Leicester Tigers will play host to Gloucester at Welford Road on Saturday in the key clash of the last round of the Premiership in 2012.
Edging into the second half of the season, Tigers wing Adam Thompstone admits now is the time the importance of individual matches becomes more apparent as sides take stock of potential league position ramifications.
The 25-year-old helped his side record a 31-9 victory away at London Irish on Boxing Day and now, with 11 games remaining, insists everyone at the club becomes more aware of what is at stake.
His side currently lie third in the Premiership table, one place above their next opponents Gloucester – highlighting the importance of the weekend’s clash.
But with the Tigers still unbeaten in December, Thompstone insists the competitive nature of the squad won’t allow complacency to creep into their game.
“You always keep one eye on the league table, and after you get past that half-way stage is where you start looking at fixtures and how they correspond to where teams are,” said Thompstone.
“You never stop wanting to win matches but as the season goes into the second half I think there is more of an awareness what is at stake and where you are going.
“It’s a long season – you don’t win the title by January, and nor do you drop out of contention by January.
“We want to take each game as it comes and keep on winning and obviously one way to do that is to keep our focus on the job at hand and not to get carried away with what could be happening down the line.
“We have a great squad here, and that helps greatly. There are players across the team who are able to come in and out of this squad and everyone knows what they should be doing, and I am no different.
“The competition for places is immense and it kicks everyone on to bigger and better things.”
Home advantage will also be key for Leicester, who have lost just one of their last 23 games at Welford Road, but Thompstone is all too aware of the competitive nature of the Premiership.
“Obviously we are boosted by staying at Welford Road over Christmas – it’s nice to have two games at a place we feel comfortable playing at. We want to end the year on a high and hopefully we can,” he added.
“The Premiership is so competitive and I think anyone can beat anyone else – there have been plenty of examples of that so far.
“Games like Gloucester are always going to be tough, no matter what the form guide says, and we need an effort from all 15 men and the replacements from the first whistle.”
We look at all the Round 12 action!
Friday, December 28:
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors
(Salford City Stadium – 20.00; 20.00 GMT)
Sale Sharks have slipped to three straight Premiership defeats since beating London Irish 21-9 at the Salford City Stadium on November 2. Sale’s most recent win in Salford came in the Anglo-Welsh Cup against Saracens on November 16.
Worcester Warriors’ only away win in any competition since New Year’s Day was in Spain against Gernika on October 13. The Warriors’ last eight games in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day.
The last five meetings between the two sides have all been won by the home side, whilst Worcester’s last win on Sale soil came in 2008 at Edgeley Park.
Sale Sharks: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Johnny Leota, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Cillian Willis, 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 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Tony Buckley, 19 Fraser McKenzie, 20 James Doyle, 21 Dwayne Peel, 22 Corne Uys, 23 Cameron Shepherd.
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 Rob O’Donnell, 18 John Andress, 19 Dean Schofield, 20 Sam Betty, 21 Jonny Arr, 22 Danny Gray, 23 Jon Clarke.
Referee: Wayne Barnes.
Assistant Referees: Robin Goodliffe, Alan Hughes.
Saturday, December 29:
Harlequins v London Irish
(Twickenham – 2.15; 2.15 GMT)
Harlequins have suffered just one defeat in their last 11 games in any competition: a 21-18 loss at Bath in the Premiership on November 23. Quins have lost just one of their last six visits to Twickenham, but have won only one of the four previous “festive” fixtures at the iconic venue.
London Irish have slipped to six successive losses in all tournaments since beating Sale at Reading in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on November 11. The Exiles’ only away win in the Premiership since September 2011 came at Worcester on April 21. Irish have lost on their last three visits to Twickenham.
Quins have won their last four encounters with London Irish in all competitions, and have also won the last three Premiership contests with the Exiles played at Twickenham.
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 Rob Buchanan, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Tom Guest, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 George Lowe.
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 George Skivington, 20 Jamie Gibson, 21 Guy Armitage, 22 Steven Shingler, 23 Pat Phibbs.
Referee: Greg Garner.
Assistant Referees: Nigel Carrick, Roy Maybank.
TMO: Geoffrey Warren.
Exeter Chiefs v Bath
(Sandy Park – 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs’ seven-game winning run in all competitions ended narrowly at Gloucester on Saturday. The Chiefs’ only home loss at Sandy Park in the Premiership since February was against Northampton on April 22.
Bath have lost back-to-back Premiership fixtures and were nilled at The Rec on Saturday by Saracens for the first time at the venue since 2009. Bath’s only Premiership away win so far this season came at Worcester in Round One.
Exeter’s only previous win against Bath in a competitive fixture remains the 20-6 victory at the old County Ground in the first round of the John Player Cup in 1978. Bath won 23-15 when the two clubs met at The Rec in October.
