Premiership Preview: Saturday, Sunday

There are three matches taking place in the Premiership on Saturday before Wasps entertain Exeter Chiefs in the solitary game on Sunday.

Leicester v Harlequins

Gareth Owen and Jonah Holmes have been called into the Leicester Tigers line-up for Saturday’s home game against Harlequins in Round 15 of the Premiership season.

They are the only two changes to the team that started at Gloucester last weekend with Owen coming into the midfield while Holmes – who has six tries in six appearances this season – is on the wing with Nick Malouf sidelined this week.

Matt Toomua moves to fly-half with Owen partnering Manu Tuilagi at centre.

In the only other change to the squad from last weekend, prop Michele Rizzo is handed a place among the replacements alongside fellow international front-rowers Tatafu Polota-Nau and Pat Cilliers.

Head coach Matt O’Connor said: “It’s our first home game in the Premiership for a long while and it’s a big game for both teams. 

“The focus is good, the buy-in from the players is good, the effort is good, but we need a big performance at home.”

Meanwhile, there are several changes to the Harlequins side that faced Wasps at home last week.

Aaron Morris comes in at full-back for Ross Chisholm, who has been ruled out with concussion. Jonno Kitto starts at scrum-half, as Dave Lewis reverts to the bench. 

In the pack, Stan South moves into the starting line-up ahead of the injured Ben Glynn, as Sam Twomey is set to make his Premiership return from the bench. Joe Gray starts at hooker, whilst captain David Ward shows his flexibility by moving to the back-row to cover for the injured Mat Luamanu.

Gabriel Ibitoye comes back into the fray as a replacement, following his return from the England training camp, along with James Lang.

Ahead of the match, Director of Rugby John Kingston said: “Welford Road is always a challenging arena and Saturday will be no different. 

"We are well aware there is ground to make up in the race for Play-Offs and European Qualification – an away victory at Leicester would be a massive boost in that quest."

The teams:

Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Gareth Owen, 11 Jonah Holmes, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Sam Harrison, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Mike Fitzgerald, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 Tom Youngs (c), 1 Greg Bateman Replacements: 16 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Harry Wells, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Harry Simmons, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mathew Tait

Harlequins: 15 Aaron Morris, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Jonno Kitto, 8 James Chisholm, 7 Dave Ward (c), 6 Luke Wallace, 5 Charlie Matthews, 4 Stan South, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Lewis Boyce Replacements: 16 Charlie Piper, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Will Collier, 19 Sam Twomey, 20 Archie White, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 James Lang, 22 Gabriel Ibitoye

Date: Saturday, February 17 Venue: Welford Road Kick-Off: 15:00 GMT Referee: Wayne Barnes Assistant referees: Luke Pearce, Hamish Smales TMO: David Grashoff

Northampton Saints v London Irish

Northampton Saints have made four changes to their starting XV as they look to get back to winning ways in the Premiership against London Irish on Saturday.

The hosts will be looking to put last weekend’s frustrating away loss to Bath Rugby swiftly behind them, as they return to Franklin’s Gardens where they are unbeaten in 2018.

London Irish have only won once at the home of Saints since 2004, and technical coaching consultant Alan Gaffney and interim head coach Alan Dickens will be keen to keep that record intact with Northampton looking to climb the league standings.

Three changes to Saints backline sees George North return from international duty on the wing, Nic Groom restored to the nine jersey, and inside centre Luther Burrell make his first appearance following a five-week injury layoff.

With Harry Mallinder retained by England throughout the week he is not involved in the matchday squad, and Piers Francis remains at fly-half.

The pack is almost identical to that which lined up at the Rec last weekend, with the front-row unchanged ahead of Api Ratuniyarawa and skipper Christian Day in the engine room.

But there is one switch in a rejigged back-row; Jamie Gibson moves into the six jersey to make room for Heinrich Brüssow, with the tenacious Springbok makinghis first Saints start at openside flanker.

Teimana Harrison remains at eight while there is room for Stephen Myler amongst the replacements, with Tom Wood and Cobus Reinach also moving to the bench.

And while London Irish have not won in the league since the opening day of the season, Gaffney is adamant that Saints will not make the mistake of underestimating their opponents.

“It's going to be a really important game and the most important thing for us is that we give London Irish respect,” he said.

“In rugby, whoever you are playing, you've got to show them respect and we will show them the utmost respect as we are only sitting two places above them in the table.

“We know this is a very important game for us; we're still aiming for the top six at worst and we've got to get our process right to go out and win games.”

Meanwhile, experienced campaigner David Paice will break London Irish’s all-time appearance record when he takes to the field against Northampton Saints.

