There are five matches scheduled for Saturday and Sunday with the clash between last year’s finalists, Exeter and Wasps, at Sandy Park, the pick of the weekend’s fixtures.
Bath v Newcastle Falcons
Bath boss Todd Blackadder has made eight changes to his starting line-up for this fixture.
Freddie Burns makes his first start in the competition for the club, with Max Clark, Chris Cook, Francois Louw and Luke Charteris all returning to the starting line-up.
Nick Auterac and Paul Grant are named in the starting line-up for the first time this season.
Burns comes in at full-back, with the wing positions occupied by Matt Banahan and Semesa Rokoduguni, who has scored three tries in three games.
Clark returns to the fold at inside centre, alongside Jonathan Joseph, whilst Rhys Priestland looks to continue his impressive start to the season at fly-half with Cook as his half-back partner.
Auterac and Jack Walker take their places in the front row, as Anthony Perenise continues at tighthead. Charteris and Elliott Stooke form the second row combination, with Charlie Ewels switching to blindside flanker.
Louw returns to captain the side in the absence of Matt Garvey, with Grant completing the back row at number eight.
Meanwhile, Canada’s record try-scorer DTH van der Merwe will makes his debut for Newcastle Falcons.
The 31-year-old has scored 25 tries in his 44 international appearances and joined the Falcons from PRO12 winners the Scarlets, having scored a try in last season’s final. Made co-captain of his country over the summer, Van der Merwe’s debut had been delayed by a knee injury suffered during their Rugby World Cup qualifying match against the USA.
His inclusion is one of five changes from the team which started in last weekend’s match against Saracens in Philadelphia, with hooker Santiago Socino making his first Premiership start after a pair of appearances from the bench over the past fortnight.
Older brother Juan Pablo Socino comes into the centres, Craig Willis earning a first start of the season at fly-half while Will Witty slots into the second row.
Bath: 15 Freddie Burns, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Max Clark, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Chris Cook, 8 Paul Grant, 7 Francois Louw (c), 6 Charlie Ewels, 5 Elliott Stooke, 4 Luke Charteris, 3 Anthony Perenise, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Nick Auterac
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 James Phillips, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Darren Allinson, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Aled Brew
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 DTH van der Merwe, 10 Craig Willis, 9 Sonatane Takulua, 8 Nili Latu, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Will Witty, 4 Calum Green, 3 Jon Welsh, 2 Santiago Socino, 1 Rob Vickers
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Sami Mavinga, 18 Trevor Davison, 19 Sean Robinson, 20 Ally Hogg, 21 Sam Stuart, 22 Joel Hodgson, 23 Josh Matavesi
Harlequins v Leicester Tigers
Harlequins director of rugby has made three changes to his starting line-up after their Round 3 win against Wasps.
All three of the changes to the starting 15 come in the front row as Mark Lambert comes in for Joe Marler – who picked up a rib injury at the Ricoh Arena last weekend – while Rob Buchanan has returned from a shoulder injury and starts at hooker.
Will Collier replaces Kyle Sinckler who is named among the replacements, joining Alofa Alofa and Charlie Matthews who have both recovered from injury.
Speaking ahead of the match, Kingston said: “We are delighted to have secured back to back victories over Gloucester and Wasps.
“However, we know Leicester present a massive challenge notwithstanding the excellent home record we have had in recent times.”
For Leicester Tigers, Dom Barrow and Dominic Ryan return to their pack for this encounter.
Barrow missed the win over Gloucester in Round 3 but replaces Joe Maksymiw as partner for Harry Wells in the second row. Ryan replaces Luke Hamilton in the back row.
Head coach Matt O’Connor retains the same back-line that started in Round 3.
O’Connor said: “We were pretty disappointed about the performance in the final 60 minutes against Gloucester last week. We started with the intensity we’ve tried to get all season but after that we let ourselves down.
“Dom Barrow is fit to return this week but Graham Kitchener unfortunately is going to have surgery on a cracked eye-socket which will keep him out for a couple of weeks.
“Quins have dangerous players and a lot of experienced players who have been at the club a long time and are big-game players. They’re very hard to beat at The Stoop and we’ll have to be at the very top end of our game to get the points there.”
