**Harlequins v Sale Sharks (Twickenham Stoop, 3pm) – Live on BT Sport**
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Harlequins have slipped to back-to-back defeats in Gallagher Premiership Rugby, at home to Bristol and away at Northampton, and have not lost three in succession in the tournament since February. Quins have not lost consecutive Premiership Rugby fixtures at the Twickenham Stoop since November 2021.
Sale Sharks only loss in their last four Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches was 14-20 at Newcastle on 23 December. The Sharks have not been victorious away from home in any competition since beating Leicester Tigers 26-16 at Mattioli Woods Welford Road on 8 October.
Harlequins beat Sale 29-13 at Salford City Stadium in October and have not achieved a Premiership Rugby season’s double over the Northerners since 2013/14. The Sharks won on both of their visits to the Stoop last season, 36-14 in Premiership Rugby and 34-29 in the Premiership Rugby Cup.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (268th Premiership game).
Assistant Referees: Mike Hudson and Jonathan Healy. TMO: Rowan Kitt.
Citing Officer: Chris Catling.
**Team News – Harlequins**
Harlequins’ coaching group has named the matchday squad to host Sale Sharks in Round 15 of the Gallagher Premiership this Sunday – 15:00 kick-off live on BT Sport 1.
There are four changes to the starting line-up that fell to defeat against Northampton Saints on New Year’s Day. A physical South African duo of Wilco Louw and Irne Herbst step into starting XV to bring extra weight to the tight five. Another change to the forwards sees Luke Wallace earn a start at openside flanker, with Tom Lawday taking up a role amongst the Impact Players in the 20 jersey.
The final change sees scrum-half Danny Care return to the starting line-up to partner Tommy Allan.
Harlequins will look to claim home and away victories against Sale for the first time in a season since the 2013/14 campaign.
Lineout and Defence Coach Jerry Flannery said: “We’ve taken a close look at the game footage and had some important and uncomfortable conversations following the Saints defeat. After a result like that one, it’s key that you can come together and have those tough conversations to set yourselves right for the next challenge; and Sale Sharks are a real physical challenge for any team.
“Any of our games against Sale over the last few years have always been very dense, physical games, so we’ve got to get that bit right. You can have all the plans in the world but if you’re not physical then you’re not going to be able to do what you need to get the win against a team like this.
“This will be a very different challenge to the Saints game and it’s a contest we’re looking forward to.”
**Harlequins Starting XV:** 15. Nick David, 14. Cadan Murley, 13. Joe Marchant, 12. Andre Esterhuizen, 11. Josh Bassett, 10. Tommy Allan, 9. Danny Care, 1. Fin Baxter, 2. Jack Walker, 3. Wilco Louw, 4. George Hammond, 5. Irne Herbst, 6. Archie White, 7. Luke Wallace. 8. Alex Dombrandt – Captain asdfgasdf
**Replacements:** 16. Jack Musk, 17. Jordan Els, 18. Simon Kerrod, 19. Charlie Matthews, 20. Tom Lawday, 21. Lewis Gjaltema, 22. Will Edwards, 23. Oscar Beard
**Team News – Sale Sharks**
Alex Sanderson has named an unchanged starting line-up for the trip to Harlequins as his Sharks go in search of another win to follow Friday’s stunning home victory against Premiership champions Leicester Tigers.
The only changes to the matchday squad come on the replacements bench where Bevan Rodd and Joe Carpenter return after injury, and academy scrum-half Nye Thomas replaces the now-retired Joe Simpson.
Speaking ahead of the clash at the Stoop, the Sale Director of Rugby has warned his players will face a very different challenge against a Quins side who suffered a heavy defeat last time out against Northampton.
After a try-scoring performance against the Tigers, Si McIntyre starts again in the front-row alongside Nick Schonert and hooker Akker van der Merwe.
Cobus Wiese and Jonny Hill continue their blossoming second-row partnership and they’re supported again by Tom Curry at 6, captain Ben Curry at 7 and Jean-Luc du Preez at number 8.
Gus Warr and Rob du Preez team up again at half-back with Manu Tuilagi and Tigers man of the match Sam James outside them in the centres.
Arron Reed, Tom O’Flaherty and Luke James continue in a pacy back three.
Scotland hooker Ewan Ashman, England prop Rodd and James Harper make up the front-row replacements, with Josh Beaumont and Jono Ross covering the rest of the forwards.
Thomas, Tom Curtis and fit-again Carpenter complete a strong replacements bench.
Speaking ahead of the match, Alex said this weekend’s challenge will be a far cry from the ‘golden night’ at the AJ Bell Stadium against Leicester.
He said: “It seemed like all the planets aligned against Leicester to allow us to finish off the year in the way that we wanted.
