Host of Test players return to Premiership action

There’s four Premiership games on Saturday before one takes place on Sunday, with Saracens versus Harlequins the round’s standout match.

Host of Test players return to Premiership action

Host of Test players return to Premiership action


Bristol Bears v Worcester Warriors

Second-row Ed Holmes returns from an ankle injury and is one of five changes to the Bristol Bears side as Pat Lam’s men go in search of a third successive Premiership victory.

Elsewhere, Luke Daniels switches to full-back, while Tom Pincus and Harry Randall come into the backline on the left wing and at scrum-half respectively.

Daniels will wear the number 15 jersey after former All Blacks utility back Charles Piutau was sidelined for four weeks with a calf injury. Piutau is expected to return to action at the end of April.

In the pack, Jake Woolmore is named in the front-row, and will start at tighthead prop, while Lewis Thiede is set for his first Premiership start since January and he packs down on the loosehead side.

Meanwhile, Grand Slam winner Josh Adams will return to club duty with Worcester Warriors.

Adams played an influential role in Wales’ Grand Slam by scoring tries in successive wins over Italy, England and Scotland and setting up a try for scrum-half Tomos Williams which began their fightback against France in Paris in the Six Nations opener.

The wing scored a try for Warriors when he last played for the club against Harlequins at The Stoop five weeks ago.

England centre Ben Te’o also returns from Six Nations duty in place of Francois Venter who suffered a head injury against Exeter Chiefs two weeks ago.

Te’o returns to club duty for the first time since January 19 when he started in the Challenge Cup victory over Stade Francais.

Meanwhile, Warriors have made one more change to their back division with Jono Lance named at fly-half for his first Premiership start since late September.

The Australian suffered a stress fracture of the back in mid-October but impressed on his return to action as a second half replacement against Exeter Chiefs.

USA hooker Joe Taufete’e returns to club duty for the first time since he became the world’s leading front row try-scorer in international rugby.

Taufete’e, who last played for Warriors against Ospreys on January 12, is named among the replacements with centre Will Butler and flanker Carl Kirwan who are in line to play their first Premiership rugby of the season.

Form: Bristol Bears have won their last two matches, against Gloucester and Northampton, but have not won three in a row in Premiership Rugby since season 2006/07. The Bears’ only defeat in their last four Premiership Rugby games at Ashton Gate was 22-29 to Wasps in Round 13. Worcester Warriors have lost their last two Premiership Rugby fixtures since beating Leicester at Sixways on 24 February. Worcester have lost their last six away games in Premiership Rugby since beating Leicester at Welford Road on 23 September. Worcester beat Bristol at Sixways in Round Six but have not achieved a league double against the Bears since they won all four encounters they played in the RFU Championship in season 2010/11. The two clubs have met on three previous occasions at Ashton Gate with Warriors’ only victory being by a single point in the first leg of the RFU Championship final in May 2015.

The teams:

Bristol Bears: 15 Luke Daniels, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Piers O’Conor, 12 Siale Piutau (cc), 11 Tom Pincus, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Jordan Crane (cc), 7 Jake Heenan, 6 Steve Luatua, 5 Chris Vui, 4 Ed Holmes, 3 Lewis Thiede, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Jake Woolmore Replacements: 16 Sam Parry, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 John Afoa, 19 Joe Batley, 20 Dan Thomas, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Mat Protheroe

Worcester Warriors: 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Ben Te’o, 12 Ryan Mills (c), 11 Josh Adams, 10 Jono Lance, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Marco Mama, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Ted Hill, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Anton Brelser, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Callum Black Replacements: 16 Joe Taufete’e, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Gareth Milasinovich, 19 Pierce Philips, 20 Carl Kirwan, 21 Michael Heaney, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Will Butler

Venue: Ashton Gate Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Referee: Luke Pearce Assistant referees: Matthew Carley, Thomas Foley Television match official: Rowan Kitt

Gloucester v Wasps

Looking to cement a place in the top four of the table, the Cherry and Whites have made just one change to the starting line-up as Franco Marais starts at hooker.

The other changes to the matchday squad are amongst the replacements, where Henry Walker comes in for James Hanson who picked up an injury in training this week. However, there are welcome returns after long term injury absences for Val Rapava Ruskin and Ruan Dreyer.

Jake Polledri is back from Six Nations duty with Italy, Ben Vellacott gets the nod at scrum-half and Charlie Sharples also returns after injury.

Meanwhile, five international players return to the starting line-up for Wasps.

Joe Launchbury skippers the side while Brad Shields, Nathan Hughes, Elliot Daly and Zurabi Zhvania are all handed starts.

Shields and Hughes link up with Nizaam Carr in the back-row while Launchbury partners James Gaskell in the second-row. Zhvania is restored to the front-row alongside Tommy Taylor and Will Stuart.

In the back-line, Joe Simpson and Rob Miller link up once again in the half-backs while Gaby Lovobalavu and Juan de Jongh continue their centre partnership, with Daly, Marcus Watson and Willie le Roux completing the back three.

Among the replacements, Josh Bassett could make his 100th appearance in the Black and Gold if he features while Will Rowlands could be in line for his 50th Premiership appearance.

