes back in at lock.

Former USA international Chris Wyles replaces Liam Williams (shoulder) on the wing and Alex Lozowski is reinstated at 13.

Meanwhile, England number eight Nathan Hughes has recovered from the knee injury sustained during the Six Nations and will start Saturday’s Premiership semi-final.

With James Haskell absent due to a foot injury sustained at Newcastle, this means recent England call-up Jack Willis reverts to the blindside flank, with Thomas Young completing a powerful back-row trio.

The experienced Kearnan Myall partners skipper Joe Launchbury in the second-row, while Players’ Player of the Season Tom Cruse has Jake Cooper-Woolley and Ben Harris for front-row company.

Behind the scrum, British & Irish Lion Elliot Daly and Christian Wade join Supporters’ Player of the Season Willie le Roux in a back three that this season has claimed 29 tries.

Juan de Jongh partners Jimmy Gopperth in the centre outside England summer tourists Dan Robson and Danny Cipriani.

A powerful bench includes fit-again James Gaskell, the pace of Guy Thompson, Josh Bassett and Kyle Eastmond, plus international props Matt Mullan and Marty Moore and hooker TJ Harris.

Form: This is Saracens 10th appearance in a Premiership Rugby semi-final, the last nine in succession, where their record is won five, lost four. Four of those previous semi-finals have been played at home (three at Allianz Park) where their only defeat was to Northampton in 2013. Saracens have won their last six Premiership Rugby matches since Exeter Chiefs beat them at Sandy Park in early March. Saracens have lost twice at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby this season, to Exeter in round 9 and Leicester in Round 16. This is Wasps eighth appearance in a Premiership Semi-final, the last three in succession, where their record is won five, lost two, with the two defeats being the only two Semi-finals they have played away from home – at Sale in 2006 and at Exeter in 2016. Wasps have won their last three Premiership Rugby matches since Sale beat them by a solitary point at AJ Bell Stadium at the beginning of April. Saracens only defeat to Wasps in their last five fixtures in all tournaments was 15-35 at Ricoh Arena in May 2017. The two clubs only previous meeting in a semi-final was in the European Champions Cup in 2016 at Reading where Saracens won 24-17

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Chris Wyles, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Marcelo Bosch, 23 Nathan Earle

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 Nathan Hughes, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Ben Harris
Replacements: 16 TJ Harris, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Marty Moore, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Guy Thompson, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Kyle Eastmond, 23 Josh Bassett

Date: Saturday, May 19
Venue: Allianz Park
Kick-off: 12:30 BST (11:30 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant referees: Ian Tempest, Hamish Smales
Television match official: Graham Hughes

Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons

Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter has made some alterations to his starting line-up for this crucial play-off encounter.

In all, there are five changes, including a positional switch, to the Chiefs run-on side which claimed a 41-17 win over Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop in their final league match a fortnight ago.

Recharged fully after that impressive victory, Baxter has a virtually fully-fit squad to select from tomorrow. Don Armand, Sam Simmonds, Henry Slade, Lachie Turner and Ian Whitten are all available having missed the trip to The Stoop.

Armand will skipper the side from the back-row, which also includes the returning Simmonds. Armand replaces Dave Dennis on the openside flank and also takes over the captaincy from the former Wallaby while Simmonds comes in for Thomas Waldrom at number eight.

Slade’s recall in the centre means Jack Nowell is shunted back onto the wing, Turner takes over at full-back from Phil Dollman, while the return of Whitten from a broken hand is another major boost.

Meanwhile, Newcastle Falcons welcome back fly-half Toby Flood for this semi-final.

This clash at Sandy Park sees the three-time title winner playing his first game in six weeks after recovering from a hand injury. Falcons hooker Kyle Cooper also returns to the fray in a team showing eight changes from the one which hosted Wasps a fortnight ago.

Sam Lockwood and Scott Wilson come in at prop while Calum Green returns to the second-row, Mark Wilson captaining the side in the continued absence of the injured Will Welch.

In the half-backs, Michael Young partners Flood, Josh Matavesi moving back to inside centre in a three-quarter line which sees Premiership Player of the Season Vereniki Goneva and Sinoti Sinoti coming in on the wings.

Form: Defending Premiership Rugby champions, Exeter Chiefs, are appearing in their third successive semi-final, all at Sandy Park, where they beat Wasps in 2016 and Saracens last year. Exeter have won their last seven Premiership Rugby matches since Wasps beat them at Ricoh Arena in February. The Chiefs only defeat at Sandy Park in the tournament since October 2016 was by the narrowest of margins to Worcester Warriors on 10 February. Newcastle Falcons have reached the Premiership Rugby Semi-finals for the first time courtesy of their best league finish since they won the inaugural Premiership Rugby title in 1997/98. The Falcons have lost just twice in the last eight rounds of Premiership Rugby, at Worcester in round 19 and at home to Wasps in Round 22. The Tynesiders’ record on the road this season is won seven, lost four. Exeter’s only defeat in their last nine fixtures with Newcastle in all tournaments was 20-28 at Kingston Park in round 13 of Premiership Rugby. The two clubs have met just twice before in a knockout match, with Newcastle winning 34-10 in the fourth round of the Tetley’s Bitter Cup at Kingston Park in 1998, and in the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup at Sandy Park in 2015 with Chiefs winning 48-13. Newcastle have lost on all ten previous occasions they have visited Sandy Park.

The teams:

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand (c), 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements:
16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Ian Whitten

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Michael Young, 8 Ally Hogg, 7 Gary Graham, 6 Mark Wilson (c), 5 Evan Olmstead, 4 Calum Green, 3 Scott Wilson, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Sam Lockwood
Replacements:
16 Santiago Socino, 17 Rob Vickers, 18 David Wilson, 19 Will Witty, 20 Nili Latu, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Juan Pablo Socino, 23 Alex Tait

Date: Saturday, May 19
Venue: Sandy Park
Kick-off: 15:30 BST (14:30 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Tom Foley, Anthony Woodthorpe
Television match official: Stuart Terheege