The 2020/21 Premiership season kicks off on Friday as two matches take place, with Harlequins taking on champions Exeter Chiefs and Sale Sharks hosting Northampton Saints.
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs
Harlequins head of rugby Paul Gustard has named his first matchday squad of the 2020/21 season as the club hosts the opening round of the new Premiership season.
New club captain Stephan Lewies will lead for the side for the first time in his new role, joining fit-again Matt Symons in the injury room against Exeter.
Amongst the replacements, scrum-half Jack Stafford and Tyrone Green are set to make their debuts in the Quarters having signed for the club midway through the 2019/20 season.
Meanwhile, in what will be a testing Round One assignment for the defending champions, Exeter boss Rob Baxter will go into the contest minus a glut of star names, either away on Autumn Nations Cup duty or sidelined following close-season surgery.
Jack Nowell (toe) and Jacques Vermeulen (shoulder) are both sidelined until the New Year, while fellow finalists Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray, Sam Skinner, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (all Scotland), Henry Slade and Jonny Hill (both England) and Tomas Francis (Wales) are also missing.
On the plus side, though, Luke Cowan-Dickie has recovered sufficiently from minor knee surgery to take his place on the bench, while England team-mate Harry Williams is included in the starting line-up having been released by Eddie Jones from his training squad preparing for Saturday’s clash with Ireland at Twickenham.
The Simmonds brothers, Joe and Sam, will also be determined to impress after being controversially overlooked by Jones for the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup fixtures.
Form: Harlequins’ last five Premiership matches have all been won by the away side on the day. Quins’ record at Twickenham Stoop since the return to rugby is won three, lost two. Exeter Chiefs begin the defence of their title less than a month after winning at Twickenham. The Chiefs finished off the regular season in 2019/20 with three straight defeats but have not lost four in succession (excluding play-offs) since 2015. The Chiefs have not won away from home since beating Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens on 4 September. The last four fixtures between the two clubs in the league have all been won by the home side on the day, whilst Exeter’s most recent victory at the Stoop came in May 2018.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Luke Northmore, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Will Evans, 6 Tom Lawday, 5 Stephan Lewies (c), 4 Matt Symons, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Jack Musk, 17 Jordan Els, 18 Simon Kerrod, 19 Glen Young, 20 Archie White, 21 Jack Stafford, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Tyrone Green
Exeter: 15 Facundo Cordero, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Ian Whitten, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds, 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Don Armand, 4 Will Witty, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Tom Price, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Tom Hendrickson
Venue: Twickenham Stoop
Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant Referees: Jamie Leahy, Paul Dix
TMO: Geoff Warren
Domestic and European champions, Exeter Chiefs! 🏆
Simmonds, Nowell, Slade, et al. Names that will go down in history.
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) October 31, 2020
Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints
Steve Diamond’s Sharks meet Northampton in their first outing in the Premiership since both teams were forced to forfeit their final 2019/20 fixtures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the forwards, Russian international Valery Morozov joins Springboks Akker van der Merwe and Coenie Oosthuizen in an experienced front-row for the first game of the season. An all-South African second-row of Jean-Luc du Preez and Cobus Wiese will provide impressive power options behind them as the Sharks look to start the season with intent.
Club captain Jono Ross, Ben Curry and Daniel du Preez complete a dynamic pack for the fixture.
The Sharks’ back division is in full force as the new season gets underway, with World Cup-winning scrum-half Faf de Klerk taking centre stage alongside USA international AJ MacGinty.
The experienced half-back pairing have the services of powerful inside centre Rohan Janse van Rensburg and the ball-playing skills of Sam James outside them.
After an impressive performance in the reverse of this fixture at the end of last season, Simon Hammersley takes his place on the wing alongside Denny Solomona, with the in-form Luke James securing the 15 shirt for Friday’s match.
Meanwhile, Alex Waller returns to skipper Northampton Saints on his first competitive appearance for nine months.
Chris Boyd’s side head north bidding to topple the Sharks at the AJ Bell Stadium for the first time since early 2018, and mark a fast start to the new league campaign in the process.
Loosehead prop Waller will lead out Northampton following his recovery from an Achilles injury, with hooker James Fish and tighthead Paul Hill alongside him in the front-row.
Youth and experience combine in the engine room with Alex Moon and Api Ratuniyarawa packing down together, while Nick Isiekwe is selected at flanker with Tom Wood and number eight Teimana Harrison completing the back in the back-row.
Fly-half James Grayson and scrum-half Henry Taylor will hope to pull the strings for Northampton, with two international centres selected in the visitors’ midfield in Piers Francis and Matt Proctor.
Tom Collins and Ahsee Tuala will be hoping to get their season try-scoring tallies off to a flying start with the duo starting on the wings for the men in Black, Green and Gold.
Saints welcome George Furbank, David Ribbans, and Alex Mitchell back from England international duty in time for the clash – but only the full-back makes the starting line-up with Ribbans and Mitchell ready to make an impact for Northampton from amongst the replacements.
There is also a return for Harry Mallinder, who has shaken off a troublesome knee injury over the Premiership’s break, while the likes of Owen Franks, JJ Tonks and Fraser Dingwall are alongside him on the visitors’ bench.
Form: Sale Sharks have lost just one of their last seven matches (excluding the nil-20 defeat in Round 22 against Worcester that was never played). The Sharks have lost just twice at AJ Bell Stadium since rugby resumed, against Exeter Chiefs in August and Bath in September. Sale have won just once in Round 1 in the last nine seasons: 22-16 at Gloucester in 2013. Northampton Saints have lost their last seven games (excluding the Round 22 cancellation at Gloucester) since beating London Irish at Twickenham Stoop in August. Northampton beat Saracens on the opening weekend last season to end a run of four successive Round 1 defeats. Sale have lost just one of their last six Premiership fixtures against Northampton, 17-67 at Franklin’s Gardens in February 2019. Saints have not won at AJ Bell Stadium in the Premiership since March 2017.
Sale: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Simon Hammersley, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jono Ross (c) 5 Jean-Luc du Preez, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Valery Morozov
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Bevan Rodd, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 James Phillips, 20 Matt Postlethwaite, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Rob du Preez, 23 Marland Yarde
Northampton: 15 George Furbank, 14 Ahsee Tuala, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tom Collins, 10 James Grayson, 9 Henry Taylor, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Tom Wood, 6 Nick Isiekwe, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 Alex Moon, 3 Paul Hill, 2 James Fish, 1 Alex Waller (c)
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Nick Auterac, 18 Owen Franks, 19 David Ribbans, 20 JJ Tonks, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 Fraser Dingwall, 23 Harry Mallinder
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium
Kick-off: 20:00 GMT
Referee: Ian Tempest
Assistant Referees: Hamish Smales, Wayne Falla
TMO: Trevor Fisher