The battle between the four frontrunners for pole position on the Premiership standings will heat up in this weekend’s Round 11 action.
So close is the title hunt that any of the Harlequins (33), Saracens (32), Northampton Saints (31) or Leicester Tigers (30) could top the standings at the conclusion of the weekend’s play.
The key fixture of the round will see the table-topping Harlequins travel to Franklin’s Gardens to take on third-placed Northampton Saints knowing that defeat would see them knocked off their Premiership perch.
Saracens and Leicester Tigers also hit the road and will be determined to get the better of their hosts Bath and London Irish to make a case for the number one spot.
We look at all the Round 11 action!
Friday, December 21:
Worcester Warriors v London Welsh
(Sixways – 20.00; 20.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors’ last nine matches in all competitions have all been won by the home side on the day. The Warriors’ single defeat at Sixways this season – 24-23 to Bath – came on the opening weekend of the Premiership on September 1.
London Welsh gained a fourth victory in their debut season of Premiership rugby at home to London
Irish on December 1 – just one of those wins have so far come on the road: a 29-19 win at Sale on
This is the two clubs’ first ever clash in England’s top-flight, but they have been regular protagonists at lower levels. Of the 18 previous league meetings between the two, Worcester have won the last 17 with the Exiles’ solo victory over the Warriors being 28-13 at Sixways in National One on October 25, 1997.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Nikki Walker, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 David Lemi, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Paul Hodgson, 8 Semisi Taulava, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Neil Best, 5 Chris Jones, 4 James Percival (captain), 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ed Shervington, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 George Porter, 18 John Andress, 19 Dean Schofield, 20 Sam Betty, 21 Jonny Arr, 22 Danny Gray, 23 Jon Clarke.
London Welsh: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Dan Caprice, 13 Sonny Parker, 12 Seb Jewell, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Gordon Ross, 9 Rob Lewis, 8 Ed Jackson, 7 Mike Denbee, 6 Adam Balding, 5 Kirill Kulemin, 4 Jonathan Mills (captain), 3 Arthur Joly, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Frank Montanella.
Replacements: 16 Greg Bateman, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 James Tideswell, 19 Matt Corker, 20 Alfie To’oala, 21 Nick Runciman, 22 Alex Davies, 23. Tom Voyce.
Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant Referees: Stuart Terheege, Paul Burton.
Saturday, December 22:
Bath v Saracens
(Recreation Ground – 13.15; 13.15 GMT)
Bath’s last seven games in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day. Bath’s only defeat in their last eight matches at The Rec in all competitions was an 18-14 loss to Northampton in the Premiership on September 14.
Saracens’ last seven encounters in all competitions have also been won by the home side on the day, whilst Sarries have not won away from home since they beat Northampton 16-6 at Franklin’s
Gardens in the Premiership on October 27.
However, Saracens remain the best away side in the Premiership with 17 league points accumulated on their travels so far. Saracens are in second spot in the table despite scoring and conceding just nine tries in their ten games so far.
Bath’s only victory in their last seven fixtures with Saracens in all competitions was a 16-14 win at Vicarage Road in the Premiership on February 28, 2010. Sarries have won on their last three visits to The Rec.
Bath: 15 Nick Abendanon, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Kyle Eastmond, 12 Ben Williams, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Francois Louw, 5 Dominic Day, 4 Stuart Hooper (captain), 3 David Wilson, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Charlie Beech, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Dave Attwood, 20 Will Skuse, 21 Mark McMillan, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Dan Hipkiss.
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Kelly Brown, 7 Will Fraser, 6 George Kruis, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 Steve Borthwick (captain), 3 Matt Stevens, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Petrus du Plessis, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 Andy Saull, 21 Neil de Kock, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 James Short.
Referee: Greg Garner
Assistant Referees: Roy Maybank, Gareth Copsey
TMO: Graham Hughes
Gloucester v Exeter Chiefs
(Kingsholm – 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Gloucester’s only loss in their last six games in all competitions was a 28-23 defeat at Saracens in the Premiership on December 2. Gloucester have suffered just one home defeat at Kingsholm this season: going down 24-19 to Northampton on the opening weekend.
Exeter Chiefs have won their last seven matches in all competitions since their 23-15 reversal to Bath at The Rec on October 27 – their best run since November 2009. The Chiefs have won their last three away games.
