This weekend sees action in the penultimate round of the league stage of the Aviva Premiership with the first match of the round being between Gary Gold’s Bath and Leicester Tigers. The final match of the weekend is scheduled for Sunday afternoon with London Wasps at home to Exeter Chiefs.
The competition for the top spot is still strong but Saracens are already assured of a top two finish and thus a home semi-final. At the other end of the table Sale Sharks who have struggled for so much of the season are safe from relegation in tenth place, with London Welsh too many points behind eleventh placed London Irish to avoid going down.
Sale Sharks might have secured their Premiership safety ahead of a trip to Northampton Saints but Kiwi Dan Braid doesn’t want anyone taking their foot off the gas in front of the Sky cameras this weekend.
Friday night’s 32-9 victory over Gloucester Rugby coupled with London Welsh going down 31-14 to Northampton Saints 48 hours later means Sale are 13 points clear of the bottom with just ten points left to play for.
The demolition of the Cherry & Whites was Sale’s third straight game without a loss, however they head to Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday with just one away win under their belt this season – this a 26-25 over London Welsh in round 15.
History doesn’t look to be on the Sharks’ side either with Sale having beaten the Saints just once in their last eight encounters in all competitions, as well as having not lowered Northampton’s colours at Franklin’s Gardens since a 36-34 victory in May 2006.
And while on paper Sale have little more than just pride to play for in their final two games, flanker Braid is adamant no one is going to take it easy at Northampton with what they do in their final two games set to affect how they kick-start next season.
“We’re playing some good footie at the moment but it will be a tough ask against a tough Northampton pack, but we’ve got to front up and give it a crack before the last game at home, which we will look to finish on a high,” Braid said.
“I think in life when you go through tough times you learn the most, the squad have learnt how to deal with adversity this year as a group and we’re confident that next year if we play well together we can get results.
“We need to set standards next year, playing simple rugby that everyone understands and really fronting up on the field.”
While Sale are happy to have nothing to fight for following their trials and tribulations this term, Saints have plenty to still contend as they bid for the bonus-point victory that would guarantee them an Premiership semi-final for the fourth year in a row.
And although Saints’ play-off push was given a helping hand by Sale when they downed Gloucester on Friday night, scrum-half Lee Dickson isn’t about to repay the favour.
Dickson said: “It’s going to be a massive game, Sale can throw the ball around as well and they are a dangerous side with some very good players all over the park.
“It’s another massive 80 minutes for us, it’s almost like a semi-final in itself, our maul will need to be good, we’ll need to be on the top of our game.
“They helped us out last weekend with their result at Gloucester and we’ve watched that game in preparation for this weekend, we’ll need to be spot on in terms of intensity.”
We preview all of the Round 21 action!
Saturday, April 20
Bath v Leicester Tigers
(The Rec – Kick-off: 14.15; 14.15 GMT)
Bath Rugby have won just one of their last five fixtures in all competitions: 40-25 at home to Stade Français in the quarter-finals of the European Challenge Cup on 6th April.
Bath have won their last four Premiership rugby encounters played at The Rec.
Leicester Tigers have reached the Premiership play-offs for a record ninth successive season, whilst another three match points would see them appear in a fifth consecutive home semi-final.
Bath: 15 Ollie Devoto, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Ben Williams, 12 Kyle Eastmond, 11 Horacio Agulla, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Simon Taylor, 7 Guy Mercer, 6 Francois Louw (captain), 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Dominic Day, 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Paul James.
Replacements: 16 Eusebio Guinazu, 17 Nathan Catt, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Will Spencer, 20 Mat Gilbert, 21 Nick Koster, 22 Peter Stringer, 23 Tom Heathcote.
Leicester: 15 Mathew Tait, 14 Matt Smith, 13 Manusamoa Tuilagi, 12 Anthony Allen, 11 Adam Thompstone, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Tom Croft, 5 Geoff Parling, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Logovi’i Mulipola.
Replacements: 16 Rob Hawkins, 17 Fraser Balmain, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Jordan Crane, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Dan Bowden, 23 Geordan Murphy.
Referee: Tim Wigglesworth
Assistant Referees: Ashley Rowden & Andrew Pearce.
TMO: Trevor Fisher.
London Irish v London Welsh
(Madejski Stadium – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
London Irish have won just one of their last four games: 26-6 at home to Worcester on 23rd March.
Irish have not been defeated at Madejski Stadium in any tournament in 2013.
London Welsh’s unfortunate run of ten successive Premiership Rugby defeats will see them finish bottom of the Premiership.
Welsh have not been victorious in the competition since they beat London Irish 15-9 in Oxford in round 10.
That win is London Welsh’s only one over London Irish in competitive rugby.
London Irish: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Guy Armitage, 12 Steven Shingler, 11 Sailosi Tagicakibau, 10 Ian Humphreys, 9 Darren Allinson, 8 Chris Hala’ufia, 7 Ofisa Treviranus, 6 Matt Garvey, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 George Skivington (captain), 3 Halani Aulika, 2 David Paice, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Leo Halavatau, 19 Kieran Low, 20 Declan Danaher, 21 Topsy Ojo, 22 Shane Geraghty, 23 Jack Moates.
