Premiership Preview of Round 21

George Ford will captain Leicester on Friday night against Newcastle

As the race for the top for reaches fever pitch, Talking Rugby Unions’s Joe Harvey takes a look at this week’s Aviva Premiership fixtures.


Leicester Tigers vs Newcastle Falcons

Leicester have been left stewing since their last outing in the Premiership resulted in loss to Northampton Saints. However unlike their visitors, Tigers have had two weeks off since then, whilst the Falcons fell out of the Challenge Cup to Gloucester.

Leicester haven’t lost at home to the Falcons in 20 years and will want to keep that startling record up. England fly-half George Ford is named captain of the Tigers in a side that will see Manu Tuilagi make his third comeback from injury this season.

Ellis Genge was destructive against the Saints last time out and will be making his 50th appearance for Leicester tonight. Joining him in the front row will be Tatafu Polota-Nau, the veteran Aussie hooker.

Luke Hamilton starts at blindside flanker for the hosts and Ben Youngs makes his first start for the Tigers following a ligament injury picked up whilst on England duty in Italy. Logovi’I Mulipola will start on the bench for the Tigers and the Samoan will join the Falcons when the season draws to a close.

The Falcons name a largely unchanged side to the one that ended up victorious over Sale Sharks on last time out in the Premiership. Vereniki Goneva makes his 100th Premiership appearance against his former club.

Josh Matavesi returns to the side as fly-half Joel Hodgson keeps his place in the number 10 jersey. Sean Robinson replaces Will Witty who drops to the bench and Mark Wilson has returned from injury to captain the side.

For both sides, this is a must win affair. Falcons lost 13-30 in this match back in October and will want to avoid a similar result. A battle of fifth vs fourth, this game could end up deciding the fate of the play-offs.


Exeter Chiefs vs Sale Sharks

Sale visit Sandy Park having lost their last outing against Newcastle Falcons in dramatic fashion. The Manchester outfit played very good attacking rugby despite not having Mike Haley and Denny Solomona at their disposal.

Ben Curry will hope to add to his good form by trying to nullify the forward threat that Exeter Chiefs possess. It seems like Sale have a fairly settled side at the minute, with changes only being made when they have to.

Exeter already have home play-off advantage, but will not want to lose momentum going into their play-off game. Rob Baxter will expect nothing less from his side.

With the likes of Jack Nowell, Henry Slade and the Simmonds brothers, Chiefs have masses of talent in every position on the field. This makes them extremely difficult to beat. This, accompanied by their forwards tiring their opposition with plenty of carries, results in enough space being left for the backs to work their magic.

Gloucester vs Bath

A west country derby to keep a rugby purists pulse racing this weekend. Bath visit a Bilbao-bound Gloucester who still have a shot at the play-offs. Bath have very little to play for other than pride this weekend.

Todd Blackadder’s men looked like boys when they visited Sarries last time out. Dominated at the set-piece and in the kicking game, the Somerset side will be hoping to upturn their hosts on Saturday afternoon. Matt Banahan will be visiting his new employers before his move to Kingsholm.

Gloucester stunned Falcons in their semi-final last weekend. They controlled the tempo, not allowing Falcons to get their rhythm. If they can achieve the same feat against Bath, Gloucester will be able to make a very good push towards play-off contention.

With Burns, Atkinson, Twelvetrees, Trinder and Woodward in their backline, the Cherry and Whites can cause havoc over a Bath side devoid of confidence and any defensive nous. Gloucester are most likely favourites going into this affair.

Worcester vs Harlequins

Harlequins visit Sixways having not won since early March. In their last game, Quins fell to Gloucester at Kingsholm 37-9 in what was an abject performance in the second half. With John Kingston already confirmed as leaving the club at the end of the season, it seems like the players are just waiting for their break.

Chris Robshaw has been the club’s most consistent performer and will most likely be on tour with England in South Africa this summer. Marcus Smith’s fledgling career has blossomed as the rest of Harlequins have stumbled around him.

As for Worcester, they fell to Wasps at the Ricoh last time out. Warriors will be pleased that Ben Te’o is fit following his injury problems. Chris Pennell had his 31st birthday this week, but has had a new lease of life after being given kicking duties at Sixways.

Warriors have an array of attacking talent coming to the club this summer, and as they are just about safe, the team will just want to make it through these last games in one piece.


London Irish vs Saracens

Irish are all but down. Saracens on the other hand, like Exeter, will want to maintain their momentum before their play-off run-in. Still with the possibility of missing out on a home play-off, Mark McCall may not rest many senior players so that his side get the second home play-off.

Billy Vunipola is said to be returning to fitness, fortunately for the Exiles not for this fixture. Maro Itoje is nearly playing back to his best and Nick Isiekwe is putting his hand firmly up for a starting England shirt.

Irish will have a host of players leaving at the end of the season, and most of them look resigned to another stint in the Championship. David Paice has even announced that he will retire at the end of the season following 15 years with the club.

Wasps vs Northampton Saints

Placed third, Wasps look on course to be in the play-offs for another year. This will be James Haskell and Danny Cipriani’s last appearance at home for the Coventry-based club. Still with plenty of quality across the field, Wasps can run riot over their visitors.

Dan Robson recently signed a new contract with the club while Kyle Eastmond may return to the starting line-up raising the intensity that Wasps will play with. With the mentality that they’ll score more points than the other side, this will be an attacking affair.

Any fans hope that Saints will react positively following the announcement of Rob Horne’s retirement. A devastating piece of news that has rocked the Premiership to it’s very core. George North also announced that he would be going to Ospreys next season.

Saints have had a very disappointing season. There will be a massive exodus of players and coaches at the end of the term so, unfortunately, the 10th placed side have little to play for at the Ricoh Arena.

Widely regarded as the most competitive rugby union league in the can only be the Gallagher Premiership.

The division is becoming more and more exciting as each year passes by so who will be lifting silverware at Twickenham in May?

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