The four previous Premiership encounters between the two clubs have been shared two wins apiece. The Chiefs won 28-27 on their most recent visit to Kingsholm on March 24, 2012.
Gloucester: 15 Rob Cook, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Shane Monahan, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Ben Morgan,7 Akapusi Qera,6 Sione Kalamafoni,5 Jim Hamilton (captain), 4 Tom Savage, 3 Shaun Knight,2 Darren Dawidiuk, 1 Nick Wood,
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Will James, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Tim Molenaar, 23 Martyn Thomas.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter, 7 James Scaysbrook (captain), 6 Dean Mumm, 5 James Hanks, 4 Aly Muldowney, 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Simon Alcott, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Neil Clark, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Carl Rimmer, 19 Tom Hayes, 20 Ben White, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Ian Whitten.
Referee: Llyr ApGeraint Roberts
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Robin Goodliffe
London Irish v Leicester Tigers
(Madejski Stadium – 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
London Irish have won just one of their last eight matches in all competitions: a 34-28 win at home to Sale in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on November 11. The Exiles have not been victorious at Madejski Stadium in the Premiership since beating Northampton there 39-17 on October 6.
Leicester Tigers’ solitary defeat in their last six fixtures was a 14-12 loss to London Wasps at Adams Park in the Premiership on November 25. The Tigers have won only one of their last four away games in the Premiership: a 20-8 victory at Sale on October 5.
London Irish have won only one of their last ten encounters with the Tigers in all tournaments: an 18-12 win at Reading in the Premiership on October 24, 2009. Leicester have won on three of their last four visits to Madejski Stadium.
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Topsy Ojo, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Darren Allinson,8 Chris Hala’ufia,7 Jebb Sinclair,6 Declan Danaher (captain), 5 Matt Garvey, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Max Lahiff.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17.Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Kieran Low, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Guy Armitage, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Jack Moates.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Geordan Murphy, 14 Niall Morris, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Crane, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Brett Deacon, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Logovi’i Mulipola, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Geoff Parling, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden, Peter Huckle
Northampton Saints v Harlequins
(Franklin’s Gardens – 15.15; 15.15 GMT)
Northampton Saints’ only defeat in their last five matches in all competitions was a 25-6 loss at home to Ulster in the European Cup on December 7. Curiously, in each of the last four Premiership games the Saints have played their opponents have tallied exactly 16 points. The East Midlanders have won just one of their last four encounters at Franklin’s Gardens.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Tom May, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Gerrit-Jan van Velze, 7 Phil Dowson (captain), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Paul Doran-Jones, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Replacements: 16 Ross McMillan, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Brian Mujati, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Luther Burrell.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 Matt Hopper, 12 Tom Casson, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 Maurie Fa’asavalu, 5 George Robson, 4 Olly Kohn, 3 James Johnston, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Sam Smith.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Nigel Carrick, Kevin Stewart
TMO: David Grashoff
Sunday, December 23:
London Wasps v Sale Sharks
(Adams Park – 14.00; 14.00 GMT)
London Wasps have lost only one of their last five matches in all competitions: a 30-23 defeat at Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership on December 1. Wasps have won all seven games they have played at Adams Park this season.
Sale Sharks’ single win in their last eleven Premiership encounters was a 21-9 victory at home to London Irish on November 2. The Sharks’ only away win in the Premiership in 2012 was a 24-19 triumph at Gloucester on April 21.
Sale achieved the Premiership double over Wasps last season, whilst their overall record at Adams Park is won four, lost seven.
London Wasps: 15 Hugo Southwell (captain), 14 Elliot Daly, 13 Andrea Masi, 12 Chris Bell, 11 Christian Wade, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Phil Swainston, 2 T Rhys Thomas, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Tim Payne, 18 Will Taylor, 19 James Cannon, 20 Jonathan Poff, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Nick Robinson, 23 Chris Mayor.
Sale Sharks: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Mark Jennings, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Nick Macleod, 9 Will Cliff, 8 Richie Vernon, 7 David Seymour (captain), 6 James Gaskell, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Eifion Lewis-Roberts, 2 Marc Jones, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Aston Croall, 17 Vadim Cobilas, 18 Tony Buckley, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 Andy Powell, 21 Cillian Willis, 22 Corne Uys, 23 Tom Brady.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Andrew Watson, Andrew Pearce
TMO: Geoffrey Warren