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Gallagher Premiership: Weekend team news and stats previews

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Gallagher Premiership Round 17 fixtures: Bristol Bears vs Exeter Chiefs (Friday); London Irish vs Harlequins, Gloucester Rugby vs Newcastle Falcons, Leicester Tigers vs Northampton Saints, Worcester Warriors vs Sale Sharks (Saturday); Wasps vs Bath Rugby (Sunday)

Bristol captain Steven Luatua has returned for Friday's top-of-the-table clash with Exeter

Bristol captain Steven Luatua has returned for Friday’s top-of-the-table clash with Exeter

We look into the key stats and all the major team news ahead of all six Gallagher Premiership encounters this weekend…

Friday

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Bristol Bears vs Exeter Chiefs (Ashton Gate, 7.45pm)

Steven Luatua returns to the starting line-up as Bristol face second placed Exeter in a mouth-watering encounter on Friday. The skipper is one of seven changes to Pat Lam’s side, who sit twelve points clear at the top of the Premiership.

Charles Piutau comes in at full-back, Sam Bedlow also returns to the backline, and last weekend’s man of the match, Max Malins, switches to fly-half with Callum Sheedy unavailable.

Rob Baxter makes a number of changes to his Chiefs. Up front, Ben Moon and Tomas Francis come into the front-row in place of Alec Hepburn and Harry Williams; Jonny Gray is restored to the second row and with Dave Ewers sidelined, Sam Skinner drops into the back-row. Behind the scrum, the sole change sees Jack Nowell start on the wing ahead of Facundo Cordero.

The Bears have won their last six Premiership matches since their 34-all draw at London Irish, another victory would tie Bristol’s best winning run in the competition set twelve months ago. They have lost just twice at Ashton Gate this season, to Clermont Auvergne in the European Cup and to Sale in the Premiership.

Exeter Chiefs’ only defeat in the last five rounds of the Premiership was 18-34 at Gloucester. The Chiefs have lost two of their last three away games, at Sale and Gloucester.

In the Premiership, Exeter have the edge in previous meetings with Bristol, leading by five wins to two, while they also beat the Bears over two legs in the Championship in 2010 to be promoted for the first time. The Chiefs have visited Ashton Gate on six previous occasions and won them all.

Saturday

London Irish vs Harlequins (Brentford Community Stadium, 12.30pm)

For London Irish there are seven changes, six of which come in the pack: Facundo Gigena, Agustin Creevy and Ollie Hoskins come into the front-row, George Nott and Rob Simmons start in the second row, Matt Rogerson begins at blindside, while Curtis Rona starts in the centre.

For Harlequins, Danny Care is set to become just the third player in history to play 300 games in the Famous Quarters this weekend while Mike Brown will become the first player to reach 350 appearances for the club, both named to start in an unchanged team to travel to local rivals London Irish this Saturday.

London Irish’s last five matches in the Premiership have all gone the way of home advantage. The Exiles’ most recent defeat at their new venue on the pitch was to Sale on December 6.

Harlequins’ last seven Premiership encounters have all been won by the home side on the day, their most recent away victory being on a trip to Bath in Round 8.

The two clubs drew 27-all when they met at the Stoop in January, their first draw for twelve years. Harlequins’ last four away games played against London Irish have been at Twickenham, Madejski Stadium, the Twickenham Stoop and now Brentford Community Stadium.

Gloucester vs Newcastle Falcons (Kingsholm, 3pm)

For Gloucester, there are three changes to the starting 15 that played last time out with Lloyd Evans returning at fly-half alongside Stephen Varney. Kyle Moyle has been given the 15 shirt, swapping roles with Santiago Carreras who is named on the bench.

Lock-forward Sean Robinson will play his 100th game for the Falcons as part of a team which sees a Premiership debut for Chidera Obonna, the 20-year-old winger who made an impressive maiden outing vs Castres earlier this season.

Matias Orlando and Luther Burrell return to form an experienced centre pairing, Brett Connon earns a recall at fly-half, Trevor Davison returns at loose-head prop having been a late withdrawal last weekend, and Gary Graham comes into the back-row as Mark Wilson looks to overcome a knee injury.

