Aviva Premiership: Saturday preview
Last Updated: 28/02/14 3:28pm
Jim Mallinder: His Northampton side will be seeking to record a ninth straight home win
Table-topping Northampton will be aiming to extend their unbeaten record to 13 matches in the Aviva Premiership when Gloucester visit fortress Franklin's Gardens on Saturday.
Saints have won their last eight matches on home soil and will be firm favourites to stay top of the standings against the Cherry and Whites, who have not won away from home in the tournament since the end of December.
Phil Dowson captains Northampton on what will be his 200th Premiership appearance. The back-row forward leads a side showing two changes from the team that beat Newcastle last Sunday, with prop Ethan Waller replacing his brother Alex and G J van Velze taking over from number eight Samua Manoa.
The west country outfit did beat Harlequins to secure their first league victory of 2014 last time out and head into the game with plenty of confidence.
Fly-half Freddie Burns returns as one of four changes following last weekend's victory over Harlequins. Burns replaces knee injury victim Ryan Mills, with Martyn Thomas taking over from wing Shane Monahan and rugby director Nigel Davies also handing starts to prop Yann Thomas and hooker Huia Edmonds.
Harlequins host Worcester looking to record a sixth consecutive home victory.
The fifth-placed Londoners have won their last 12 encounters with their opponents and will be favourites to collect maximum points at Twickenham Stoop.
Quins hand a Premiership debut to England Under-20 centre Harry Sloan, who partners Jordan Turner-Hall in midfield, while back-row switches see Maurie Fa'asavalu moving to openside flanker instead of Luke Wallace, who picked up a knock against Gloucester last time out, with Tom Guest starting at blindside.
The Warriors, who are destined for the drop, have not beaten Quins in the Premiership since February 2005.
Fly-half Ryan Lamb will make a full debut after joining them from Leicester as one of four changes as the Warriors seek a first league win since March 1 last year. Lamb apart, Dean Hammond, Jonathan Thomas and Rob O'Donnell are also called up.
Sale travel to London Wasps looking to inflict a fifth straight defeat on their opponents and move a step closer towards the top five.
Sharks head into the clash in good form having won three of their last four fixtures and will be looking for a third consecutive away victory, something they have not done in the same season since 2004/05.
Nick Macleod starts at fly-half at Adams Park, with Danny Cipriani on the bench, while Will Cliff wears the number nine shirt. England prop Henry Thomas also starts, along with wing Mark Cueto, who made a try-scoring 200th Premiership appearance against Worcester last Saturday.
Wasps boss David Young has made four changes from the side beaten at Bath six days ago. Joe Simpson, Josh Bassett, Tommy Bell and Sam Jones all make the starting XV.
Exeter, who have slipped down from fifth to eighth place in the table, after five straight defeats entertain London Irish at Sandy Park.
The Chiefs have lost their last two top flight home games against Northampton and Bath, but never lost three in a row at the venue.
Hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie makes his first Premiership start, replacing Jack Yendle, and Henry Slade is handed fly-half duties instead of Gareth Steenson. Elsewhere, Phil Dollman moves back into midfield, and there are recalls for full-back Luke Arscott and wing Tom James.
The Exiles will arrive in confident mood having won their last two away games, but have not won three in a row on the road in the Premiership since 2008.
England wing Marland Yarde continues his comeback from injury by featuring in Irish's starting line-up. Yarde's fellow wing Topsy Ojo also starts, while Shane Geraghty reverts to fly-half and James O'Connor is at inside centre. Former Wales lock Ian Gough, meanwhile, is among the replacements.