London Welsh: 15 Tom Arscott, 14 Nick Scott, 13 Seb Stegmann, 12 Sonny Parker, 11 Dan Caprice, 10 Gordon Ross (captain), 9 Tyson Keats, 8 Daniel Browne, 7 Michael Hills, 6 Julio Cabello Farias, 5 Kirill Kulemin, 4 Matt Corker, 3 Paulica Ion, 2 Greg Bateman, 1 Tom Bristow.
Replacements: 16 Dan George, 17 Arthur Joly, 18 James Tideswell, 19 Adam Brown, 20 Adam Balding, 21 Rob Lewis, 22 Alex Davies, 23 Joe Ajuwa.
Referee: Dean Richards
Assistant Referees: Gareth Copsey & Nigel Carrick
Worcester Warriors v Harlequins
(Sixways – Kick-off: 15.00; 15.00 GMT)
Worcester Warriors have retained ninth spot in the Premiership Rugby table ever since round 6.
The Warriors only win in their last nine games in the tournament was 29-23 over London Wasps on 1st March.
Harlequins’ three game losing run in the Premiership ended with their 23-9 home victory over Bath on Saturday.
The Quins will need to keep winning if they are to be in with a chance of defending their Premiership title by reaching the semi-finals.
Harlequins have lost their last two away games, at Saracens and at Gloucester.
Harlequins have won their last eleven Premiership encounters with Worcester since the Warriors 15-9 victory at The Stoop in February 2005.
Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Josh Drauniniu, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Jon Clarke, 11 Ben Howard, 10 Andy Goode, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 Semisi Taulava, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Neil Best, 5 Chris Jones, 4 James Percival (captain), 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ed Shervington, 1 Matt Mullan.
Replacements: 16 Aleki Lutui, 17 Rob O’Donnell, 18 John Andress, 19 Craig Gillies, 20 Jake Abbott, 21 Shaun Perry, 22 Danny Gray, 23 Joe Carlisle.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Tom Williams, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 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 Ross Chisholm.
Referee: Martin Fox
Assistant Referees: Paul Dix & Stuart Terheege.
Northampton Saints v Sale Sharks
(Franklin’s Gardens – Kick-off: 17.45; 17.45 GMT)
Northampton Saints will be all out for a bonus point win which would guarantee them an Premiership rugby semi-final spot for the fourth year in a row, maybe less should Gloucester not gain maximum points this weekend.
The Saints have lost only one of their last half a dozen fixtures in the competition: 8-36 at home to Leicester in round 19.
Sale Sharks are unbeaten in their last three Premiership matches since their 10-48 reversal at Leicester on 2nd March. Sale’s solitary away victory this season in the Premiership was 26-25 over London Welsh at Kassam Stadium in round 15.
The Sharks have beaten the Saints just once in their last eight encounters in all competitions: 29-21 at Edgeley Park in September 2011. Sale have not lowered Northampton’s colours at Franklin’s Gardens since a 36-34 victory in May 2006.
Northampton: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Tom May, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Jamie Elliott, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Phil Dowson, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Christian Day, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Soane Tonga’uiha.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Doran Jones, 19 Samu Manoa, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Martin Roberts, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 James Wilson.
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Tom Brady, 13 Mark Cueto, 12 Jonny Leota, 11 Charlie Amesbury, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dwayne Peel, 8 James Gaskell, 7 David Seymour (captain), 6 Richie Vernon, 5 Tom Holmes, 4 Kearnan Myall, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Marc Jones, 17 James Flynn, 18 Aston Croall, 19 Josh Beaumont, 20 James Doyle, 21 Nathan Fowles, 22 Sam James, 23 Charlie Ingall.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant Referees: Andrew Watson & Kevin Stewart.
TMO: Graham Hughes.
Sunday, April 21
London Wasps v Exeter Chiefs
(Adams Park – Kick-off: 14.00; 14.00 GMT)
London Wasps have slipped to six successive defeats in all competitions since their 33-29 win at home to Gloucester in round 15 of Premiership Rugby.
Wasps have lost their last three games at Adams Park, their worst home run since April 2010.
Exeter Chiefs have lost just one of their last five Premiership matches, 9-12 to Leicester at Sandy Park on 23rd March. The Chiefs have won their last two away games at Harlequins and Worcester.
Exeter have taken the last five contests with Wasps in all tournaments, since the Londoners’ 24-12 victory at Adams Park on 5th December 2010.
Wasps: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Andrea Masi, 12 Chris Bell (captain), 11 Tom Varndell, 10 Stephen Jones, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Joe Launchbury, 4 Tom Palmer, 3 Phil Swainston, 2 T Rhys Thomas, 1 Zak Taulafo.
Replacements: 16 Tom Lindsay, 17 Will Taylor, 18 Simon McIntyre, 19 Marco Wentzel, 20 Sam Jones, 21 Charlie Davies, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Hugo Southwell.
Exeter: 15 Luke Arscott, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Phil Dollman, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Matt Jess, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Haydn Thomas, 8 Richard Baxter (captain), 7 James Scaysbrook, 6 Ben White, 5 Damian Welch, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Hoani Tui, 2 Jack Yeandle, 1 Brett Sturgess.
Replacements: 16 Chris Whitehead, 17 Carl Rimmer, 18 Craig Mitchell, 19 Aly Muldowney, 20 Dave Ewers, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Ian Whitten.
The Referee: TBC
Assistant Referees: TBC
Table after Twenty Rounds