Premiership: Key Wasps and Bristol players say farewell to home fans as Champions Cup qualifying race hots up

Adam Kyriacou

The penultimate round of the Premiership regular season gets underway on Friday with Bristol Bears v Exeter Chiefs and Wasps v Sale Sharks.

Bristol Bears v Exeter Chiefs

Bristol Bears fans will be able to bid farewell to Alapati Leiua on his final home game for the club when they take on Exeter Chiefs at Ashton Gate.

Director of rugby Pat Lam has made five changes to his side with Leiua moving to inside centre and Steven Luatua captaining the side from eight.

In a boost for the Bears, Charles Piutau and Luke Morahan return to the starting team, lining up at full-back and right wing respectively on Friday.

Dave Attwood and John Afoa, also playing at home for the final time, both start in the pack, as the Bears look to sign off the season with a victory.

In a nice touch, immediately after full-time, the club will honour its 11 departing players with a jersey presentation on the pitch, led by boss Lam.

Meanwhile, Exeter Chiefs director of rugby Rob Baxter has made four changes to his starting XV from that which took on Saracens last time out.

In the forwards, Harry Williams replaces Marcus Street at tighthead, while Dave Ewers returns in the back-row at the expense of Richard Capstick.

Behind the scrum, Joe Simmonds is recalled at fly-half, meaning Henry Slade reverts back to the centre with Tom Hendrickson dropping to the bench.

The only other change sees Josh Hodge start on the wing in place of Tom O’Flaherty.

Form: Bristol Bears‘ only victory in their last six Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches was by the narrowest of margins, 29-28 at home to Gloucester on 22 April. The Bears home record in Premiership Rugby at Ashton Gate this season is won six, lost five. Exeter Chiefs have won just one of their last four Gallagher Premiership Rugby fixtures: 42-22 at home to Bath on 2 April. The Chiefs have won just twice away from home in Premiership Rugby in 2022, 15-14 at Newcastle in Round 17 and 34-31 at Northampton in Round 18. Exeter have lost only two of the nine previous meetings with Bristol in Premiership Rugby, both strangely at Sandy Park in 2019 and 2021. The Chiefs have won on all seven previous visits they have made to Ashton Gate against all opponents in all competitions.

The teams:

Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Toby Fricker, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Steven Luatua (c), 7 Sam Jeffries, 6 Chris Vui, 5 Joe Joyce, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 John Afoa, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jake Woolmore
Replacements: 16 Bryan Byrne, 17 Jono Benz-Salomon, 18 Jake Armstrong, 19 Fitz Harding, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Jack Bates

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Olly Woodburn, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Josh Hodge, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Sam Maunder, 8 Jacques Vermeulen, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 James Kenny, 18 Patrick Schickerling, 19 Dafydd Jenkins, 20 Santiago Grondona, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Tom Hendrickson

Venue: Ashton Gate
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Mike Hudson, Phil Watters
TMO: Tom Foley

Wasps v Sale Sharks

Lee Blackett has named his side to face Sale Sharks at Coventry Building Society Arena for their final Premiership home game of the season.

There is one personnel change to the starting line-up from the Challenge Cup semi-final clash last weekend against Lyon.

Ali Crossdale returns at full-back and is joined in the back three by Josh Bassett and Francois Hougaard.

For the final time at Coventry Building Society Arena, Malakai Fekitoa and Jimmy Gopperth form the centre partnership.

The half-back duo remains unchanged with Dan Robson at scrum-half and Charlie Atkinson at 10.

Brad Shields is joined in the back-row by England call-ups Alfie Barbeary and Jack Willis.

Captain Joe Launchbury lines up alongside Elliott Stooke in the second-row, whilst the front-row remains unchanged with Tom West, Gabriel Oghre and Biyi Alo.

Robin Hislop is joined on the bench this weekend by Dan Frost, Elliot Millar-Mills, James Gaskell, Tom Willis, Will Porter, Rob Miller and Paolo Odogwu.

Meanwhile, Tom Curry returns to Premiership action alongside nine other internationals as Alex Sanderson names a strong Sale side to face Wasps in the penultimate round of the 2021/22 season.

The Sharks director of rugby makes two changes to the team named to face Racing 92 in the Champions Cup quarter final a fortnight ago as Arron Reed returns from suspension to replace Simon Hammersley on the wing.

In the forwards, Bevan Rodd, Akker van der Merwe and Nick Schonert make up an experienced starting front-row with the trio supported by the imposing lock partnership of Jean-Luc du Preez and Lood de Jager.

Jono Ross captains the side from blindside flanker with Tom Curry lining up in his usual position at openside. The powerful Daniel du Preez starts at number eight.

Faf de Klerk and AJ MacGinty make their final away appearances for Sale Sharks before heading to pastures new, as the pair are named at half-back by Sanderson.

There will be plenty of options for the duo in attack as Manu Tuilagi and Robert du Preez line up in the midfield at inside and outside centre respectively, while Reed joins fellow academy graduates Tom Roebuck and Sam James in the Sharks back three.

On the bench, Ewan Ashman, Simon McIntyre and Coenie Oosthuizen are named as front-row replacements with Cobus Wiese and Ben Curry offering further cover for the forwards.

Gus Warr, Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Simon Hammersley offer cover for the backs.

Form: Wasps are unbeaten in their last four Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches since their 22-27 defeat at Northampton in Round 20, although they did draw 42-all last time out at London Irish. Wasps have won their last eight fixtures at Coventry Building Society Arena in all tournaments since Munster beat them there in the European Champions Cup on 12 December. Sale Sharks‘ last six matches in Gallagher Premiership Rugby have resulted in two wins, two draws and two defeats. The Sharks have won only twice away from home in Premiership Rugby this campaign, in successive trips in February to Harlequins and Northampton. Sale’s only defeat in their last six encounters with Wasps in Premiership Rugby was 23-26 at AJ Bell Stadium in December 2020. The Sharks have won on their last three visits to Coventry.

The teams:

Wasps: 15 Ali Crossdale, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Charlie Atkinson, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Alfie Barbeary, 7 Jack Willis, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Biyi Alo, 2 Gabriel Oghre, 1 Tom West
Replacements: 16 Dan Frost, 17 Robin Hislop, 18 Elliot Millar-Mills, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Tom Willis, 21 Will Porter, 22 Rob Miller, 23 Paolo Odogwu

Sale Sharks: 15 Sam James, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Robert du Preez, 12 Manu Tuilagi 11 Arron Reed, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jean-Luc du Preez, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Bevan Rodd
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Cobus Wiese, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Gus Warr, 22 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 23 Simon Hammersley

Venue: Coventry Building Society Arena
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Sara Cox, Alex Thomas
TMO: Claire Hodnett

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