Academy fly-half Jacob Umaga is named on the bench again and could make his first ever Premiership appearance, with fellow Academy youngster Will Porter also called up to the side.

Form: Gloucester’s only defeat in the last four rounds of Premiership Rugby was away at Bristol in 1 March. The Cherry & Whites have lost just once at Kingsholm in Premiership Rugby since September: 15-30 to Sale Sharks in Round 11. Wasps’ only victory in their last seven first team matches was 29-22 at Bristol in Round 13 of Premiership Rugby. This is their only away victory in any competition since the end of September. Gloucester beat Wasps 35-21 at the Ricoh Arena in Round Six but have not achieved a Premiership Rugby double over them since 2010/11. Wasps most recent victory at Kingsholm was in December 2014.

The teams:

Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Billy Twelvetrees, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Ollie Thorley, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Willi Heinz (c), 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Jaco Kriel, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Josh Hohneck Replacements: 16 Henry Walker, 17 Val Rapava Ruskin, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Freddie Clarke, 20 Jake Polledri, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Matt Banahan, 23 Charlie Sharples

Wasps: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Gaby Lovobalavu, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Rob Miller, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Nizaam Carr, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Gaskell, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Zurabi Zhvania Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Ashley Johnson, 21 Will Porter, 22 Jacob Umaga, 23 Josh Bassett

Venue: Kingsholm Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Referee: Ian Tempest Assistant referees: Hamish Smales, Simon McConnell Television match official: Stuart Terheege

Saracens v Harlequins

Five of Saracens’ Six Nations contingent will start in the Premiership battle against Harlequins at London Stadium on Saturday.

Grand Slam winner Liam Williams slots in at 15 with Scotland flyer Sean Maitland returning to the wing.

Hooker Jamie George and number eight Billy Vunipola feature having played in all five of England’s matches while Ben Spencer, who earned his third cap against Scotland, begins at scrum-half.

Captain Brad Barritt has recovered from injury to partner Alex Lozowski in the centre while Titi Lamositele comes into the front-row.

For Harlequins, Kyle Sinckler has been handed a start against Saracens at the London Stadium.

The tighthead prop, who started every Six Nations match for England this year, is joined by Joe Marler in the front-row and the pair are two of five changes to the starting XV that lined up against Gloucester in the last round.

Danny Care has recovered from a rib injury and is named at scrum-half with Marcus Smith at fly-half, while Ben Tapuai returns to inside centre.

Form: Saracens are in second place in the table despite their record in the last seven rounds of Premiership Rugby being won three, lost four. Saracens have won their last seventeen home games in all tournaments including their only previous visit to London Stadium, beating Harlequins there 364 days ago. Harlequins five game winning run in Gallagher Premiership Rugby ended with their 7-29 home defeat to Gloucester in Round 16. Quins have won their last two away games in Premiership Rugby, at Newcastle and at Bath, but have not won three in a row on their travels since February 2013. Saracens beat Harlequins 25-20 at Twickenham Stoop in Round Six but have not achieved a Premiership Rugby double over their London rivals since 2014/15.

The teams:

Saracens: 15 Liam Williams, 14 David Strettle, 13 Alex Lozowski, 12 Brad Barritt (c), 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Goode, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Jackson Wray, 5 Nick Isiekwe, 4 Will Skelton, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Titi Lamositele Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Richard Barrington, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Joel Kpoku, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Max Malins, 23 Nick Tompkins

Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Ross Chisholm, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw (cc), 6 Jack Clifford, 5 James Horwill (cc), 4 Matt Symons, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Elia Elia, 1 Joe Marler Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Will Collier, 19 George Merrick, 20 Renaldo Bothma, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Demetri Catrakilis, 23 Alofa Alofa

Venue: London Stadium Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Referee: JP Doyle Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe, Roy Maybank Television match official: David Grashoff

Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks

Premiership Player of the Season Vereniki Goneva returns for Newcastle Falcons at St James’ Park on Saturday as they meet Sale Sharks in ‘The Big One’.

The Fijian wowed the crowd during last season’s fixture at the home of Newcastle United with his Alan Shearer try celebration and, having overcome a calf injury, now forms part of a side heading out in search of their third successive league victory following wins over Wasps and Worcester Warriors.

England flanker Mark Wilson captains the team having played in all of his country’s Six Nations games, while Scotland centre Chris Harris also slots back in after shining in last weekend’s Calcutta Cup thriller at Twickenham.

Fiji number eight Nemani Nagusa earns a start having impressed from the bench at Wasps a fortnight ago, scoring one try and creating another, as the Falcons narrowed the gap between themselves and top-flight safety to just three points going into the final six rounds.

Openside John Hardie comes in as the only other change, with the Scotland flanker earning man-of-the-match honours during his last game at St James’ Park when his country defeated Samoa there in a Rugby World Cup classic.

Meanwhile, Sale Sharks have made four personnel changes for the Premiership game.

