Bath and Leicester in crunch Premiership clash at Twickenham as Saracens vs Harlequins top bumper day for London

Matt O'Connor returns as Leicester head coach, while Exeter roll the dice against basement side Bristol and league leaders Wasps ring the changes for visit of Northampton Saints

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The Independent Online

Bath vs Leicester Tigers, Twickenham, Saturday 14:00

The first of two bumper matches in London on Saturday that will attract more than 15,000 fans in the capital sees Bath host Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in a match that will have major ramifications for the Premiership play-offs.

Both sides are battling to finish fourth, along with Harlequins and Northampton Saints, in the hope of claiming the final semi-final spot, with the Tigers currently in the box seat as they lead Bath by a slender three points. With Matt O’Connor back at the helm this weekend after replacing Aaron Mauger, a win for the Welford Road outfit will go a long way to deciding who joins Wasps, Exeter and Saracens in the play-offs, should the Chiefs and Sarries join the league leaders in locking down their positions this weekend.

The West Country side make two changes to the side that were thrashed 53-0 by Saracens two weeks ago, with both changes coming in the pack. Wales lock Luke Charteris is ruled out along with Max Lahiff, so Elliott Stooke starts at lock with Kane Palma-Newport named at tighthead prop.

O’Connor meanwhile has refused to ring the changes as he names the same side that beat Northampton in Mauger’s final match in charge, with the only two new faces appearing among the replacements whether Fraser Balmain and Harry Thacker are included.

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Kane Palma-Newport starts at tighthead prop (Getty)

Exeter Chiefs vs Bristol Rugby, Sandy Park, Saturday 15:00

The Exeter director of rugby, Rob Baxter, looks to be pinning his hopes on the Chiefs seeing off basement side Bristol without a number of their key players after naming a reinforced replacements’ bench with a number of players back from injury.

Baxter only makes three changes to his starting line-up with Jonny Hill and Dave Dennis returning to the pack in place of lock Geoff Parling and flanker Kai Horstmann, while Jack Maunder starts at scrum-half ahead of Stuart Townsend. Both Parling and Townsend are included among the replacements alongside Greg Holmes, Dave Ewers, Gareth Steenson and Michele Campagnaro.

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Gavin Henson returns from a toe injury for Bristol (Getty)

Gavin Henson makes his comeback from a short-term toe injury to line-up at inside centre for a Bristol side running out of time to remain in the Premiership. Mark Tainton makes three changes to his side, with Ryan Edwards returning from a hernia on the wing and hooker Marc Jones leading the side, with Bristol nine points adrift of 11th-placed Worcester.

Saracens vs Harlequins, Wembley, Saturday 16:30

The second London match takes Saracens and Harlequins to Wembley Stadium, Sarries’ second home, as the reigning champions look to cement their place in the top four and attempt to overtake Exeter in the hunt for a home semi-final in the process.

After reaching the semi-finals of the European Champions Cup last weekend, Saracens show four changes, the most notable of which sees Vincent Koch replacing Juan Figallo at tighthead prop after he was ruled out for the rest of the season with a foot injury. Schalk Brits is rewarded for his impactful displays against Bath and Glasgow with a place in the starting line-up ahead of Jamie George, while Richard Wigglesworth makes way for fit-again scrum-half Ben Spencer. The final change comes in the centre where Marcelo Bopsch is rested from the matchday squad, so Scotland international Duncan Taylor starts.

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Owen Farrell starts for Saracens in their Wembley showdown with Harlequins (Getty)

Quins meanwhile will hope to keep their semi-final hopes alive at the 90,000-seat stadium, and director of rugby John Kingston makes just one change as England international Jack Clifford starts at openside flanker in place of Charlie Matthews.

Wasps vs Northampton Saints, Ricoh Arena, Sunday 15:00

Dai Young rings the changes for the league leaders as Danny Cipriani’s drop to the replacements means that Jimmy Gopperth steps in to fly-half, Kurtley Beale moves forward to inside centre and Willie le Roux switches to full-back, giving Josh Bassett a rare start on the wing.

Up front, Nathan Hughes is also dropped to the bench and James Haskell is rested completely as Guy Thompson and Ashley Thompson come into the back-row, while injuries to Marty Moore, Jake Cooper-Woolley and Simon McIntyre sees Phil Swainston start at tighthead and former England prop Paul Doran-Jones named on the bench, having been brought in on an emergency one-week loan.

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Jimmy Gopperth replaces Danny Cipriani at fly-half for Wasps (Getty)

Saints make just two changes and will head into Sunday’s encounter buoyed by the notable absentees from the Wasps line-up. Second-row David Ribbans will be thrown in at the deep end as he makes his Premiership debut against the league leaders, while the other change sees Jamie Gibson start at blindside flanker. Again, Saints are able to name a strong bench that features Teimana Harrison, Lee Dickson, Luther Burrell and Ken Pip, along with a new face in Api Ratuniyarawa.

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