Premiership preview: Saracens prepare for fond farewell as Leicester and Bath battle over fourth place

Jack de Menezes
Neil de Kock will make his final appearance for Saracens before retirement: Getty

Exeter Chiefs vs Northampton Saints, Saturday, 15:00, Sandy Park

Exeter have been forced into making four changes, all in the back line, as they look to remain in the box seat for a home semi-final and rival Wasps for top spot, but they face a tricky Premiership clash against Northampton Saints who will want to make up for the near-miss against Saracens two weeks ago.

Rob Baxter names an unchanged pack, but is unable to call on Jack Maunder and Henry Slade at half-back, leading to the return of Stu Townsend and Gareth Steenson, while Michele Campagnaro misses out meaning that Ian Whitten starts at outside centre. British and Irish Lions wing Jack Nowell celebrates his recent call up with a return to the side at the expense of James Short, while England squad members Luke Cowan-Dickie and Harry Williams are named on the bench.

Louis Picamoles suffered injury in Northampton's defeat by Saracens (Getty)

Saints are also forced into changes, and they could prove to be match-defining absences. France No 8 Louis Picamoles is ruled out of the trip to the south-west so England international Teimana Harrison starts in the back-row, while JJ Janrahan replaces the absent Stephen Myler at fly-half.

Leicester Tigers vs Sale Sharks, Saturday 15:00, Welford Road

Leicester are without two influential backs in Maxime Mermoz and Telusa Veainu, but have reason to celebrate as both Graham Kitchener and Adam Thompstone making their 100th Premiership start for the club. Head coach Matt O’Connor brings Owen Williams in at inside centre for Mermoz, while Mathew Tait returns from a concussion to fill in at full-back.

Sale make four changes for the trip to Welford Road, though the fact that they have nothing left to play may leave the Sharks exposed to a Leicester side still looking to cement fourth place and a semi-final berth.

Josh Charnley joins fellow rugby league convert Denny Solomona on the wing for Sale (Getty)

Recent England call-up Tom Curry replaces his brother, Ben, at openside flanker, while Kieran Longbottom replaces Halani Aulika at tighthead prop, with the Tongan out for the season with a broken arm. Josh Beaumont also drops out of the side, so former Leicester No 8 Laurence Pearce is handed a rare start. Behind the pack, Josh Charnley comes in on the wing for Byron McGuigan, meaning that both of the Sale flyers out wide hail from rugby league with the in-form Denny Solamona looking to add to his 10 tries in 13 matches.

Saracens vs Bristol, Saturday 15:00, Allianz Park

Saracens have made seven changes to the starting line-up that beat Munster to reach the European Champions Cup final last weekend as they bid farewell to a number of club stalwarts in the visit of basement side Bristol.

Both Neil de Kock and Kelly Brown will play their final games for the club – providing there aren’t any injuries headaches in the next month – ahead of their retirement at the end of the season. The club have confirmed that the final home match of the season at Allianz Park will be their last game after respective 11 and seven-year spells at Saracens, while Petrus du Plessis and Jim Hamilton may also make their final home outing if they come off the bench.

Schalk Brits comes into the front-row for hooker Jamie George while Brown is joined in the back-row by Schalk Burger in place of Jackson Wray. Behind the pack, De Kock leads a new centre pairing of Alex Lozowski and Nick Tompkins, while Chris Wyles makes his first start since returning from a three-month injury last weekend.

Kelly Brown will also bid farewell to Saracens this weekend (Getty)

Bristol may be consigned to bottom place in the Premiership, though they will have to wait until the conclusion of the Championship play-offs before their relegation is confirmed, given only London Irish and Yorkshire Carnegie can be promoted due to the decision by the Ealing Trailfinders and Doncaster not to apply for promotion. Mark Tainton makes two changes to his side, with Olly Robinson named at openside flanker and Jack O’Connell starting at loosehead prop.

Bath vs Gloucester, Sunday 15:00, The Recreation Ground

Bath rings the changes for the West Country derby on Sunday as Todd Blackadder brings in seven new faces in a bid to keep their semi-final hopes alive. Bath need to win to take the battle for fourth place down to the final weekend of the regular season, while a defeat for Leicester without a bonus point can see Bath into the top four if they secure a bonus-point victory or beat Gloucester with a 69-point swing in their favour.

Tom Homer and Matt Garvey both return from injuries, the latter making his first appearances since January, and they are joined back in the side by hooker Chris Brooker and prop Shaun Knight. Behind the pack, neither George Ford or Jonathan Joseph start – the former is named among the replacements – so Rhys Priestland starts at fly-half and Max Clark comes in at outside centre, while a back-three shake-up sees Anthony Watson move from full-back to wing, Homer come in at 15 and Wales international Aled Brew start on the other wing in place of Matt Banahan.

Matt Garvey makes his first appearance in three months (Getty)

Gloucester, on the other hand, make just a solitary change as Mariano Galarza starts in the second-row in place of Tom Savage, who drops to the bench, with director of rugby David Humphreys looking to capitalise on the momentum from last weekend’s European Challenge Cup semi-final victory over Top 14 leaders La Rochelle.

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