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Charlie Walker, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Mat Luamanu, 7 Jack Clifford, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 George Merrick, 3 Will Collier, 2 Rob Buchanan, 1 Mark Lambert
Replacements: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Lewis Boyce, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Charlie Matthews, 20 Ben Glynn, 21 Dave Lewis, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Alofa Alofa
Leicester Tigers: 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Nick Malouf, 13 Matt Smith, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Sione Kalamafoni, 7 Dominic Ryan, 6 Mike Williams, 5 Dom Barrow, 4 Harry Wells, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (c), 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Logovi’i Mulipola, 19 Luke Hamilton, 20 Valentino Mapapalangi, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Joe Ford, 23 Mathew Tait
Saracens v Sale Sharks
Saracens welcome back lock-forward George Kruis to the starting XV in their first game at Allianz Park for the 2017/18 season. Kruis, who picked up an ankle injury in the club’s Round 1 clash against Northampton Saints, returns to the side alongside Maro Itoje.
Elsewhere in the pack, Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Juan Figallo start in the front-row, with Michael Rhodes, Jackson Wray and Billy Vunipola all starting. Schalk Burger misses the game with a shoulder injury.
In the halves, Ben Spencer starts at scrum-half alongside Owen Farrell, who will skipper the side. Richard Wigglesworth is ruled out of the game with a slight knock.
At centre, Marcelo Bosch will make his 100th appearance for Saracens. The Argentine international will be joined by Duncan Taylor in the Saracens midfield – skipper Brad Barritt is rested for the clash.
In the back three Alex Goode (full-back), Sean Maitland (right-wing) and Liam Williams (left-wing) will all start with Williams making his home debut for the club whilst on the bench Calum Clark will make his Saracens debut if featured.
Meanwhile, Sale Sharks skipper Will Addison misses out with a hamstring injury and is replaced at full-back by Mike Haley who returns to the run-on side after being benched last week.
The Curry twins continue their game rotation with Tom starting this weekend on the openside flank while Byron McGuigan is named on the bench.
Cameron Neild re-joins the matchday 23 after missing the London Irish game.
Commenting on the last two games Sale’s director of rugby, Steve Diamond, said: “The mindset is that after Newcastle we didn’t get our basics right. We had worked all pre-season on them and that had gone well and I think against London Irish we showed what happens when we stick to our plans and our basics are done well,” said Diamond.
“Our defence was good, the set-piece went well and we took 40 per cent of our opportunities and scored five tries.
“That said, Saturday will be a different kettle of fish but we can’t worry about Saracens.
“We know they are a top side – what we’ve got to worry about is getting our own ball and keeping it and having an effective defence when we haven’t got the ball.”
Saracens: 15 Alex Goode, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Calum Clark, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Nathan Earle
Sale Sharks: 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Josh Charnley, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Josh Beaumont, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Alex Tarus, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Ross Harrison
Replacements: 16 Cameron Neild, 17 James Flynn, 18 Halani Aulika, 19 Andre Ostrikov, 20 Ben Curry, 21 TJ Ioane, 22 Will Cliff, 23 Byron McGuigan
Exeter Chiefs v Wasps
After last week’s 41-10 success on the road at Worcester, injuries have forced Exeter Chiefs boss Rob Baxter into a couple of changes in personnel.
Captain Jack Yeandle (knee) and full-back Phil Dollman (calf) both sit out this encounter, so Elvis Taione and Lachie Turner come into the starting XV.
Taione’s inclusion, plus that of Sam Skinner for Jonny Hill in the second row, mean they are both in line to make their first-ever starts in the Premiership.
On the bench, summer signing Toby Salmon and Tom Hendrickson get their first involvements in a Premiership squad, while there are also call-ups for Shaun Malton and Julian Salvi.
Baxter is expecting another great occasion between the two sides who have got to know one another very well in recent seasons, having traded blows in the Premiership, European Champions Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup.
“The truth is it’s going to be a battle between motivations, isn’t it?” said Baxter. “Everything says Wasps have the bigger reasons to be motivated. They lost a semi-final down here two years ago, then last season we beat them in the Premiership Final, so you’d think all the motivational tools and weapons are in Wasps court, which they potentially are.
“That said, it’s also a great challenge for us. We have openly talked this week about that as a group and now our challenge is to show we are just as highly motivated against a team that is stinging from a couple of important losses in the last couple of years.
“Personally, I’d still like to think our motivation, which drives us each day, is that we are a top side who want to be top end of the league and that getting to finals is not a one off for us. Those sorts of things I’d like to think are big motivational tools for us.”
Meanwhile, Jimmy Gopperth returns to Wasps’ starting line-up at fly-half alongside Joe Simpson, after missing out with a knock last weekend.
Wasps’ back three is formed by Rob Miller, Christian Wade and Josh Basset. Miller, who starts at full-back, also provides cover at fly-half in the absence of Danny Cipriani who suffered a knee injury against Harlequins. Willie Le Roux misses out through a hamstring strain.
South African international Juan de Jongh partners Elliot Daly in midfield, while Gaby Lovobalavu is sidelined by a calf injury.
