Pat Lam says Bristol’s Gallagher Premiership clash against Leicester on Saturday is important “to keep control of our destiny” as the play-off countdown continues.
Victory for Bristol at Mattioli Woods Welford Road would confirm a home semi-final later this month.
But with a crowd of 6,000 expected – Tigers’ first at home for more than 15 months – and Leicester pushing for Heineken Champions Cup qualification, Bristol rugby director Lam knows it will be another considerable test.
Bristol were beaten by title rivals Sale Sharks last Friday, and Lam said: “That was a great game to be part of. There were a lot of lessons.
“It is about securing the home semi-final for us and trying to finish top of the mountain in these next two rounds.
“This is an important game for us to keep control of our destiny.
“There is real clarity in how [Leicester] want to play and what they want to do. Steve Borthwick has done a great job, and it is a big challenge.
“He is very methodical, very clear and has a real presence and direction.”
Sixth-placed Leicester are on course to make Europe’s top-flight competition next term, with one win from their remaining two fixtures likely to be enough.
Assessing the task against Bristol, Borthwick said: “They are a superb side and have a star-studded squad at their disposal which they have heavily invested in over a number of seasons.
“They are the best team in the country and have deservedly led the league from the get-go this season, and we are aware that it will be a challenge for us on Saturday.”
Leicester scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth will become the first player to reach 300 Premiership appearances if he features off the bench.
And Borthwick added: “To make 300 appearances in a competition like the Premiership is an incredible achievement.
“Richard has reached this feat through his determination and hunger to want to be the very best he can be, and the high standards he sets himself as a professional player.”
📋 𝐓𝐄𝐀𝐌 𝐍𝐄𝐖𝐒
The Leicester Tigers matchday squad to take on @BristolBears at Mattioli Woods Welford Road! #LEIvBRI ��🐻 #COYT 👊 pic.twitter.com/Qj518vbB0c
Flanker George Martin returns for Leicester, with Hanro Liebenberg moving to No 8 and Johnny McPhillips starting at fly-half.
Bristol boss Lam has made seven changes following last week’s defeat, including a first Premiership appearance since January for fit-again scrum-half Harry Randall, while wing Henry Purdy and flanker Dan Thomas are also among the starters.
Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Harry Potter, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Kini Murimurivalu, 10 Johnny McPhillips, 9 Ben Youngs, 1 Ellis Genge, 2 Tom Youngs (c), 3 Dan Cole, 4 Harry Wells, 5 Cameron Henderson, 6 George Martin, 7 Tommy Reffell, 8 Hanro Liebenberg.
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 James Whitcombe, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Tomás Lavanini, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Zack Henry, 23 Nemani Nadolo.
Bristol Bears: 15 Max Malins; 14 Piers O’Conor, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Henry Purdy; 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall; 1 Yann Thomas, 2 Will Capon, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Chris Vui, 6 Steven Luatua (c), 7 Dan Thomas, 8 Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 John Afoa, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Alapati Leiua.
Newcastle vs Worcester (Saturday, 3pm)
📋 𝟭𝟬𝟬 𝘂𝗽 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗦𝗮𝗺 𝗟𝗲𝘄𝗶𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗚𝗿𝗮𝗵𝗮𝗺 𝗞𝗶𝘁𝗰𝗵𝗲𝗻𝗲𝗿 🙌 pic.twitter.com/ccNG1PO47C
Only backs Joel Hodgson and George Wacokecoke remain from the side crushed by Exeter last weekend as Newcastle boss Dean Richards makes wholesale changes for the Falcons’ final home game of the season.
Forwards Andrew Kitchener and Sam Lewis will both reach 100 appearances for Worcester, while changes include skipper Ted Hill switching from back row to lock, flanker Tom Dodd starting and Scotland international Duncan Weir featuring at fly-half.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Joel Hodgson, 14 Adam Radwan, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Luther Burrell, 11 George Wacokecoke, 10 Brett Connon, 9 Louis Schreuder, 1 Adam Brocklebank, 2 George McGuigan, 3 Trevor Davison, 4 Greg Peterson, 5 Sean Robinson, 6 Will Welch, 7 Mark Wilson (c), 8 Callum Chick.
