Aviva Premiership - Round 18 Preview
Saracens and Quins set for showdown
March 21, 2013
Saracens' Schalk Brits will be hoping to inspire his side to another Premiership victory at Allianz Park on Sunday © Getty Images
League leaders Saracens will play host to second placed Harlequins in front of the ESPN cameras at Allianz Park on Sunday in the pick of the latest round of Aviva Premiership action.
Saracens waste no time restoring their international players to the starting line-up with England contingent Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola all starting, alongside Scotland skipper Kelly Brown. England captain Chris Robshaw makes an immediate comeback to club duties after leading his country against Wales in Cardiff six days ago. Robshaw's Test team colleagues Danny Care and Joe Marler also start the top-of-the-table clash at Allianz Park.
The action gets underway on Friday night with Sale Sharks entertaining Bath at the Salford City Stadium. The Sharks are keen to get back to winning ways in the Premiership having lost their last two games to Harlequins and Leicester but the recent points deduction handed down to London Welsh saw their relegation rivals slump to the bottom of the table. Bath have lost only one of their last four Premiership games but have not won on the road since round one when they triumphed at Worcester.
Sale show a number of changes from the side beaten 32-14 by Harlequins in last Sunday's LV= Cup final at Worcester. Among those returning to action are internationals Mark Cueto and Dwayne Peel, with Nick Macleod moving from fullback to fly-half instead of Danny Cipriani, who is on the bench. Bath, four places and 22 points above Sale, are still chasing automatic qualification for next season's Heineken Cup, and they head to Salford City Stadium showing four changes in their pack. Test props Paul James and David Wilson both return from Six Nations duty, while hooker Rob Webber also features and lock Stuart Hooper is back in the second-row instead of Dominic Day.
London Welsh will hope to breathe life into their survival campaign when they travel to Kingsholm to tackle Gloucester. The Cherry and Whites have lost just one of their last seven Premiership matches at Kingsholm while Welsh have slipped to seven straight defeats in all competitions and have not been victorious in the league since London Irish visited the Kassam Stadium in November.
England centre Billy Twelvetrees and Scotland lock Jim Hamilton are both back for Gloucester, with Hamilton captaining the side. In addition to Hamilton returning up-front, the pack also sees starts for prop Shaun Knight and hooker Huia Edmonds, while long-serving flankers Andy Hazell and Peter Buxton also feature. London Welsh boss Lyn Jones has made changes for the trip to Kingsholm as his team fights for Premiership survival. Seb Jewell moves from wing to fullback instead of an injured Tom Arscott, while centre Gonzalo Tiesi also starts, along with hooker Dan George and number eight Daniel Browne.
Leicester Tigers will look to cement their place in the play-off picture when they visit Exeter Chiefs on Saturday in the second of ESPN's live games. The Tigers are winless in their last three away games in all competitions but will take heart from their 30-8 victory over the Chiefs at Welford Road earlier in the season.
Exeter, fresh from a stunning away win against Premiership champions Harlequins last time out, make two changes from that game as prop Hoani Tui and lock Dean Mumm both gain call-ups. Brett Sturgess and Chris Whitehead have recovered from injuries to feature on the bench, where they are joined by Wales prop Craig Mitchell. Leicester welcome back seven players who were on England matchday duty in last weekend's Six Nations title decider against Wales. Manu Tuilagi, Toby Flood, Ben Youngs, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling and Tom Croft all return, with fly-half Flood captaining the team.
London Wasps will be aiming to reclaim their place in the top four at the expense of play-off rivals Northampton when the two sides meet at Adams Park. The Saints have won their last seven matches against Wasps in all competitions but the hosts have won all seven Premiership matches played at Adams Park this season with opponents only gaining four league points there in the process.
Tom Palmer is back for Wasps following a three-month injury absence, and he partners Marco Wentzel in the second-row. Centre Chris Bell and scrum-half Joe Simpson make their 150th and 100th Premiership appearances, respectively, while international trio Joe Launchbury, James Haskell and Andrea Masi are on the bench. Northampton's play-off push is boosted by returning England trio Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood at Adams Park. Hooker Hartley captains the team, with Lawes on second-row duty alongside Christian Day and back-row warrior Wood featuring among a strong replacements' bench that also includes prop Brian Mujati and fly-half Ryan Lamb.
In the weekend's other game, London Irish take on Worcester Warriors at the Madejski Stadium with home side looking to edge further away from the relegation scrap. The Warriors ended a five-match losing streak last time out but are yet to taste success on the road in this season's competition.
Lock George Skivington will captain Irish as the Exiles look to pull further away from Premiership relegation danger. There are starts for the likes of hooker David Paice, No.8 Chris Hala'Ufia and centre Shane Geraghty, with Bath-bound back Jonathan Joseph named on the bench after recovering from injury. Worcester scrum-half Paul Hodgson will face his former club for the first time since moving to Sixways last summer. Hodgson, who made more than 150 first-team appearances in Irish colours, features in a team that also sees prop John Andress start ahead of Euan Murray, who is on bench duty.
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