Premiership: stories to look out for in round 17

The Beast from the East, Emma, or any other storm have not stopped Aviva Premiership action taking place this weekend, with only six games remaining of the season.

Here's the stories to look out for ahead of round 17.

Kiwi Quins

Round 17 was supposed to begin in west London on Friday night as Harlequins welcome Bath to Twickenham Stoop, but the game has been rearranged to Sunday. The home side will be looking for their first win in five attempts in the competition. In fact, John Kingston's men have yet to win a home game in 2018 and were beaten comprehensively last time out to Newcastle Falcons 28-10.   

In a week where Quins have announced a link with the New Zealand Rugby they have made six changes to their starting XV with Demetri Catrakilis coming it at fly half. Wales centre Jamie Roberts makes his 50th Quins appearance while Ian Prior is in the matchday squad for the final time before he returns to Australia after his short-term deal.

Following his two tries against Sale, England's Zach Mercer is included in the Bath backrow alongside Wales No 8 Taulupe Faletau as he continues his comeback from injury. Prop Beno Obano brings up his half century of appearances for the Blue, Black and Whites who have only won one of their last 12 Premiership trips to the Stoop.

Stat: Quins haven't lost five games in a row in the competition since 2006-07.

Top four tussle

Just two points separate sixth-placed Gloucester and Newcastle who sit in fourth going into the weekend as both will look to continue their push for a play-off place.

After one win in their last four games, Gloucester will be relieved to be back at Kingsholm where they are unbeaten in the league this campaign and have named captain Willi Heinz amongst seven changes in all. Prop Val Rapava Ruskin features after his injury for the first time since November as the Cherry and Whites look to improve on a record of one win in four.

Dean Richards has the second best finisher in the league in Vereniki Goneva with nine tries this season starting out wide, and switches two players as Ally Hogg and Sean Robinson come in. The Falcons have lost just once in seven occasions in the league in an impressive campaign.

Stat: Gloucester are the only side in the tournament unbeaten at home this season.

Saints and Sharks

Northampton Saints have won two of their last eleven Aviva Premiership Rugby encounters, both in their last two home games, against Gloucester and London Irish. England flanker Tom Wood, Api Ratuniyarawa and Nafi Tuitavake are the three changes made by Saints, who beat Sale earlier in the season in the Anglo-Welsh Cup but lost their Premiership fixture at AJ Bell Stadium.

Sale were boosted by the news this weekend that England wing Denny Solomona, fly half AJ MacGinty and wing Byron McGuigan all signed new deals, and Solomona starts after his two tries against Bath last time out. There is just one change for Sale as ex-All Black lock Bryn Evans comes into the pack, as the Sharks will be looking to chase down the top six.

Stat: Sale have not achieved a season’s Premiership double over Northampton since 2005/06.

Flying Wasps

Wasps are one of the form teams in the league and their wing Josh Bassett will bring up his half century of Premiership appearances when he runs out against the Exiles, while there is a return for fly half Danny Cipriani with Jimmy Gopperth moving to centre. 

London Irish doubled their tally of Aviva Premiership Rugby victories this season with their home win over Worcester Warriors on Sunday and so unsurprisingly director of rugby Nick Kennedy has named an unchanged starting XV. The Exiles are 12 points from safety with six games remaining of the campaign. Referee Tom Foley takes charge of his 50th top flight match at the Ricoh Arena.

Stat: Wasps have lost only one of their last 10 Premiership matches.

Familiar face

Worcester flanker David Denton will line-up against his future employers as the flanker has agreed a move to Leicester Tigers for next season. He is one of five changes as Jackson Willison, Jonny Arr, Jack Singleton and Will Spencer also come in as the Warriors attempt a first ever season double of the Tigers. England Under 20 centre Will Butler is in line for a Premiership debut if he comes off the bench.

Off the back of an impressive win at Saracens, Leicester have club captain Tom Youngs and centre Mathew Tait back, while ex-Warriors forward Mike Williams makes his 50th outing for the Tigers. Matt O'Connor's side have moved up the table in recent weeks off the back for three wins in four games.

Stat: The Tigers have won on their last nine visits to Sixways in all competitions.

Champion showdown

The game of the weekend sees the top two in the Aviva Premiership meet as the last two champions of England go head to head at Sandy Park. Originally scheduled for Saturday, the game has moved moved to Sunday at 15:00 GMT to try and beat the winter weather. 

The last gasp win over Northampton Saints in round 16 ended Exeter Chiefs' three-match losing run in the competition. 

After his release from the England camp, George Kruis starts at lock for Sarries while England Under 20 captain Ben Earl gets a start from openside flanker, with Nick Isiekwe packing down on the other side. Blair Cowan could make his debut for the club off the bench after joining on loan from London Irish.

Stat: Exeter are unbeaten in their last three matches against Saracens in Premiership Rugby.