It will be the hooker’s 283rd appearance, eclipsing Topsy Ojo’s record of 282 outings set back in October before injury curtailed his season.

More than 13 years on from making his first team bow at Franklin’s Gardens, Paice returns to the scene of his debut to break the record.

“David’s work rate, effort and commitment has been second to none from the moment he made his debut in 2004,” said Exiles’ director of rugby Nick Kennedy.

“Having played alongside David, I know first-hand what he brings to the table and to reach this milestone is testament to his commitment and professionalism.”

Paice is part of a starting XV that sees just one change, Greig Tonks replacing fly-half Theo Brophy Clews who is ruled out through injury.

Tonks partners scrum-half Piet van Zyl at the heart of the Exiles’ backline, while Tom Fowlie and Luke McLean both retain their place in the centres. Irish’s top try-scorer this season, Alex Lewington makes his 99th appearance for the club with Joe Cokanasiga getting the nod on the other wing and James Marshall continuing at full-back.

Meanwhile, Paice is joined by Ben Franks and Ollie Hoskins in the front-row, with skipper Franco van der Merwe and Teofilo Paulo both starting in the engine room. Arno Botha, Max Northcote-Green and Ofisa Treviranus make up an industrious back-row. 

“We’re expecting a stern test from a very good Northampton side, but we’re looking forward to the game and we’ll be doing everything we can to get the win that we need,” added Kennedy.

“We’ve made one enforced change, with Greig coming back into the mix and I’m looking forward to seeing the combination between him and Piet.”

The teams:

Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Teimana Harrison, 7 Heinrich Brüssow, 6 Jamie Gibson, 5 Christian Day (c), 4 Api Ratuniyarawa, 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Campese Ma’afu Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 David Ribbans, 20 Tom Wood, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Stephen Myler, 23 Nafi Tuitavake

London Irish: 15 James Marshall, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Tom Fowlie, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Alex Lewington, 10 Greig Tonks, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Ofisa Treviranus, 7 Max Northcote-Green, 6 Arno Botha, 5 Teofilo Paulo, 4 Franco van der Merwe (c), 3 Ollie Hoskins, 2 David Paice, 1 Ben Franks Replacements: 16 Dave Porecki, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Sebastian De Chaves, 20 Conor Gilsenan, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Tommy Bell, 23 Aseli Tikoirotuma  

Date: Saturday, February 17 Venue: Franklin's Gardens Kick-Off: 15:00 GMT Referee: Ian Tempest Assistant referees: Brian Campsall, Simon Harding TMO: Trevor Fisher

Worcester v Gloucester

Jonny Arr will make his long-awaited comeback on Saturday in one of three changes to the starting line-up as Warriors battle Gloucester in Round 15.

Arr, in his tenth season in the Warriors first-team, returns from a concussion injury sustained in October and replaces Francois Hougaard (ankle) to start alongside fly-half Jamie Shillcock, in what will be the scrum-half’s Testimonial Day.

Meanwhile, Josh Adams and David Denton are eligible to play following Six Nations duty for Wales and Scotland respectively.

Adams will start alongside Chris Pennell and Bryce Heem in the back three, while Ryan Mills and Jackson Willison form the centre partnership.

Denton joins the back-row next to Sam Lewis and GJ van Velze while Darren Barry prepares for his 50th club appearance in the second-row alongside Donncha O’Callaghan. Ethan Waller, Jack Singleton and Nick Schonert start in the front-row.

The last time the sides met, Gloucester edged a tense contest 24-19 at Kingsholm as they denied Warriors by the tryline at the death, while the last meeting at Sixways finished in a dramatic 23-23 draw in September 2016.

Warriors will be looking to back up their remarkable win at champions Exeter Chiefs while their opponents aim to continue their quest for a Premiership play-off spot, following a home win over Leicester Tigers last weekend.

Meanwhile, the Cherry and Whites make two changes to their starting line-up.It's a local derby with a lot riding on it for both sides, with Gloucester looking to maintain their challenge for a top four spot while Worcester look to ease further clear of London Irish at the foot of the table.

Gloucester make two changes to the side that started last weekend's win over the Leicester Tigers. Both are injury enforced with Ollie Thorley and Willi Heinz replaced by Matt Scott and Ben Vellacott respectively.

And there are also two changes in the replacements as Callum Braley and Owen Williams come into the matchday squad.

Previewing the game with the local media this week, Head Coach Johan Ackermann acknowledged Worcester's recent form but stressed that the Cherry and Whites are focusing on their own game.

"They were just tremendous in defence and forced Exeter into a lot of turnovers and mistakes. They were physical at the breakdown and obviously went down there with a lot of self-belief. It shows how teams at this level are so well matched," he said.

