All posts by Thomas Branston

Sports Journalist | Rugby Enthusiast | Blogger | Media Officer at Worcester Valkyries |

ROUND 20 | PREVIEW | Northampton Saints vs Saracens

By Thomas Branston


Stadium MK (Kick-off 3pm)

Referee: Matthew Carley

Assistant Refs: Wayne Falla, Gareth Copsey

TMO: Graham Hughes


Northampton Saints have narrowly missed out in their last two Aviva Premiership matches very late on against two of their playoff rivals, Leicester and Wasps. Saints have played six previous matches at Stadium MK winning two and losing once in the Premiership.

Saracens only defeat in their last six matches was 10-32 defeat at home to Leicester in the semi-final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup on 11 March. Sarries have lost three of their last five away games in the Premiership, with defeats to Bath, Worcester and Gloucester.

Saracens have previously played three games in Milton Keynes winning two ‘home’ games when they moved there from Vicarage Road, against Bristol in 2008 and Northampton in 2012, but losing 20-25 there in a Saints “home” game in 2015.

Saracens have the upper hand on the books in this tie with the visitors only losing once  in their last five matches against Northampton in all tournaments was 15-20 at Allianz Park in Premiership in March 2016.

Saracens won a feisty encounter last time out at Allianz Park winning 27-12, in a first-half battle the half-time score was even with both Myler and Lozowski trading three penalties each. Myler added another penalty early on, however a poor half of discipline from Saints allowed Jamie George to cross over and Saracens were later awarded a penalty try from pulling down a maul.


Northampton Saints | 15 Ahsee Tuala, 14 Ken Pisi, 13 Luther Burrell, 12 Harry Mallinder, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Stephen Myler, 9 Nic Groom; 1 Alex Waller, 2 Dylan Hartley, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Courtney Lawes, 5 David Ribbans, 6 Jamie Gibson, 7 Tom Wood (c), 8 Louis Picamoles

Replacements | 16 Mikey Haywood, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Api Ratuniyarawa, 20 Teimana Harrison, 21 Lee Dickson, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Juan Pablo Estelles

Saracens | 15 Alex Goode, 14 Nathan Earle, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Alex Lozowski, 9 Ben Spencer; 1 Titi Lamositele, 2 Jamie George (c), 3 Vincent Koch, 4 Nick Isiekwe, 5 George Kruis, 6 Joel Conlon, 7 Schalk Burger, 8 Jackson Wray

Replacements |16 Schalk Brits, 17 Hayden Thompson-Stringer, 18 Petrus Du Plessis, 19 Michael Rhodes, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Nick Tompkins, 23 Chris Ashton

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ROUND 20 | PREVIEW | Bristol vs Wasps

By Thomas Branston


Ashton Gate (Kick-off 3pm)

Referee: Greg M Garner

Assistant Refs: Anthony Woodthorpe, Roger Baileff

TMO: Stuart Terheege


Bristol Rugby will feel hard done by after their last-gasp defeat to Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park on Saturday. The relegation-threatned club have won just once in Aviva Premiership since new year’s day, the 12-11 over Bath at home on 26 February.

Bristol’s three other victories at Ashton Gate this season were against Sale in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, Pau in the European Challenge Cup and Worcester on Boxing Day in the Premiership

Wasps on the other hand sit at the opposite end of the table and have won their last four Premiership matches since their reversal at Sale on 19 February, this is their only defeat in the tournament since mid-November. Wasps have won only once away from home in any tournament since January, a 24-3 victory over Bath at the Rec in Round 17.

Bristol have an extremely steep climb to face if they are to overcome Wasps as the visitors are unbeaten in their last six encounters with Bristol since the west countrymen’s 26-21 victory at Memorial Stadium in the Premiership in September 2006. This will be Wasps’ first visit to Ashton Gate.

Last time out Wasps recorded their biggest win of the season beating Bristol 70-22 at the Ricoh Arena in September. What was Andy Robinson’s Bristol trailed by 37-3 at half-time thanks to tries from Taylor, Wade, Daly, Cooper-Wooley and Symons and the second period didn’t get much better as Wasps ran riot to record a huge victory.


