Wallabies drop Bernard Foley as Springboks make six changes

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Bernard Foley was dropped Thursday in a major backline shake-up by the Wallabies, with the Springboks also ringing in the changes for a match they are both desperate to win after recent crushing Rugby Championship defeats.

Australia have lost six of their past seven games, and ceded the Bledisloe Cup to New Zealand for the 16th consecutive year after a 40-12 hammering in Auckland and a 38-13 thrashing in Sydney.

The South Africans have not fared as badly but head into the clash in Brisbane on Saturday on the back of a demoralising 32-19 loss to Argentina in Mendoza.

Kurtley Beale was selected to start his first Test in the No.10 jersey since 2014 and tasked with directing the show from fly-half, alongside the experienced Matt Toomua who was promoted to inside centre and will have goalkicking duties.

In a further change to the backs, Israel Folau returns after an ankle injury ruled out him out of the second Bledisloe Cup Test. The star fullback only returned to light training this week.

Key backrower David Pocock also defied the odds to be selected after being in doubt with a neck injury.

Brumbies lock Rory Arnold will start in the second row for his first Test of 2018 while “Tongan Thor” prop Taniela Tupou has overcome a hamstring complaint to take his place on the bench.

Australia and South Africa couldn’t be split in their two encounters last year with a 23-all draw in Perth before a 27-all draw in Bloemfontein.

Springboks coach Johan “Rassie” Erasmus also opted for change.

Steven Kitshoff and Bongi Mbonambi form a new front row next to Frans Malherbe, while Tendai Mtawarira and Malcolm Marx are replacements.

Captain Siya Kolisi returns to the blindside flanker role after playing on the opposite side of the scrum against Argentina in Mendoza, with Pieter-Steph du Toit at openside flanker.

Warren Whiteley completes the loose trio at No.8.

Elton Jantjies swaps places at flyhalf with Handre Pollard while Faf de Klerk again starts as scrum-half.

Erasmus also rotated his midfield, which means a first start this year for Damian de Allende, who will resume his centre partnership with Jesse Kriel.

Aphiwe Dyantyi, Makazole Mapimpi and Willie le Roux complete the backline.

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Bears go for two in a row while Wasps try to sting Chiefs in Round 2 of Premiership Rugby

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Jamie Roberts' Bath career started with a loss to Bristol

After a thrilling opening weekend of Premiership Rugby, and the first coach sacking of the season, we look ahead to all the Round 2 action this weekend.

Here are our previews:

Friday September 7

Northampton Saints v Harlequins (Franklin’s Gardens, 22.45 UAE time)

Referee: Tom Foley (53rd Premiership game).

Northampton slipped up at Gloucester on Saturday and have not begun a season with a pair of defeats in rounds 1 and 2 since 2003/04. The Saints have won three of their last five home games in Premiership Rugby, the defeats being to Sale and Saracens in March and April.

Harlequins 51-23 home win over Sale Sharks ended a five-game losing run in Premiership Rugby. The Londoners have not won their opening two games in the tournament since season 2012/13 whilst their most recent away victory in Premiership Rugby came at Wasps in round 3 last year.

The last five meetings between the two have all been won by the home side on the day with ‘Quins most recent victory at Franklin’s Gardens coming in December 2012.

Marcus Smith is on a streak of seven successive successful kicks at goal.

Saturday September 8

Wasps v Exeter Chiefs (Ricoh Arena, 17:00 UAE time)

Referee: Christophe Ridley (7th Premiership game).

Wasps only defeat in their last five Gallagher Premiership Rugby fixtures was in last season’s semi-final to Saracens at Allianz Park. Wasps have won their opening two games of the season for the past two years. Wasps only defeat at the Ricoh Arena in Premiership Rugby since last October was to Saracens on January 7.

Exeter only defeat since mid-February in any competition was in last season’s Premiership Rugby final to Saracens at Twickenham Stadium. The Chiefs have won their last three away games since they tripped up at Wasps in round 15 last season.

Overall in Premiership Rugby the two clubs have met on 18 previous occasions with Exeter winning twelve, Wasps five and one game drawn. The Devonians only previous victory at Ricoh Arena was 41-27 in December 2015.

Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons (Welford Road, 18:00 UAE time)

Referee: Matthew Carley (76th Premiership game).

