After two weeks of European competition, Gallagher Premiership Rugby is back this weekend and the final round of fixtures before Christmas is set to be a cracker.
Worcester Warriors vs Northampton Saints
Both sides come into this clash level on 17 points apiece after the first nine rounds of fixtures. Added to this, the teams are just two points ahead of the Premiership’s basement side, Newcastle, making this a must-win game.
Worcester have brought GJ van Velze back into the starting line-up, on the same week that the South African signed a contract extension with the Warriors. Their halfback partnership of Francois Hougaard and Duncan Weir is certainly a dangerous prospect for a Northampton Saints side who haven’t been able to be consistent all season, losing their last two Premiership games.
Saints’ squad, much like Worcester’s, is very strong. Dan Biggar and Cobus Reinach will carry on in their developing partnership, whilst Tom Wood and Teimana Harrison will be in the back row. Both co-captains will be playing for Northampton as well, Alex Waller and Dylan Hartley, so they will offer plenty of experience in the front row.
Whilst many tipped Worcester for the drop at the start of the season, when you look at their team, you actually struggle to believe those predictions. Saints haven’t made the strides forward under Chris Boyd that the club were expecting, making this a really tight game to call. Maybe home advantage will be the difference.
Exeter Chiefs vs Saracens
The top two teams meet in the Gallagher Premiership this weekend with Exeter two points adrift of Saracens having only lost one game this season. That loss was at the Stoop in the last round of Premiership fixtures, three weeks ago.
Sarries continued their Premiership form through the last two weeks of Champions Cup games, picking up where from they left off after their 29-6 demolition of Wasps. Chiefs won last time out, beating Gloucester in European competition, just a week after the Cherry and Whites defeated them in their back yard.
This has undoubtedly been the game that fans of the Premiership have been waiting for. Saracens haven’t lost and are the best side in the league and with Exeter looking to close the gap, this should be a Christmas cracker at Sandy Park.
Leicester Tigers vs Harlequins
To suggest that Leicester Tigers have been a disappointment so far this season, would be an understatement. Having lost their last two games in the Premiership and in the Champions Cup, the Tigers are spiralling. It doesn’t even seem like there is any light at the end of the tunnel for the club’s supporters. Perhaps Ellis Genge returning to the team has been the best thing to happen in recent weeks, but you won’t be expecting much.
?? MURPHY APPOINTED HEAD COACH— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) December 18, 2018
Geordan Murphy has been appointed head coach at Leicester Tigers after holding the position on an interim basis since the opening weeks of the season.
Read more ?? https://t.co/Y8skexoDj1 pic.twitter.com/V0r8eMHJmf
Harlequins have certainly had mixed fortunes too. Beating Exeter in domestic competition, Quins lost to Benetton the following week with a depleted squad. They did correct their mistakes the following week, but that loss will still be a cause for concern. However, with many of their stars due to return to the starting XV, some will be favouring Quins to win at Welford Road.
Sale Sharks vs Bristol Bears
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Bristol humbled Leicester Tigers at Ashton gate three weeks ago. A loss and a win over La Rochelle has briefly stunted any momentum for Pat Lam’s men. They are likely to play their more first-string line-up for this trip to the AJ Bell, having rested their star players over the Challenge Cup period.
Sale had similar fortunes in the Challenge Cup. Winning in Bordeaux, in what was a frantic affair, Steve Diamond’s side narrowly lost out at home. Sale don’t want to lose their fortress attitude that surrounds the AJ Bell, especially in the Gallagher Premiership. Really strong defensively, Sale drew in their last Premiership game at the Rec against Bath and cautiously beat Northampton too. In all honestly, the AJ Bell is a very difficult place to travel to, so you have to be backing them.
Newcastle Falcons vs Gloucester Rugby
Newcastle actually come into this game having won two on the trot in the Premiership. This winning streak was ended by Edinburgh though, as they lost twice in the Champions Cup, putting their European hopes in the balance. The best thing for Dean Richards’ side is probably to focus on domestic rugby, rather than reaching for heady heights in Europe.
?? REPORT@gloucesterrugby battle bravely on the night but @ExeterChiefs take the spoils at Kingsholm with a 17-29 @ChampionsCup victory.— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) December 14, 2018
Read the match report ???? https://t.co/Af19Fmdost pic.twitter.com/9sTA2gn2S1
For Gloucester, there challenge is to cope without Danny Cipriani. The fly-half has been talismanic since he joined the club, his golden wrists guiding Gloucester to third in the Premiership table. The likely successor to Cipriani could be Owen Williams. He is a very good player, but hasn’t had nearly enough game time for Gloucester and will have to adapt quickly to what will undoubtedly be a cold day at Kingston Park.
Wasps vs Bath Rugby
Perhaps two of the most disappointing sides in the league, this is touted as the feature game of Sunday afternoon. Losing on consecutive weekends to Toulouse, the only highlight of Wasps’ time in the Champions Cup was a superb Willie le Roux score. However, returning to what seems like a drab Ricoh Arena this season, it’s difficult to say what Wasps side will show up.
Bath also lost their last two games, but in fairness, these losses were to Leinster. Recently playing James Wilson at flyhalf, Freddie Burns returns to the starting XV to add some control to their game. What seems to surround Bath is a lack of confidence, unsure about who they are, especially with so much uncertainty around the club.
Widely regarded as the most competitive rugby union league in the world...it can only be the Gallagher Premiership.
12 teams compete in the league over a season, playing every team both home and away, before four move into the playoffs and one is relegated.
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