"They'll believe that they can back that performance up and they're playing at home, so they'll see themselves as favourites.

"But we have our own challenges and our own reasons to perform. We also have the challenge of backing up our own performance last weekend.

"We have to focus on ourselves and ensure that we play at our level and, with all due respect, not worry too much about the opposition. We obviously have a plan in place but, this weekend, it's all about the 80 minutes and making sure we turn up."

The teams:

Worcester: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ryan Mills, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jamie Shillcock, 9 Jonny Arr, 8 GJ van Velze, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 David Denton, 5 Darren Barry, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (c), 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Ethan Waller Replacements: 16 Kurt Haupt, 17 Ryan Bower, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Anton Bresler, 20 Matt Cox, 21 Alafoti Faosiliva, 22 Luke Baldwin, 23 Dean Hammond

Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Matt Scott, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Henry Trinder, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Ben Vellacott, 8 Ruan Ackermann, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Jake Polledri, 5 Mariano Galarza; 4 Tom Savage (c), 3 John Afoa, 2 James Hanson, 1 Josh Hohneck Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u, 17 Cameron Orr, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Ed Slater, 20 Freddie Clarke, 21 Callum Braley, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Mark Atkinson

Date: Saturday, February 17 Venue: Sixways Stadium Kick-Off: 15:00 GMT Referee: Tom Foley Assistant referees: Nigel Yates, Jack Makepeace TMO: Geoffrey Warren

Sunday

Wasps v Exeter

Fit-again Jimmy Gopperth returns to the starting line-up for the first time since mid-December when Wasps host league leaders Exeter Chiefs at the Ricoh on Sunday.

The current Premiership player-of-the-year partners Juan de Jongh in the home midfield after delivering a 15-minute cameo from the bench during last week’s win at Harlequins.

Wasps rugby director Dai Young makes one further switch behind the scrum which sees Marcus Watson introduced on the right wing.

In the pack, the only change to last week’s starting line-up sees Irish international tighthead Marty Moore wear the three shirt.

He switches roles with Jake Cooper-Woolley, who is part of a power-packed bench that includes Matt Mullan, Ashley Johnson, Gaby Lovobalavu, Christian Wade and Joe Simpson.

In addition, Will Rowlands and Alex Rieder, who has been absent since mid-September, are named among the replacements following their recovery from shoulder complaints.

Wasps and Exeter have locked horns no fewer than nine times in the last 26 months, and according to Young few secrets therefore remain between last year’s Premiership finalists.

“We know each other very well, neither team hides the way they try to play the game, and we both know that either of us is capable of winning,” he said.

“We draw the best out of each other and there never seems to be too much in the games.

“I’m sure both clubs like to think they will be there or thereabouts by the end of the season, so this is a big game for both of us.

“After beating Harlequins last week, these next three games are huge in deciding where we will sit going into the business end of the season.” 

Meanwhile, Rob Baxter says he expects to see a response of sorts from his Exeter Chiefs side in the wake of last weekend’s Premiership defeat at home to Worcester Warriors.

The reigning champions not only slipped to a second successive league defeat in their 6-5 reverse, but at the same time saw their lengthy unbeaten home record in the top flight – which dates back to October 2016 – come to an abrupt end.

Ahead of kick-off, Baxter has made a number of changes to his side from that which lost to the Warriors last time out. Props Alec Hepburn and Tomas Francis are both back from international duty and start alongside Luke Cowan-Dickie in the front-row.

Behind, Julian Salvi makes his first Premiership start since the Harlequins game back in November, while Will Chudley comes in at scrum-half to replace new-dad Nic White. The only other change in the back division sees Ollie Devoto trade place with Ian Whitten in the Exeter midfield.

On the bench, hooker Jack Innard gets his first-ever involvement in a Premiership squad, while Sam Skinner has recovered from a broken hand to offer extra bulk in the engine room, and Stu Townsend offers back-up to Chudley at half-back.

The teams:

Wasps: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Guy Thompson, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Kearnan Myall, 4 James Gaskell (c), 3 Marty Moore, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Simon McIntyre Replacements: 16 Ashley Johnson, 17 Matt Mullan, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Alex Rieder, 21 Joe Simpson, 22 Gaby Lovobalavu, 23 Christian Wade

Exeter: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Ollie Devoto, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Will Chudley, 8 Don Armand, 7 Julian Salvi, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Tomas Francis, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn Replacements: 16 Jack Innard, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Thomas Waldrom, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Ian Whitten

Date: Sunday, February 18 Venue: Ricoh Arena Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Referee: John-Paul Doyle Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Karl Dickson TMO: Sean Davey

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