“The difficulty now comes in separating that result and that performance from what we face against Quins. It’s not going to be a continuation of how it finished against Leicester.
“Now we’re facing a Quins team coming off the back of a big loss, with a good coaching team and they’ll be hurting. The challenge is completely different.
“When we played them at home, we were on a five game winning streak and they’d just lost and they came to our ground and physically dominated us.
“How are they going to respond from last week, but how are we going to respond to that defeat. There’s a bit of extra motivation there for us.”
**Sale Sharks Starting XV**: 15. Luke James, 14. Arron Reed, 13. Sam James, 12. Manu Tuilagi, 11. Tom O’Flaherty, 10. Rob Du Preez, 9. Gus Warr; 1. Simon McIntyre, 2. Akker Van Der Merwe, 3. Nick Schonert, 4. Cobus Wiese, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Tom Curry, 7. Ben Curry (C), 8. Jean-Luc du Preez
**Replacements**: 16. Ewan Ashman, 17. Bevan Rodd, 18. James Harper, 19. Josh Beaumont, 20. Jono Ross, 21. Nye Thomas, 22. Tom Curtis, 23. Joe Carpenter.
– Despite a heavy defeat by the hand of the Northampton Saints, **Nick David** made more carries (12), metres (121), and clean breaks (two) than any other Harlequins player in Round 14 as well as scoring a try.
– **Cadan Murley** has made a league-high 19 clean breaks, five of which came against the Leicester Tigers in Round 6 – the highest individual total in a single match so far this season.
– Despite not appearing in Round 14, **Will Evans** has still won more turnovers than any other player (20). He has also been a nuisance in a league-high 41 rucks.
– Wanting to get attacking players on the ground quickly and compete for the ball, **Harlequins** make a greater percentage of their tackles below the waist than any other side (57%).
– After taking the reins in the Sharks’ impressive victory over the Leicester Tigers, **Rob du Preez** is the Gallagher Premiership’s top points-scorer (124). He has also made the most kicks which have been retained (13).
– **Luke James** made more metres with ball in hand than any other player in Round 14. He also made four offloads, matched only by teammate Tom Curry, and beat a round-high seven defenders.
– **Sale Sharks** have scored the most maul tries in the Premiership (seven). They have also been awarded two penalty tries as a result of their maul.
– **Dan du Preez** has made more dominant tackle contacts than any other player (18). He is the only player in the league to also appear in the top five for dominant carry contacts (30).
– **Harlequins** were on a **three-match** losing streak to Sale until they ended the Sharks’ eight-match Premiership winning streak in Round 7.
– The **Sharks**’ win against the **Leicester Tigers** last weekend was their biggest in **133 years** of playing against them.
Premiership Rugby are delighted to confirm that the Harlequins v Bristol Bears match set a new TV audience record with more than one million people turning into the game on ITV and BT Sport. The combined peak audience of 1.04 million ensured the game was the most-watched regular-season match in the history of Premiership Rugby.
The Gallagher Premiership Rugby match which was settled in thrilling fashion with Bears emerging as three-point victors drew a peak TV audience surpassing the 963,000 that saw Sale Sharks take on Leicester Tigers last season.
The Harlequins v Bristol Bears match reached a combined peak audience of 1.048 million (907,000 on ITV and 141,000 on BT Sport) and received a significant 6% share of all UK TV viewers during the match.
Additionally, 415,000 people tuned into last Sunday's ITV highlights programmes, our second-best audience of the season while four of our five stadiums sold out last weekend.
We also saw season-high attendances over the festive rounds for six clubs - Saracens, Exeter Chiefs, Sale Sharks, Leicester Tigers, London Irish and Northampton Saints.
Online, we've seen 4.4m video views across our social media channels in the last two rounds compared to 2.6m in the two rounds before, so a 70% increase.
There have been records on the pitch too, with 2022 in Gallagher Premiership Rugby seeing a new Premiership record of an average of 6.84 tries per game, as well as a new Premiership record of an average of 51.7 points per game. The year ended with a mere ten points separating the third and bottom in the table
Simon Massie-Taylor, chief executive of Premiership Rugby said: "These figures speak for themselves and we are really pleased with the record-breaking growth in engagement we are seeing across broadcast and social media as well as the return of big crowds to our stadiums.
"It’s a testament to the amazing entertainment on the pitch and the strength of our competition, as well as the hard work our clubs, broadcast partners, and sponsors are helping us to deliver for the league.
“The Gallagher Premiership is reaching a nail-biting stage now with very little between the bottom and the top four. Every game is now available on BT Sport, ITV, or on our streaming services PRTV and I urge any rugby or sports fans to tune in, follow and enjoy this exciting season.”
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