Premiership: Stories to look out for in round seven

With the two-week break for European rugby over, round seven of the Aviva Premiership returns this weekend with club’s getting in the mood for Halloween.

Here are some of the best stories to look out for ahead of three days of action.

Friday night bite

In the only game of Friday night, Sale Sharks welcome the champions Exeter who come into the match off the back of one of their most famous ever victories following a Champions Cup win at Montpellier. 

Australian back James O’Connor starts his first Premiership game at fly half for Sale while the league’s top try scorer this season, Sharks wing Byron McGuigan, has had his form recognised with a Scotland call-up this week, along with opposite number Denny Solomona's England call.

Speaking of call-ups and Chiefs No 8 Sam Simmonds will hope to continue his impressive form that has earned England squad selection while Rob Baxter's side can also move temporarily top with a win at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Stat: Exeter Chiefs have only lost one of their last five meetings with Sale Sharks.

A first win?

Back at the Twickenham Stoop, Harlequins will hope to get their season back on track with just one win in their last five matches in all competitions.

Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw and Marcus Smith will all play for Quins for the final time before linking up with England ahead of the Old Mutual Wealth Series.

Worcester finally won their first game of the campaign after they beat Brive in the European Challenge Cup but they have not won in the Premiership since April last season, with just one losing bonus-point so far for their efforts.

Stat: Worcester have not won an away game in the Aviva Premiership since their trip to Harlequins in March 2016.

Home comforts

Northampton return to Premiership action after three straight losses but will be glad to be back in front of their home fans, having lost just once in the league at home in nearly a year.

In a week where ex-England Under 20 captain Harry Mallinder, son of Saints director of rugby Jim, has signed a new deal until 2020, he has to make do with a place on the bench with England's Piers Francis starting at fly half.

Wasps have lost four in a row in the competition, their worst run of form since March 2014 but beat Harlequins impressively in Europe last time out. Thomas Young could makes his 50th Premiership appearance for Wasps at flanker and James Gaskell will reach the same stat if he comes off the bench.

Stat: Wasps have won on their last two visits to Franklin’s Gardens.

Sarries march on

Premiership leaders Saracens come into the game off the back of two wins in Europe in defence of their Champions Cup title, and have won the the last four meetings with London Irish.

England lock Maro Itoje is rested while Ben Spencer comes in at scum half after signing a new deal with the club this week, for a side that have lost just once in 2017/18 so far.

The Exiles are another side that picked up a first win of the season during the European games with an impressive win at Stade Francais.

England Under 20 wing Joe Cokanasiga keeps his place in the team as London Irish look for a first top-flight away win since February 2015.

Stat: Saracens are unbeaten at Allianz Park in the Aviva Premiership since March 2016.

Derby day

On to Sunday’s matches and one of the games of the weekend in the West Country derby at the Recreation Ground between Bath and Gloucester.

Eddie Jones called five players up from Bath for his Old Mutual Wealth Series game against Argentina and the likes of Sam Underhill, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson all start.

Former ball boy at Bath and now Gloucester fly half Billy Burns starts at full back for the Cherry and Whites and Ed Slater returns from a finger injury, as head coach John Ackermann gets his first taste of this derby game.

Stat: Bath have only lost of the last 10 league meetings with Gloucester.

Flying Falcons

In front of their biggest home crowd since 2008, Dean Richards’ Newcastle side will be hoping to make it six wins in a row in all competitions at Kingston Park.

Newcastle-born Will Welch will make his 200th appearance for his hometown club as he captains the side from flanker, while fly half Toby Flood starts his first Premiership game since his return in the summer. 

Leicester centre Matt Smith reaches his own milestone hitting 150 starts for the club and the Tigers have an excellent record against Newcastle with just one loss in the last 14 meetings with the North East outfit.

Stat: Referee Wayne Barnes will take charge of his 190th top flight game equalling the all-time record of Chris White.