Premiership previews: Fijian showdown at Ashton Gate

Bristol Bears host Bath at Ashton Gate in the West Country derby on Friday night; Sale travel to Leicester in Friday’s other game; Alex Sanderson taking charge of first Sharks game after replacing Steve Diamond while Tigers hooker Tom Youngs reaches 200th appearance for the club

Last Updated: 29/01/21 11:50am

Josh Matavesi is looking forward to taking on Fiji team-mate Semi Radradra
Josh Matavesi is looking forward to taking on Fiji team-mate Semi Radradra

Josh Matavesi insists his camaraderie with Semi Radradra will be discarded when he collides with his Fiji team-mate in Friday’s West Country derby between Bath and Bristol.

Matavesi and Radradra line-up in opposing midfields in the Gallagher Premiership clash at Ashton Gate having operated together on the international stage for the last two years.

Bath’s versatile playmaker views Fijian magician Radradra as the sport’s star attraction – but for reasons beyond the dazzling skills that repeatedly outwits defences.

“I’ve played quite a lot of rugby with Semi for Fiji, including at the World Cup, so I know him well and know it’s a hard job to tackle him,” Matavesi said.

“For me, he’s the best player in the world and that’s because I know what he does off the field.

Radradra is 'the best player in the world', according to Matavesi
Radradra is ‘the best player in the world’, according to Matavesi

“People see what he does in the 80 minutes, but for me it’s what he does Monday to Friday – that’s when he earns my respect. He’s dedicated and is a good role model for the younger Fijians as well.

“He’s a great communicator on the pitch. Coming from a Fijian background, we’re normally very quiet people – it might be my Cornish side that makes me loud! – but he’s great at feeding you information.

“He also does the dirty work like hitting rucks. It’s not just offloading, he does carry hard and straight as well. It’s an honour when I play with him, but against Bristol all bets are off.”

Bristol are looking to extend their lead at the summit of the Premiership when they clash against local rivals who have managed only two wins from their six league outings.

Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Piers O’Conor, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Ioan Lloyd, 9 Andy Uren, 1 Jake Woolmore, 2 Bryan Byrne, 3 John Afoa, 4 Dave Attwood, 5 Chris Vui, 6 Steven Luatua (c), 7 Dan Thomas, Nathan Hughes.

Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Yann Thomas, 18 Jake Armstrong, 19 Ed Holmes, 20 Jake Heenan, 21 Tom Kessell, 22 Callum Sheedy, 23 Alapati Leiua.

Bath: 15 Tom de Glanville, 14 Ruaridh McConnochie, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Gabriel Hamer-Webb, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Ben Spencer, 1 Juan Schoeman, 2 Tom Dunn, 3 Christian Judge, 4 Josh McNally (C), 5 Elliott Stooke, 6 Josh Bayliss, 7 Miles Reid, 8 Zach Mercer.

Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Mike Williams, 20 Taulupe Faletau, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Joe Cokanasiga.

Leicester Tigers vs Sale Sharks

The second fixture on Friday night sees Alex Sanderson take charge of his first game as Sale’s new director of rugby when the Sharks visit Mattioli Woods Welford Road, where Leicester are showing signs of resurgence under Steve Borthwick.

Sanderson told Sale’s official website ahead of the game: “One of the most exciting things about coming to Sale for me, was that I knew I wouldn’t have to convince the squad about some of the fundamentals I believe give you the platform for success in this game.

Sale Sharks director of rugby Alex Sanderson
Sale Sharks director of rugby Alex Sanderson

“As an example, physicality, for me, is one of those fundamentals. I played that way, I have coached that way for the last fifteen years and it’s a very difficult mindset to install, but they have it here in bucketloads already.

“You only have to look at the defensive record over the past couple of seasons to show that, but we have to make sure our mentality is spot on too if we want to have a chance of performing at the highest level consistently.”

Centre Sam James makes his 150th appearance for the Sharks while Scotland wing Byron McGuigan makes his first Sale appearance since August after overcoming a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, Tom Youngs makes his 200th appearance for the Tigers, and Richard Wigglesworth returns from suspension to start at scrum-half, partnering Zack Henry at half-back.

Borthwich said of Youngs’ milestone: “Tom is a homegrown Tigers player, came through the academy system and has played here at Leicester Tigers his whole career.

“He lives and breathes Leicester Tigers and would do anything for the club. Tom is the type of character that every player will follow.”

Leicester Tigers: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Kobus Van Wyk, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Zack Henry, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 1 Luan de Bruin, 2 Tom Youngs (c), 3 Dan Cole, 4 Harry Wells, 5 Calum Green, 6 Hanro Liebenberg, 7 Tommy Reffell, 8 Jasper Wiese.

Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Tomás Lavanini, 20 George Martin, 21 Cyle Brink, 22 Jack Van Poortvliet, 23 Johnny McPhillips.

Sale Sharks: 15 Luke James, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Sam James,12 Sam Hill, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Faf de Klerk; 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 3 WillGriff John, 4 Cobus Wiese, 5 JP du Preez, 6 Jono Ross (c), 7 Sam Dugdale, 8 Josh Beaumont.

Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 James Phillips, 20 Cameron Neild, 21 Will Cliff, 22 Robert du Preez, 23 Tom Roebuck.

Source : Sky Sports