Premiership Rugby semi-finals preview: Hughes returns for Wasps

After a competitive season of Premiership Rugby action there are just four teams left still in the hunt for the 2017-18 title.

After a competitive season of Premiership Rugby action there are just four teams left still in the hunt for the 2017-18 title.

The competition’s semi-finals are imminent, with both games fast-approaching on a super Saturday of top-level rugby – here’s our preview of both final-four clashes.

Saturday 19 May, 12.30pm Allianz Park Saracens v Wasps

First up on Saturday it’s second plays third as 2016 champions Saracens host Dai Young’s Wasps at Allianz Park.

Saracens may have been beaten to top spot by Exeter but scored more points (731) than any other side and had the best points difference (+381).

The north-London club also won both previous encounters between the two clubs this season, triumphing 38-15 at the Ricoh Arena in January and 38-19 at Allianz Park in October.

England wrecking ball Billy Vunipola returns from a hamstring injury to take up the No.8 shirt whilst brother Mako in in the front row.

George Kruis returns at lock alongside Maro Itoje and Owen Farrell is at fly-half – Scotland’s Sean Maitland is included on the wing.

And whilst Saracens fans will welcome the return of Billy Vunipola, Wasps fans will be equally delighted to see his England teammate Nathan Hughes return.

Hughes has recovered from a knee injury sustained during the 2018 NatWest 6 Nations whilst Danny Cipriani, Dan Robson and Jack Willis all celebrate their England call-ups with semi-final starts.

Saturday 19 May, 3pm Sandy Park Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons

Both Exeter and Newcastle have enjoyed dream seasons in Premiership Rugby, with the Chiefs topping the pile by a distance and the Falcons breaking into an established top four.

Facing Exeter at Sandy Park is a daunting prospect, the Chiefs have won 17 of their 22 matches this season, registering 17 bonuses and 618 points in the process.

Dean Richards’ Newcastle though have beaten Exeter once already this season, a 28-20 victory at Kingston Park in January that came as a result of tries for Sinoti Sinoti, Kyle Cooper and Vereniki Goneva.

Defending champions Exeter have made five changes to the team that beat Harlequins last time out, including the returns of England men Don Armand, Sam Simmonds and Henry Slade.

Jack Nowell starts on the wing, and Alec Hepburn and Luke Cowan-Dickie are in the front row where they join Wales’ Tomas Francis.

Newcastle welcome back Toby Flood at fly-half whilst Mark Wilson, who will tour with England this summer, skippers from blindside flanker.