In the pack, the starting front row is unchanged from last Sunday’s loss to Harlequins. Matt Symons returns to take his place alongside captain Joe Launchbury in the second row, having been forced to withdraw through illness last weekend.
Nathan Hughes, James Haskell and Ashley Johnson provide Wasps’ back row combination, with Johnson covering hooker. On the bench, there’s a welcome return to fitness for Wales international Thomas Young who is also joined by a further back row replacement in Jack Willis.
Heading into the game, Young said: “We know we will need to muscle up defensively this weekend, as Exeter Chiefs are very good at starving teams of possession. We also have to be disciplined and not give them easy opportunities to get inside our 22 as they probably have the best driving lineout and pick-and-go game in the league, so we’ll need to defend our 22 as if it’s our try line.
“I think the best we’ve managed so far at Sandy Park is a draw, so we really want to go down there and give a good account of ourselves. We may have a few players missing but that’s no excuse, we still have a strong squad and if we get things right there’s no reason why we can’t get a win.
“We really enjoy playing the Chiefs who we have a lot of respect for. They’re normally tight games between us, with two teams who want to play rugby and keep the ball on the field, so I’m sure it will be another good game for people to watch.”
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Gareth Steenson (c), 9 Nic White, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Don Armand, 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Sam Skinner, 4 Mitch Lees, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Elvis Taione, 1 Carl Rimmer
Replacements: 16 Shaun Malton, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Toby Salmon, 20 Julian Salvi, 21 Stuart Townsend, 22 Tom Hendrickson, 23 Max Bodilly
Wasps: 15 Rob Miller, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Juan De Jongh, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Ashley Johnson, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 3 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 2 Tom Cruse, 1 Matt Mullan
Replacements: 16 Jack Willis, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Marty Moore, 19 Will Rowlands, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Craig Hampson, 22 Brendan Macken, 23 Marcus Watson
London Irish v Northampton Saints
Johnny Williams returns to London Irish’s starting XV for this encounter at the Madejski Stadium.
Williams, a Junior World Cup-winner with England Under-20s in 2016, has made a full recovery from a hamstring injury sustained towards the end of last season.
Now fighting fit, the powerful centre is back in the fray and is one of five changes to the side that locked horns with Sale Sharks last weekend.
Fijian international wing Napolioni Nalaga is set for his full debut, the former Lyon and Clermont Auvergne favourite getting his chance to shine from the start.
A new look pack spearheaded by skipper Ben Franks sees Petrus Du Plessis replacing Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi in the front row, the latter sustaining a ruptured Achilles in his side’s trip to Sale.
Josh McNally comes in for Mike Coman at blindside flanker, while Conor Gilsenan gets the nod at openside flanker and Blair Cowan switches tonumber eight as the Exiles look to get their campaign off to a positive start at the Madejski Stadium.
“It’s great to be back playing Premiership rugby at the Madejski Stadium and we’re looking forward to taking on a very good Northampton Saints side,” said London Irish director of rugby Nick Kennedy.
“They come into this weekend’s game on the back of two excellent wins and will be full of confidence, so we’ll have to be fully focussed on the task in hand from the very first whistle.
“We’ve addressed the fact that we need to start games better and I’m looking for an improved performance from us on Sunday.”
Meanwhile Northampton Saints boss JIm Mallinder has named a strong starting line-up for the trip to Reading.
The matchday 23 shows just the one change from that which earned a four-try bonus point win over Bath last time out, with Sam Dickinson coming in for Teimana Harrison (shoulder).
Dylan Hartley (hand), Mitch Eadie (ankle) and Piers Francis (jaw) are the other significant injury absentees, although Hartley and Francis are close to full fitness. Tom Wood and Stephen Myler have been in full training this week and are among the travelling reserves.
London Irish: 15 Tommy Bell, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Aseli Tikoirotuma, 12 Johnny Williams, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 James Marshall, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Blair Cowan, 7 Conor Gilsenan, 6 Josh McNally, 5 Sebastian De Chaves, 4 Franco van der Merwe, 3 Petrus Du Plessis, 2 Dave Porecki, 1 Ben Franks (c)
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Harry Elrington, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Teofilo Paulo, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Greig Tonks, 23 Topsy Ojo
Northampton Saints: 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 George North, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 Tom Collins, 10 Harry Mallinder, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Sam Dickinson, 7 Jamie Gibson, 6 Courtney Lawes (c), 5 David Ribbans, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Alex Waller
Replacements: 16 Reece Marshall, 17 Campese Ma’afu, 18 Kieran Brookes, 19 Christian Day, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 James Grayson, 23 Ben Foden