Leicester Tigers only victory in their last four Premiership Rugby fixtures was at Sale in round 22 last season. 2017-18 began with a pair of defeats for the Tigers, the only previous time this has occurred in Premiership Rugby history.

The Tigers, no longer with Matt O’Connor at the helm, have lost their last two home games in the tournaments, to Northampton and Newcastle, and have only once before lost three in a row at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby – at the start of the 2011/12 campaign.

Newcastle Falcons have lost their last three Premiership Rugby matches since beating Leicester at Welford Road in April – their only victory in their last five away games in all tournaments.

The Falcons have won just two of their last 17 encounters with Leicester, at Kingston Park in February 2016 and Welford Road in April.

Sione Kalamafoni has played 99 Premiership matches.

Saracens v Bristol Bears (Allianz Park, 18:00 UAE time)

Referee: Andrew Jackson (15th Premiership game).

Saracens have won their last eight Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches, scoring at least four tries in each of the last seven. Saracens have lost just once at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby since November: to Leicester in February.

Bristol Bears have won their last six competition matches since tripping up at home to Jersey Reds in last year’s RFU Championship. Bristol’s most recent away game in Premiership Rugby was also at Allianz Park, losing 9-27 there to Saracens in April 2017.

Saracens have won their last five fixtures against Bristol in Premiership Rugby since the Bears 18-3 win at Memorial Stadium in January 2008.

David Strettle is on 49 Premiership tries

Richard Wigglesworth is on 263 Premiership appearances, two behind record holder Steve Borthwick.

Bath Rugby v Gloucester Rugby (Recreation Ground, 22.30 UAE time)

Referee: Luke Pearce (77th Premiership game).

Bath Rugby have won just two of their last seven Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches, at Gloucester in April and at home to London Irish in May. Bath have not lost their opening two matches of a Premiership Rugby campaign since 2009/10.

Gloucester beat Northampton 27-16 at Kingsholm in round 1 but have not won their opening two fixtures of a season since 2007-08. Gloucester’s only victory in their last six away games in Premiership Rugby was on a visit to London Irish in March. Each side won its respective away game when the two sides met last season. Gloucester have won just once in their last four visits to the Recreation Ground in all competitions.

Sunday September 9

Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors (AJ Bell Stadium, 18:00 UAE time)

Referee: JP Doyle (154th Premiership game).

Sale Sharks slipped to a fourth successive Gallagher Premiership Rugby defat at Harlequins on Saturday. The Sharks two defeats in their last seven Premiership Rugby encounters at AJ Bell Stadium were to Saracens in round 15 and Leicester in round 22 last season.

Worcester Warriors have won just two of their last eight Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches, both at home in April, to Newcastle and Harlequins. The Warriors won just twice on the road in the competition last season, at Leicester in November and at Exeter in February.

Sale have lost only one of their last nine fixtures with Worcester in Premiership Rugby, at Sixways in February 2016, whilst the last time that Warriors won on Sharks soil was at Edgeley Park in November 2008.

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England flanker Zach Mercer agrees two-year extension with Bath

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Zach Mercer with team mate Taulupe Faletau (r)

Bath have announced that 21-year-old back rower Zach Mercer has agreed a two-year contract extension, which will keep him at the Club until the end of the 2020/21 season.

Mercer has made 38 appearances and has drawn wide acclaim for his performances in the Blue, Black and White, with the 21 year-old finishing the 2017/18 season with six tries. The back rower also caught the eye of England Head Coach Eddie Jones, making his debut against the Barbarians in May.

Mercer, who was promoted to the senior squad from the Academy in 2017 said: “I couldn’t ask for a better place to continue my development – we’ve got a great setup with the coaches and players along with an amazing supporter base.

“It’s a really exciting time to be part of this Club, and our challenge now is to make sure we’re up there competing with the best in the (Gallagher) Premiership and Europe.

“Zach is a huge talent, and we’re really pleased to have secured his future with the Club.” said Director of Rugby, Todd Blackadder.

“Over the last two years, he has worked incredibly hard at all the aspects of his game; this has paid dividends and is clear to see in his dominant performances. He has got all the attributes to become a world-class player, and it’s great to know that he sees Bath as the place to do that.

“With the likes of Toby (Faletau) and Francois (Louw), he’s got some of the best players to learn from and I’m sure he’ll continue to thrive in this environment over the next three years.”

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