Bristol | 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Ryan Edwards, 13 Will Hurrell, 12 Gavin Henson, 11 Jack Tovey, 10 Billy Searle, 9 Alby Mathewson; 1 Ryan Bevington, 2 Marc Jones (c), 3 Gaston Cortes, 4 James Phillips, 5 Mark Sorenson, 6 Sam Jeffries, 7 Nick Fenton-Wells, 8 Mitch Eadie

Replacements | 16 Max Crumpton, 17 Jack O’Connell, 18 Jamal Ford-Robinson, 19 Ben Glynn, 20 Olly Robinson, 21 Rhodri Williams, 22 Tusi Pisi, 23 Charlie Amesbury

Wasps | 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Joe Simpson; 1 Matt Mullan, 2 Tommy Taylor, 3 Phil Swainston, 4 Joe Launchbury (c), 5 Matt Symons, 6 James Haskell, 7 Guy Thompson, 8 Nathan Hughes

Replacements | 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Tom Bristow, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 Kearnan Myall, 20 Thomas Young, 21 Dan Robson, 22 Danny Cipriani, 23 Alapati Leiua

ROUND 20 | PREVIEW | Worcester Warriors vs Bath

By Thomas Branston


Sixways Stadium (Kick-off 3pm)

Referee: Luke Pearce

Assistant Refs: Jack Makepeace, Ross Campbell

TMO: Geoff Warren


Worcester Warriors were beaten 36-26 by Sale Sharks last Friday at the AJ Bell Stadium but managed to pick up a try bonus point. Warriors only victory in their last five rounds of Aviva Premiership was a 41-24 win at home to Bristol on 5 March.

Worcester have lost just one of their last four Premiership Rugby encounters at Sixways, 32-48 to Exeter in Round 15.

Bath Rugby ended a three game losing run with a 27-21 win over Leicester Tigers at Twickenham in ‘The Clash’ last weekend. Bath have not won away from home since their visit to Exeter at the end of October.

Warriors will look to overturn this unfortunate stat with Bath winning their last eight encounters with Warriors since their last triumph being a 16-7 win at Sixways in November 2011

Bath ran out heavy winners last time out despite a promising start from Worcester in Round 3. Bath won 37-22 scoring four second-half tries to win the game. Scores from Annett and Hammond teed up a comfortable 17-6 score at half-time, but scores from Watson, Banahan, Rokodunguni and Houston cancelled out the Warriors efforts.


Worcester Warriors | 15 Chris Pennell, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Ryan Mills, 9 Francois Hougaard; 1 Ryan Bower, 2 Joe Taufete’e, 3 Biyi Alo, 4 Donncha O’Callaghan (c), 5 Will Spencer, 6 Chris Vui, 7 Sam Lewis, 8 Marco Mama

Replacements | 16 Jack Singleton, 17 Ryan Grant, 18 Gareth Milasinovich , 19 Dewald Potgieter, 20 Alafoti Faosiliva, 21 Luke Baldwin, 22 Ryan Lamb, 23 Wynand Olivier

Bath | 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Matt Banahan, 10 George Ford (c), 9 Kahn Fotuali’i; 1 Nathan Catt, 2 Ross Batty, 3 Kane Palma-Newport, 4 Charlie Ewels, 5 Elliott Stooke, 6 Tom Ellis, 7 Francois Louw, 8 Taulupe Faletau

Replacements | 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Shaun Knight, 19 David Denton, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Chris Cook, 22 Rhys Priestland, 23 Tom Homer

ROUND 20 | PREVIEW | Gloucester vs Sale Sharks

By Thomas Branston


Kingsholm Stadium (Kick-off 3:00pm)

Referee: Tom Foley

Assistant Referees: Adam Leal, Peter Allan

TMO: Rowan Kitt


Gloucester Rugby were defeated by Newcastle Falcons in the last round, narrowly missing out as Hodgson kicked an agonisingly late penalty to win the game, it ended 16-14 to the hosts.

The Cherry and White’s only win in their last four rounds of the Aviva Premiership was a 32-14 victory at Bristol on 24 March. Gloucester’s only defeat at Kingsholm in their last six encounters was to Harlequins where they fell 30-27 in the Premiership on 4 March.

Sale Sharks ended a three game losing run with their 36-26 try bonus-point victory at the AJ Bell Stadium against Worcester Last Friday. Sharks have won just once on the road this season, on a visit to Bristol in late October 2016.

Gloucester have the upper hand over their opponents having won their last three fixtures against the Sharks since Sale’s 23-6 win at AJ Bell Stadium in March 2015. The Sharks have won on two of their last five visits to Kingsholm, in April 2012 and in September 2013.

Last time out Gloucester beat Sale 26-13 at the AJ Bell, the Cherry and White’s were the only side to beat the Sharks at home last season and repeated this fate with tries from John Afoa and Charlie Sharples accompanied by three crucial Greg Laidlaw penalties to tie up the victory.