Loosehead prop Ross Harrison returns to the front-row after a three-game absence through injury, while Josh Beaumont moves forward to the second-row to allow Jono Ross to take the number eight shirt. The captain will be flanked by both Curry brothers as Ben keeps the number seven shirt he has occupied for the majority of the season with Six Nations star Tom slotting in at blindside.

Scrum-half Gus Warr returns from England duty after an emphatic win at Franklin’s Gardens in the final round of the U20 Six Nations and he is joined by try-scoring duo Arron Reed and Cameron Redpath on the bench.

Reed, who ran the length to score against Scotland U20’s last Friday, is replaced by Byron McGuigan in the starting line-up, who returns to the Sharks after representing Scotland in a dramatic encounter at Twickenham last Saturday that eventually ended in a 38-38 draw.

Form: Newcastle Falcons have won their last two matches, against Worcester and Wasps but have not won three in a row in Premiership Rugby for twelve months. Newcastle’s home record in Premiership Rugby this season is won two, lost five, but this is only their second visit to St James’ Park where twelve months ago they beat Northampton Saints 25-22. Sale Sharks have lost only two of their last nine Premiership Rugby matches, at Northampton in Round 13 and at home to Exeter in Round 15. The Sharks only defeat in their last four away games in Premiership Rugby was 17-67 at Northampton on 16 February. Sale beat Newcastle at AJ Bell Stadium in Round 6 but have not achieved a Premiership Rugby double over them since 2014/15.

The teams:

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nemani Nagusa, 7 John Hardie, 6 Mark Wilson (c), 5 Andrew Davidson, 4 Calum Green, 3 Logovi’i Mulipola, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Sam Lockwood Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Adam Brocklebank, 18 David Wilson, 19 Evan Olmstead, 20 Gary Graham, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Brett Connon, 23 Johnny Williams

Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 James O’Connor, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Sam James, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Jono Ross (c), 7 Ben Curry, 6 Tom Curry, 5 James Phillips, 4 Josh Beaumont, 3 WillGriff John, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Gus Warr, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Arron Reed

Venue: St James’ Park Kick-off: 17:30 GMT Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys Assistant referees: Adam Leal, Wayne Falla Television match official: Sean Davey


Exeter Chiefs v Bath

Exeter boss Rob Baxter has made several changes to his squad, despite being victorious last time out against Worcester.

Up front, Harry Williams starts at tighthead ahead of Greg Homes, while behind the scrum Nic White gets the nod at scrum-half in place of Jack Maunder.

In the outside backs, England duo Jack Nowell and Henry Slade are brought in at the expense of Tom O’Flaherty and Ian Whitten respectively.

Finally, on the bench, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Grand Slam winner Tomas Francis are also recalled to duty, taking over from Elvis Taione and Marcus Street.

Meanwhile, Joe Cokanasiga returns to the Bath starting line-up for the Premiership clash at Sandy Park.

Following a man of the match performance for England against Italy in the Six Nations, the powerhouse starts on the right wing. Ruaridh McConnochie and Tom Homer complete an exciting back three.

Jamie Roberts joins Jonathan Joseph in an experienced midfield combination, while captain Will Chudley faces his former side at scrum-half. Rhys Priestland continues at fly-half after kicking Bath to victory against Saracens two weeks ago.

Nathan Catt and Henry Thomas line up either side of Tom Dunn in an unchanged front-row. At lock, Elliott Stooke features alongside Charlie Ewels, who like Cokanasiga returns after being involved in the England set-up for the Six Nations.

After making his comeback in the 18-9 victory over Saracens, Tom Ellis starts at blindside flanker, with Francois Louw on the opposite flank. Zach Mercer completes the pack at number eight.

Sam Underhill also marks his return to action, with the back-rower named among the replacements for the trip to face the Premiership leaders.

Form: Exeter Chiefs have won their last three matches since their 17-24 reversal at Gloucester in Round 13 of Premiership Rugby. The Chiefs have not lost at home in Premiership Rugby since Worcester visited Sandy Park in February 2018. Bath’s record in Premiership Rugby since the turn of the new year is won two lost three. Bath’s only away win in any competition since mid-September was 24-14 over Wasps in Premiership Rugby at Ricoh Arena on 23 December. The Chiefs have won their last four fixtures against Bath in Premiership Rugby since Bath’s 13-11 victory at Sandy Park in October 2016

The teams:

Exeter Chiefs: 15 Santiago Cordero, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson, 9 Nic White, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Dave Dennis, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Jack Yeandle (c), 1 Alec Hepburn Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Billy Keast, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Mitch Lees, 20 Sam Skinner, 21 Jack Maunder, 22 Joe Simmonds, 23 Sam Hill

Bath: 15 Tom Homer, 14 Joe Cokanasiga, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Will Chudley (c), 8 Zach Mercer, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Tom Ellis, 5 Charlie Ewels, 4 Elliott Stooke, 3 Henry Thomas, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Nathan Catt Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Anthony Perenise, 19 Levi Douglas, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Kahn Fotuali’i, 22 Freddie Burns, 23 Max Clark

Venue: Sandy Park Kick-off: 15:00 GMT Referee: Karl Dickson Assistant referees: Philip Watters, Jonathan Healy Television match official: Keith Lewis

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