Premiership: Courtney Lawes starts on the flank for Northampton against Harlequins

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

There’s two games taking place in the Premiership on Friday as Northampton Saints face Harlequins and Sale Sharks meet Newcastle Falcons.

Northampton Saints v Harlequins

Matt Proctor will bring up a half-century of appearances in Black, Green and Gold on Friday evening as Northampton Saints take on Harlequins.

After a reverse at Twickenham earlier this season against the defending champions, Chris Boyd’s side (which contains six changes to the line-up that started against Bath last weekend) will have to be at their best to turn that result around in front of a bumper Franklin’s Gardens crowd.

On his 50th appearance for the club, Proctor starts on the wing as part of a back-line reshuffle which sees James Grayson start at fly-half and George Furbank switch to full-back.

Tommy Freeman lines up on the other wing, while Fraser Dingwall returns from injury to start in Northampton’s midfield outside Rory Hutchinson.

The in-form Alex Mitchell – Premiership player of the week in Round 23 – completes the back line and starts his 25th game of the season at scrum-half. No player has been directly involved in as many Premiership tries this term as Mitchell, with the number nine’s 10 tries and 12 assists coming at an average of one every 65 minutes so far.

Courtney Lawes is the headline inclusion in Saints’ pack, with the England international shaking off a hand injury to start in the back-row alongside skipper Lewis Ludlam and number eight Juarno Augustus.

Alex Coles (making his 50th league appearance) and Api Ratuniyarawa line-up together in the engine room for the second straight match, but it’s all change in the front-row as Emmanuel Iyogun and Conor Carey start either side of hooker Mike Haywood – with Sam Matavesi away with the Royal Navy this weekend.

Amongst the replacements for Saints there is a potential club debut in store for triallist Aaron Hinkley, who featured for Northampton in a friendly against the British Army earlier this month, while the likes of Alex Waller, Paul Hill, Piers Francis and Ollie Sleightholme will all also hope to make an impact off the bench.

Meanwhile, Harlequins’ coaching group have made three changes to their starting line-up for this encounter.

The Londoners travel to Franklin’s Gardens on Friday evening with an unchanged backline, with all three changes coming up front. Props Simon Kerrod and Wilco Louw step into the starting line-up alongside hooker Jack Walker in the front-row, with a final change seeing back-row Tom Lawday swapping in to start at openside flanker.

Having opted for a six-two bench split last week, Harlequins revert to the traditional five-three balance of forwards and backs amongst the impact players on Friday, with Italian fly-half Tommy Allan and Argentinian prop Santiago Garcia Botta making returns to the matchday squad.

Form: Northampton Saints have won their last four Premiership Rugby fixtures since their 30-35 defeat at Gloucester in Round 19. Saints have not won five in succession in the competition since 2014/15. Saints have won their last three matches at cinch Stadium in all competitions and have not won four in succession at the famous old venue since 2019. Harlequins have won their last six Premiership Rugby encounters since their 10-19 defeat at Saracens in Round 16. The Londoners have not won seven in a row in the competition since 2012. Harlequins have won their last four Premiership Rugby fixtures against Northampton, their best ever sequence against the Saints. Harlequins 49-29 win on their most recent visit to Franklin’s Gardens in November 2020 ended a nine-game losing run at the venue in all competitions. Quins have never won successive Premiership Rugby fixtures at the stadium.

The teams:

Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Matt Proctor, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Tommy Freeman, 10 James Grayson, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Lewis Ludlam (c), 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 Alex Coles, 3 Conor Carey, 2 Mike Haywood, 1 Emmanuel Iyogun
16 James Fish, 17 Alex Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Alex Moon, 20 Aaron Hinkley, 21 Tom James, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Ollie Sleightholme

Harlequins: 15 Huw Jones, 14 Louis Lynagh, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Cadan Murley, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Tom Lawday, 6 Stephan Lewies (c), 5 Hugh Tizard, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Jack Walker, 1 Simon Kerrod
16 Jack Musk, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Will Collier, 19 James Chisholm, 20 Luke Wallace, 21 Lewis Gjaltema, 22 Tommy Allan, 23 Nick David

Venue: cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald, Wayne Falla
TMO: Rowan Kitt

Sale Sharks v Newcastle Falcons

Ben and Tom Curry return to action after injury layoffs for Sale Sharks as Alex Sanderson names an exciting line-up to face Newcastle Falcons in the Sharks’ final Friday night fixture of the season.

Sanderson makes five changes to his starting line-up following victory over Bristol Bears in the Champions Cup as, Rohan Janse Van Rensburg and try-scoring supremo Jack Metcalf all return. Ben Curry will start in the number seven shirt, while brother Tom is named as a replacement.

Bevan Rodd, Akker van der Merwe and Nick Schonert make up an unchanged Sharks front-row, with Alex’s first change coming in the second-row. Cobus Wiese continues his impressive run of form at lock, but is joined in the second-row by By JP du Preez, who steps into the number five shirt in place of Lood de Jager.

The indispensable Jean-Luc and Daniel du Preez both retain their spots in the back-row at six and eight respectively, whilst Ben Curry returns in the seven shirt.

Faf de Klerk remains at scrum-half after news broke this week of a long-term injury for England starlet Raffi Quirke, while Rob du Preez returns from a knee injury to take his place at fly-half, giving the Sharks plenty of options in attack and some extra ballast in defence.

Rohan Janse van Rensburg and Sam James line up in the midfield at inside and outside centre respectively and the experienced pair have a back three full of youthful exuberance at their disposal tomorrow night as Jack Metcalf joins Tom Roebuck on the wing, with Luke James keeping his spot at full-back.

Ewan Ashman, Simon McIntyre and Joe Jones act as heavyweight front-row replacements against the Falcons, with Matt Postlethwaite and Tom Curry providing further cover for the forwards.

Form: Sale Sharks have won just one of their last five Premiership Rugby matches: 26-24 at home to Gloucester on 12 March. The Sharks have lost their last three matches at AJ Bell Stadium in all competitions and have not lost four in a row at the venue since 2016/17. Newcastle Falcons have won just once in Premiership Rugby since their walkover in Round 11: 45-10 at Worcester on 2 April. The Falcons have not won successive away games in the competition since 2020. The two clubs should have met in Round 11 at Kingston Park, but the match was declared a Newcastle victory due to Covid. Sale have beaten Newcastle in Premiership Rugby just once since 2018: 31-16at AJ Bell Stadium in March 2021. The Falcons have won on two of their seven previous visits to Salford in Premiership Rugby (in 2013 and 2017).

The teams:

Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Tom Roebuck, 13 Sam James, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Jack Metcalf, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Jean-Luc du Preez, 5 JP du Preez, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Bevan Rodd
16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Joe Jones, 19 Matt Postlethwaite, 20 Tom Curry, 21 Gus Warr, 22 Connor Doherty, 23 Simon Hammersley

Newcastle Falcons: 15 Alex Tait, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Ben Stevenson, 12 Matias Orlando, 11 Mateo Carreras, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Cameron Nordli-Kelemeti, 8 Callum Chick, 7 Will Welch (c), 6 Gary Graham, 5 Sean Robinson, 4 Philip van der Walt, 3 Richard Palframan, 2 George McGuigan, 1 Trevor Davison
16 Jamie Blamire, 17 Kyle Cooper, 18 Mark Tampin, 19 George Merrick, 20 Carl Fearns, 21 James Blackett, 22 Will Haydon-Wood, 23 Luther Burrell

Venue: AJ Bell Stadium
Kick-off: 19:45 BST (18:45 GMT)
Referee: Jack Makepeace
Assistant referees: tbc
TMO: tbc

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