Replacements: 16 Jamie Blamire, 17 Kyle Cooper, 18 Rodney Ah You, 19 Philip van der Walt, 20 Carl Fearns, 21 Michael Young, 22 Chidera Obonna, 23 Alex Tait.
Worcester Warriors: 15 Jamie Shillcock, 14 Perry Humphreys, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Francois Venter, 11 Noah Heward, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Francois Hougaard; 1 Marc Thomas, 2 Beck Cutting, 3 Jay Tyack, 4 Ted Hill (captain), 5 Graham Kitchener, 6 Tom Dodd, 7 Sam Lewis, 8 Matt Kvesic.
Replacements: 16 Niall Annett, 17 Ethan Waller, 18 Nick Schonert, 19 Justin Clegg, 20 GJ van Velze, 21 Gareth Simpson, 22 Alex Hearle, 23 Harri Doel.
London Irish vs Wasps (Saturday, 4,30pm)
𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑟𝑠𝑡𝑦 𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑘 💧 ☀️
🔜 ☘️ #LIRvWAS 🐝 pic.twitter.com/dK3eWQdb0v
Flanker Blair Cowan captains Irish as they look to keep themselves in the Heineken Champions Cup qualification picture for next season. The Exiles currently hold seventh spot ahead of remaining games against Wasps and Bristol.
Wasps head coach Lee Blackett makes three changes after a narrow defeat against Northampton. Centre Juan de Jongh replaces an injured Paolo Odogwu, while wing Marcus Watson takes over from Zach Kibirige, who is also injured, and Kieran Brookes returns at tighthead prop.
London Irish: 15 Tom Parton, 14 James Stokes, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Terrence Hepetema, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Nic Groom, 1 Will Goodrick-Clarke, 2 Agustin Creevy, 3 Ollie Hoskins, 4 Adam Coleman, 5 Rob Simmons, 6 Matt Rogerson, 7 Blair Cowan (c), 8 Albert Tuisue.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Facundo Gigena, 18 Lovejoy Chawatama, 19 George Nott, 20 Sean O’Brien, 21 Jack Cooke, 22 Rory Brand, 23 Jacob Atkins.
Wasps: 15 Charlie Atkinson, 14 Marcus Watson, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Michael Le Bourgeois, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson, 1 Tom West, 2 Gabriel Oghre, 3 Kieran Brookes, 4 Will Rowlands, 5 James Gaskell, 6 Brad Shields (c), 7 Thomas Young, 8 Tom Willis.
Replacements: 16 Tom Cruse, 17 Simon McIntyre, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 Tim Cardall, 20 Sione Vailanu, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Jimmy Gopperth, 23 Rob Miller.
Northampton vs Exeter (Sunday, 3pm)
Final home game of the season 🏡
Sold out Franklin's Gardens 🙌
Here are your Saints to take on the Chiefs. pic.twitter.com/jxXnyczmi4
Centre Rory Hutchinson returns to action for Northampton after recovering from a calf muscle strain, while one other change following victory over Wasps last time out sees prop Ehren Painter handed a start.
Exeter flankers Dave Ewers and Jacques Vermeulen are both sidelined due to knocks, so there are starts for Sam Skinner and Jannes Kirsten. Elsewhere, Scotland captain Stuart Hogg returns at full-back, while centre Ian Whitten replaces Ollie Devoto.
Northampton Saints: 15 Tommy Freeman, 14 Ollie Sleightholme, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Rory Hutchinson, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tom James, 1 Alex Waller (co-capt), 2 Sam Matavesi, 3 Ehren Painter, 4 David Ribbans, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Lewis Ludlam (co-capt), 8 Tom Wood.
Replacements: 16 Mike Haywood, 17 Emmanuel Iyogun, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Alex Moon, 20 Alex Coles, 21 Alex Mitchell, 22 James Grayson, 23 Fraser Dingwall.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Facundo Cordero, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ian Whitten, 11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds (c), 9 Jack Maunder, 1 Ben Moon, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Harry Williams, 4 Jonny Gray, 5 Jonny Hill, 6 Sam Skinner, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 8 Sam Simmonds.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Sean Lonsdale, 20 Richard Capstick, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Ollie Devoto.
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