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, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Aly Muldowney, 4 Tom Hayes (captain), 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Simon Alcott, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Neil Clark, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Carl Rimmer, 19 James Hanks, 20 Tom Johnson, 21 Kevin Barrett, 22 Ignacio Mieres, 23 Ian Whitten.
Bath: 15 Ollie Devoto, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Kyle Eastmond, 12 Matt Banahan, 11 Tom Biggs, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Francois Louw (captain), 5 Ryan Caldwell, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 David Wilson, 2 Lee Mears, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Charlie Beech, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Stuart Hooper, 20 Will Skuse, 21 Mark McMillan, 22 Tom Heathcote, 23 Dan Hipkiss.
Referee: David Rose
Assistant Referees: Peter Huckle, Andrew Pearce.
London Welsh v London Wasps
(Kassam Stadium – 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
London Welsh’s last five games in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day. The Exiles have won their last two home matches at Kassam Stadium in the tournament.
London Wasps’ only loss in their last six matches in all tournaments was a 30-23 defeat at Exeter in the Premiership on December 1. Wasps have not won away from home in the Premiership since a visit to Worcester on October 28, 2011.
Wasps won 29-19 when the two sides met at Adams Park in Round Seven and also took the spoils the only other time the two have met in competitive rugby: a 6-3 win in the quarterfinal of the John Player Cup at Sudbury in 1979.
London Welsh: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Dan Caprice, 13 Seb Jewell, 12 Sonny Parker, 11 Nick Scott, 10 Gordon Ross, 9 Rob Lewis, 8 Alfie To’oala, 7 Mike Denbee, 6 Ed Jackson, 5 Kirill Kulemin, 4 Jonathan Mills (captain), 3 James Tideswell, 2 Neil Briggs, 1 Frank Montanella.
Replacements: 16 Greg Evans, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Greg Bateman, 19 Matt Corker, 20 Adam Balding, 21 Nick Runciman, 22 Alex Davies, 23. J Lewis.
London Wasps: 15 Hugo Southwell (captain), 14 Elliot Daly, 13 Andrea Masi, 12 Chris Bell, 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Nick Robinson, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jonathan Poff, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 James Cannon, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Phil Swainston, 2 T Rhys Thomas, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Tim Payne, 18 Will Taylor, 19 Marco Wentzel, 20 Sam Jones, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Stephen Jones, 23 Chris Mayor.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth.
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix, Gareth Copsey.
Leicester Tigers v Gloucester
(Welford Road – 17.00; 17.00 GMT)
Leicester Tigers’ only defeat in their last seven matches in all competitions was a 14-12 loss to Wasps at Adams Park on November 25. Tigers have lost just one of their last 23 games at Welford Road: a 22-9 Premiership champions Harlequins on September 22.
Gloucester Rugby have too only suffered one reversal in their last seven fixtures: going down 28-23 to Saracens at Vicarage Road on December 2. Gloucester won 27-21 against Leicester at Kingsholm in late October, but have not completed a Premiership double over the Tigers since the 2003/04 season. Gloucester’s only Premiership victory at Welford Road since then was a 30-17 win on October 6, 2007.
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 Geoff Parling, 4 Louis Deacon (captain), 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 George Chuter, 17 Logovi’i Mulipola, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Steve Mafi, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 George Ford, 23 Matt Smith
Gloucester: 15 Martyn Thomas, 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 Will James,3 Shaun Knight, 2 Huia Edmonds, 1 Nick Wood.
Replacements: 16 Darren Dawidiuk, 17 Dan Murphy, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Tim Molenaar, 23 Dave Lewis.
Referee: Andrew Small
Assistant Referees: Kevin Stewart, Paul Burton.
TMO: David Grashoff.
Sunday, December 30:
Saracens v Northampton Saints
(stadiummk – 14.15; 14.15pm GMT)
Saracens are the best team in the Premiership on current form, having secured 20 league points from their last six matches. Sarries make stadiummk the sixth different home venue for their matches this season, and won on their only previous visit to the venue: 25-20 against Bristol on May 10, 2008.
Northampton Saints play their first away game at Milton Keynes after appearing there in three home matches in the European Cup in the past (winning two and losing one). The Saints won their most recent away fixture in the Premiership, a 27-16 victory at Sale on November 30.
Saracens have won their last two encounters with the Saints including a 16-6 victory at Franklin’s Gardens on October 27.
Saracens: 15 Chris Wyles, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Brad Barritt, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Neil de Kock, 8 Ernst Joubert (captain), 7 Will Fraser, 6 Kelly Brown, 5 Mouritz Botha, 4 George Kruis, 3 Matt Stevens, 2 John Smit, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Rhys Gill, 18 Carlos Nieto, 19 Eoin Sheriff, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 James Short.
Northampton Saints: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 George Pisi, 12 Dom Waldouck, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 GJ Van Velze, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Samu Manoa, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Alex Waller.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Soane Tonga’uiha, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Mark Sorenson, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Tom May.
Referee: JP Doyle
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden, Stuart Terheege.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Table After Eleven Rounds