Premiership: Stories to look out for in round 12

We are now past the half way point in the Aviva Premiership for the 2017/18 season and there is an intriguing look to the table.

Champions Exeter lead the way as they sit 10 points clear, while just seven points separates second place Saracens down to Sale in eighth, while there is some catching up for London Irish to do at the bottom.

In the final round of matches of 2017, here are some of the stories to look out for.

Wasps going for four

With both Bath and Wasps sat in the top five places going into the weekend, this is a vital clash at the Recreation Ground on Friday night.

Todd Blackadder's Bath have lost to Exeter and Sale in their last two Premiership outings but are looking for their first season double over Wasps since 2013/14, having beaten them 25-9 at the Ricoh Arena in October. The Blue, Black and Whites have brought England pair Jonathan Joseph and Tom Dunn back in amongst four changes to the XV.

Wasps, meanwhile, have found some form recently with just one defeat in the last seven games for the men in black and gold. They have also recently enjoyed their trips to the West Country having won on their last three trips to the Recreation Ground, and have James Haskell back at flanker after being rested.

Stat: Wasps have not lost away from home in Aviva Premiership Rugby since a trip to Saracens on 8 October.

Fortress Kingsholm 

Gloucester's record at Kingsholm this campaign has been a key factor in their success as they have won all eight games they have played there so far. Their loss to Wasps last time out ended a five-match winning run but if results go their way this weekend, they could move up to second.

They make half a dozen changes to their starting line-up for Saturday's sell out clash with Sale Sharks including the return of England international Ben Morgan at number eight.

Sale though have been turning on the style recently themselves with an impressive bonus-point win in tricky conditions against Bath in their last game, and have lost just one of their last five matches. The Sharks won 57-10 in the reverse fixture at AJ Bell Stadium, the most points any team has managed in a home game so far this season.

Stat: Sale have not won at Kingsholm since September 2013.

New year cheer?

Following their loss at Worcester, London Irish are now 10 points adrift at the bottom of the table and are still searching for a first win since since the opening day of the season. The Exiles are in fact looking for a first win in any competition at the Madejski Stadium since last season's Championship play-off final second-leg.

Newcastle have found some festive form with four wins straight in all competitions so will be confident they can win in Reading for the first time since 2009 and they include flanker Gary Graham in their side following his inclusion in England's two-day training squad. 

Stat: Newcastle Falcons are looking for three wins in a row against London Irish for the first time since 2002.

A century for Farrell

England back Owen Farrell will reach a century of appearances for Saracens when he runs out at fly half at Allianz Park. Farrell made his debut for Sarries at the age of 17 and has won three Premiership titles and two European Cups since then.

Alan Solomons will lead Worcester Warriors for the first time as he takes over from Gary Gold on a permanent basis for the first time. Solomons has been with the club since October but has taken over director of rugby duties now on a permanent basis. He will be hoping wing Josh Adams keeps up his recent form, as his two scores against London Irish took him to the top of the try scoring charts with eight so far this season.

Stat: Worcester have not won a game at Saracens since November 2006 when they secured a win at Vicarage Road.

Big Game 10

Harlequins will again switch homes in December as they swap Twickenham Stoop for Twickenham Stadium for the 10th edition of the Big Game series, as terrestrial TV shows a Premiership game for the first time. Both BT Sport and Channel 5 will be showing the game taking place at the Home of England Rugby.

Harlequins have won just once in their last six games and have already played once at Twickenham this season when they were beaten by London Irish at the London Double Header in the opening round. Quins have faced Northampton at Big Game 7 where the Saints were 30-25 winners in 2014. Quins include England quintet Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Chris Robshaw, Danny Care and Mike Brown.

Northampton meanwhile have appointed Alan Gaffney as their technical coaching consultant until the end of the 2017/18 season. Starting on new year's day Gaffney will oversee the existing coaching team, comprising acting head coach Alan Dickens, forwards coach Dorian West, Phil Dowson who will now oversee defence, and assistant coach Mark Hopley.

Stat: Northampton’s only loss in their last 10 fixtures with Harlequins in all competitions was 9-20 at Twickenham Stoop in October 2016.

A year unbeaten

If Premiership champions Exeter Chiefs avoid defeat against Leicester they will have avoided being defeated in the league for the whole of 2017 at Sandy Park. Rob Baxter's side have not lost in the Premiership in front of their own fans since October 2016 when Bath were victorious, a run of 13 games where they have scored 12 try bonus points in that time.

The two teams come into the match in contrasting form as Exeter have won their last six league games, while Leicester have lost five games in a row in all competitions - the Tigers have not lost six games straight since 1965.

Leicester have England wing Jonny May available after he was cleared by a disciplinary panel following his red card against Saracens, and he will become the second Premiership centurion of the weekend along with Owen Farrell. Fly-half George Ford leads the Tigers team which includes centre Manu Tuilagi.

Stat: Leicester’s record at Sandy Park in the Premiership is won four lost three.