Aviva Premiership: Sale contine playoff bid at Leicester; Saracens out to seal top spot and relegate Worcester
Last Updated: 03/05/14 11:33am
Sale Sharks’ bid for an Aviva Premiership playoff berth reaches a crucial juncture on Saturday as they host fourth-placed Leicester Tigers at the AJ Bell Stadium in the penultimate round of fixtures.
The Sharks are currently eight points behind the Tigers, although a bonus-point victory for the visitors in Salford would seal a top-four finish.
Steve Diamond, who was shortlisted for the director of the year award this week, has made just one change to the Sale side that thrashed Exeter Chiefs 55-12 last time out.
Dave Seymour resumes captaincy duties with regular skipper Dan Braid ruled out for the rest of the season, while Andrei Ostrikov comes in to replace Jonathan Mills in the second row.
Meanwhile, England lock Geoff Parling will make his eagerly-anticipated return from a long-term injury for Leicester.
Richard Cockerill welcomes the forward back after a three-month injury lay-off and Tom Youngs returns to the front row, while Owen Williams and Niall Morris earn recalls in the backs.
Runaway league leaders Saracens can cement their place at the Premiership summit and condemn Worcester Warriors to relegation when they meet at Allianz Park.
Worcester, who have won just one game all season, must win to avoid the drop but a relentless Saracens – fresh from booking their place in the Heineken Cup final with a record-breaking 46-6 win over Clermont – stand in their path.
South African international Alistair Hargreaves captains the side from lock forward, with Steve Borthwick rested, while Schalk Brits joins Mako Vunipola and Matt Stevens in the front three.
After his exertions in Europe last weekend, Jacques Burger is rested with Will Fraser taking his place alongside Jackson Wray, who replaces Kelly Brown, while scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth returns in the only backline change.
Warriors coach Dean Ryan has kept faith in the squad that lost to Bath last time out as he named an unchanged line-up.
Vice-captain Chris Pennell, who was recently shortlisted for Aviva Premiership Player of the Season, takes the full-back jersey for his 125th appearance for the club.
London Wasps welcome Newcastle Falcons to Adams Park knowing victory would secure them seventh place and a European playoff, while a win for Newcastle would see them retain Premiership status.
However, Dai Young's side have not won at home since January 5 and their last two meetings with the Falcons have each been won by the away side on the day.
After the six day turnaround, there are two enforced changes to the Wasps starting line-up which narrowly lost to Bath in Sunday’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final.
Charlie Hayter starts alongside Elliot Daly in the centre as captain Chris Bell is forced to sit the game out after sustaining a blow to the head and Tom Palmer partners Joe Launchbury in the second row in place of the injured Kearnan Myall.
Kieran Brookes returns from suspension as one of five changes to the Newcastle Falcons’ starting XV for their penultimate Premiership clash.
Rob Vickers and Scott Lawson pack down alongside tight-head Brookes, while Argentina international Gonzalo Tiesi makes a welcome return from injury to partner James Fitzpatrick in the centres.
Gloucester host London Irish at Kingsholm knowing only a win will do if they are to keep their hopes of a top-seven finish and a European playoff alive.
The Cherry and Whites will have to end a run of three straight defeats, although history suggests home advantage may not be a blessing as the last three meetings between the two clubs have been won by the away side.
Billy Twelvetrees continues to captain Gloucester, who have club captain Tom Savage on the bench for the first time since November, while there are three changes to the starting line up.
All the changes come in the pack as Yann Thomas and Sila Puafisi take over from Nick Wood and Shaun Knight in the front row and Will James, in his final Premiership appearance at Kingsholm, will start in the second row.
London Irish full-back Tom Homer will win a 100th cap for the club despite suffering an injury-plagued season.
Exiles coach Brian Smith welcomes Leo Halavatau back into the front row, while academy star Tom Smallbone features in the matchday squad for the first time.