Gloucester | 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Charlie Sharples, 13 Henry Trinder, 12 Mark Atkinson, 11 Jonny May, 10 Billy Burns, 9 Callum Braley; 1 Josh Hohneck, 2 Richard Hibbard, 3 John Afoa, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 5 Mariano Galarza, 6 Ross Moriarty, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 8 Freddie Clarke

Replacements | 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Paddy McAllister, 18 Ciaran Knight, 19 Tom Savage, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Billy Twelvetrees, 23 David Halaifonua

Sale Sharks | 15 Mike Haley, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Sam James, 12 Mark Jennings, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Mike Phillips; 1 Ross Harrison, 2 Rob Webber, 3 Halani Aulika, 4 Bryn Evans, 5 Andrei Ostrikov, 6 Cameron Neild, 7 Ben Curry, 8 Josh Beaumont (c)

Replacements | 16 Tom Curry, 17 James Flynn, 18 Kieran Longbottom, 19 George Nott, 20 Laurence Pearce, 21 James Mitchell, 22 Sam Bedlow, 23 Josh Charnley

ROUND 20 | PREVIEW | Leicester Tigers vs Newcastle Falcons

By Thomas Branston


Welford Road (Kick-off 3pm)

Referee: Ian Tempest

Assistant Referees: Steve Lee, Tim Wigglesworth

TMO: David Sainsbury


Leicester Tigers led against Bath going into the final quarter of their Round 19 Aviva Premiership match but were undone by an Anthony Watson brace in ‘The Clash’ at Twickenham Stadium last time out.

Tigers have lost two of their last six Aviva Premiership matches, at home to Exeter in round 17 and against Bath at Twickenham last weekend and Matt O’Connors men have not lost successive home matches in the tournament since October 2011.

Newcastle Falcons narrowly beat Gloucester with a 16-14 victory at Kingston Park last Friday to end a three game losing run in Aviva Premiership. The Falcons have won just three times on the road this season, twice in Premiership, at Gloucester in round 4 and at Northampton in round 9.

Newcastle have had a tough time in recent years against Tigers only beating them once in the last eight years, a 26-14 victory at Kingston Park in February 2016. The Falcons only previous victory at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby was 25-19 on 30 December 1997, which was Newcastle’s current Director of Rugby Dean Richards’ last game playing for Tigers.

Last time these two sides met in the Aviva Premiership was back in Round 3, Tigers won by the skin of their teeth with a 14-13 at Kingston Park. Freddie Burns scored three crucial penalties to give Leicester the lead after a Fitzgerald try and a Socino score for the hosts. Hodgson then converted a late penalty to bring the score within a point and the fly-half agonisingly missed a final drop goal from close-range as clock went dead.


Leicester Tigers | 15 Telusa Veainu, 14 Adam Thompstone, 13 Jack Roberts, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Ben Youngs (c); 1 Ellis Genge, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Dan Cole, 4 Dom Barrow, 5 Graham Kitchener, 6 Mike Williams, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 8 Luke Hamilton

Replacements | 16 Tom Youngs, 17 Greg Bateman, 18 Fraser Balmain, 19 Mike Fitzgerald, 20 Harry Thacker, 21 Sam Harrison, 22 Owen Williams, 23 Mathew Tait

Newcastle Falcons | 15 Marcus Watson, 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Sinoti Sinoti, 10 Joel Hodgson, 9 Michael Young; 1 Rob Vickers, 2 Kyle Cooper, 3 David Wilson, 4 Calum Green, 5 Evan Olmstead, 6 Mark Wilson, 7 Will Welch (c), 8 Nili Latu

Replacements | 16 Ben Sowrey, 17 Ben Harris, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Will Witty, 20 Callum Chick, 21 Sam Egerton, 22 Craig Willis, 23 Zach Kibirige

Northampton Saints hooker Dylan Hartley Targets Top Six Finish

By Thomas Branston

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England captain Dylan Hartley is targeting a place in the Aviva Premiership top six as the season reaches its final stage.

The 31-year-old believes his side have the quality to achieve their goal, despite Saints suffering a last-gasp defeat at Wasps last weekend and missing out late on against east midlands rivals Leicester Tigers the week before.

However, Saints remain level on points with sixth-placed Harlequins and are just five points behind fourth-placed Leicester Tigers with three games left to play.

Hartley is determined to help his side qualify for next season’s European Champions Cup competition.

He said: “The good thing is we have got a huge carrot dangling in front of us, we have got three games left in the season and, at the moment, a top-six finish is a priority for us.

“We have got all to play for and it’s a good place to be. If we were further down the table, we could just clock off but this is a good place to be, it keeps it competitive and it keeps us working for something.

“It might not be a top-two finish like we would have liked at the start of the year, but we have got something to drive for and that’s top six at the moment.”

Mike Brown – “I am fully committed to Harlequins”

By Thomas Branston

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England International full-back Mike Brown has stamped out any further speculation about his future at Harlequins.

The 31-year-old has played for the London-based club for 12 years and has made 269 appearances scoring 420 points.

The Quins star has been the subject of transfer rumours with fellow Premiership rivals Leicester Tigers and Exeter Chiefs reportedly interested.

Brown said: “I am fully committed to Harlequins and this is where I will be playing next season.

“I don’t know where the rumours started but this is my club — I am a Quins man and I am not going anywhere.”