Gloucester’s only victory in their last four Premiership fixtures was 34-18 at home to Exeter in March. Gloucester have won just two of their last seven home games in the Premiership but both of those have been since the end of February.

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Newcastle Falcons have lost their last five Premiership matches since their 25-22 victory at home to Harlequins. The Falcons’ last two away victories have both been in the Challenge Cup while their most recent win on the road in the Premiership was on a visit to Wasps on in December.

Newcastle beat Gloucester 22-10 at Kingston Park in Round 6 and have not achieved a season’s double over the Cherry and Whites since 2016/17. Newcastle have won on two of their last three visits to Kingsholm.

Leicester Tigers vs Northampton Saints (Mattioli Woods Welford Road, 3pm)

Hanro Liebenberg returns to the Tigers starting team at blindside flanker, with Luke Wallace at openside and Jasper Wiese again at No 8 in the Leicester back-row, while Kobus Van Wyk returns after serving a four-week suspension to join Kini Murimurivalu and Freddie Steward in the Tigers back three.

Meanwhile, Saints Director of Rugby Chris Boyd has made six changes: Co-captain Alex Waller returns in a new-look front row alongside hooker Sam Matavesi and tighthead Ehren Painter, Tom Wood starts in place of the injured Nick Isiekwe, Matt Proctor returns from injury on the wing, and Rory Hutchinson is picked at centre.

Leicester’s last ten Premiership matches have been evenly split with five wins and five defeats. The Tigers have won their last six home games in all competitions – their best run at Welford Road since 2016.

Northampton’s only defeat in the last four rounds of Premiership rugby was at home to Bristol. The Saints have scored fifteen tries and conceded six in their last two matches in the competition. Northampton have lost just once away from home in any competition in 2021: 19-37 at Harlequins on in March.

Saints have won on two of their last three visits to Leicester in the Premiership.

Worcester Warriors vs Sale Sharks (Sixways, 3pm)

Worcester Warriors’ have made five changes as openside flanker Sam Lewis will make his first appearance in almost three months after a shoulder injury. 18-year-old Fin Smith starts at fly-half, Tom Howe replaces Ed Fidow on the wing, while Anton Bresler and Andrew Kitchener are reunited at second row.

Sale’s Alex Sanderson has made nine changes: Bevan Rodd and Curtis Langdon start alongside Will-Griff John in a complete switch of the front-row, Cameron Neild replaces Jean-Luc du Preez, Will Cliff and AJ MacGinty return, Connor Doherty lines up at inside-centre, while Simon Hammersley and Byron McGuigan come into the back-three.

Worcester Warriors have lost their last six Premiership fixtures since they were declared winners at home to Newcastle on 20 February. The Warriors have not won an eighty-minute game at Sixways since beating London Irish there in Round 1.

Sale Sharks have lost just once in the last six rounds: 14-17 at Northampton. The Sharks have lost just twice away from home in the Premiership since early December: at Harlequins and Northampton.

Sale beat Worcester 20-13 at Salford in Round 6 and have not achieved a season’s double over the Warriors since 2017/18. The Sharks have lost on their last three visits to Sixways.

Sunday

Wasps vs Bath (Ricoh Arena, 3pm)

Ahead of Sunday’s kick off, Wasps’ starting line-up is unchanged from their last outing, with Tom West set to make his 50th club appearance and Thomas Young his 100th Wasps Premiership appearance.

In the Bath ranks, Tom Dunn will make his 150th club appearance as one of five changes: Will Chudley and Orlando Bailey form a new half-back partnership, loosehead Juan Schoeman comes into the front row alongside Dunn, while Miles Reid, who scored his first ever Bath try last weekend, is selected at blindside flanker.

Wasps’ only two victories in the last ten rounds of Premiership action were both away from home at Worcester and Newcastle. Wasps’ most recent victory at Ricoh Arena was 24-5 against Exeter in January.

Bath’s only defeat in their last six first-team encounters was 33-36 at London Irish, winning three of their last four away games in the tournament.

Wasps have won their last three matches against Bath since Bath’s 29-17 victory at the Rec in May 2019. Bath have visited the Ricoh Arena on seven previous occasions in all tournaments where their record is: won three, drawn one, lost three.

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