Gallagher Premiership Preview: Round 2

James Haskell will make his first appearance for the Northampton Saints
James Haskell will make his first appearance for the Northampton Saints
©PA

As the Premiership goes into its second round of the season, TRU’s Joe Harvey takes a look at this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership fixtures.

Friday

Northampton Saints vs Harlequins

Friday nights game see’s two sides that had mixed fortunes on the opening weekend of the Premiership.

Northampton found themselves undone by a Gloucester side who seemed to have renewed confidence with Danny Cipriani at fly-half.

This isn’t to say that Saints weren’t competitive in the first game. Ahsee Tuala was by far the best player for Northampton at the weekend and keeps his place, whilst James Haskell makes his first appearance for his new club.

Haskell plays in a heavyweight back-row alongside Heinrich Brussow and Teimana Harrison. Apart from Haskell the Saints forward pack stays the same, hooker James Fish retains his place ahead of England captain Dylan Hartley, who continues his return from concussion.

Tom Collins retains his place on the wing as Ken Pisi replaces Nafi Tuitavake who drops out of the match day squad entirely. Dan Biggar will link up with Piers Francis once again at fly-half and inside centre in what is a developing partnership.

At outside centre, Luther Burrell keeps the 13 shirt as Cobus Reinach continues on in the scrum-half jersey following a solid game at Kingsholm.

The visitors have a largely unchanged side for their trip to Franklins Gardens. The main talking point being that Mike Brown has dropped out the squad entirely, with Charlie Walker coming in on the wing and Aaron Morris retaining the fullback jersey.

Joe Marchant and Ben Tapuai keep their places as their new partnership continues to develop. Nathan Earle will hope to build on his try-scoring debut at the Stoop with another good performance tonight.

The halfback partnership will be the same as well. Danny Care and Marcus Smith have developed a good relationship in the past year, the best of which we saw against Sale last weekend and you can count on them operating well together.

Quins drop Luke Wallace, seeing Chris Robshaw move into the seven shirt and Archie White moves in at blindside. James Chisholm swaps with Renaldo Bothma who will take a place on the bench.

Matt Symons will be partnered by Ben Glynn in the second row in just his second game for Quins. Scotland international James Lang joins the bench as former NFL player Paul Lasike is in line for his second appearance for his new club.

Saints performed very poorly at times at Kingsholm and will want their first game at the Gardens this season to be a victory, especially as Chris Boyd’s first home game.

Harlequins will fancy their chances on their first away trip of the new campaign. Following a very strong performance against Sale, where you could see all the hard work Paul Gustard has done with the Quins defence.

Saturday

Wasps vs Exeter Chiefs

Exeter were completely dominant against Leicester at Sandy Park last weekend. Their 40-6 victory was a clear sign of intent from last seasons runners-up and resulted in four Chief’s players being in TRU’s team of the week.

Matt Kvesic was the best player on the pitch and you can only hope that he will continue on from the Leicester game. Sam Simmonds put in a great performance last weekend too and will do his England hopes no damage with another good showing at the Ricoh.

Exeter’s main advantage over Wasps is the greater experience that their fly-half has. Gareth Steenson has been the incumbent 10 for Exeter ever since he arrived at the club ten years ago.

In comparison, Billy Searle only arrived at Wasps this summer from Bristol. Putting in a solid display away to Worcester in the first game, it was Wasps’ more experienced forwards that allowed them to win the game.

Wasps are really just waiting for Brad Shields and Lima Sopoaga to become available for selection before they push on.

Usually an exciting affair the game will be won by the more experienced side and it would appear that on paper, Exeter are that side.

Leicester Tigers vs Newcastle Falcons

What a week that it has been for Tigers. The announcement that Matt O’Connor had left his post with immediate effect on Monday evening rocked English rugby.

The Australian is replaced on a temporary basis by Tigers legend Geordan Murphy, appeasing many Tigers fans and it looks like the Irishman could get the job on a fulltime basis.

Leicester are now without Matt Toomua and Tatafu Polota-Nau who have returned to Australia in order to play South Africa in the Rugby Championship. Both being key players, Polota-Nau was Tigers best player at Sandy Park last weekend and Toomua was one of Leicester’s best players last season.

Leicester’s guests, Falcons, performed well against Saracens despite their defeat to the champions. Mark Wilson looked very good in the Falcons pack, scoring two try’s at Kingston Park.

Logovi’i Mulipola played well for the Falcons on his debut and will return to Leicester, the club that he served so well for six years. George McGuigan will also be returning to Welford Road, as will Callum Green, Michael Young, Toby Flood and winger Vereniki Goneva.

It really is a job to say which side will prevail this weekend in Leicester. Falcons are the more settled side and beat Tigers at Welford Road in late April to prevent their hosts from qualifying for the playoffs in over a decade.

Saracens vs Bristol Bears

Bristol defeating Bath at Ashton Gate was by far the story of the first round, but their opposition this week is a different prospect.

The Bears’ superb victory over the very established Bath was as a result of their forwards not allowing their opposite numbers to get the upper hand. This came from Bristol’s pack having vast amounts of experience.

George Smith and John Afoa being prime examples of this, the veterans’ extensive knowledge of the game is why Pat Lam signed the pair. Not suffering any injuries in the first game either, Bristol will most likely put out the same side that won in the opening game.

Sarries were hit with the news this week that Duncan Taylor and Juan Figallo would be out with long-term injuries. With this said, one of Saracens strongest features is the strength and depth that they have.

Alex Lozowski looks set to keep his place at outside centre, where he has flourished since Mark McCall moved the 25 year-old into the 13 shirt. Sarries fans will also be hoping that Will Skelton’s Man of the Match performance at Kingston Park last weekend wasn’t just a flash in the pan, and the Australian continues to be a prominent figure for them.

This game could be David Strettle’s second home debut for the club he has returned to at the age of 35, the winger has returned from Clermont where he has spent the past three season.

Unfortunately it is difficult to see past Sarries for this game. Whilst they weren’t at their best against Falcons, you can only imagine that this week they will have focused on correcting the defensive frailties that saw them concede 21 points last time out.

Bath Rugby vs Gloucester Rugby

A second derby in two weeks for Bath, Todd Blackadders men will be hoping for a change in fortune following their disappointing showing at Ashton Gate.
After a promising preseason campaign, Bath’s good work seemed to have been undone against the Bears, with their forwards seemed to struggle in getting an advantage in the scrum.

Dave Attwood will be making his return the Rec after his spell in Toulon on loan, the lock putting in a team of the week performance in the first game of the season.

Gloucester will be buoyant after their opening day victory against Northampton. Danny Cipriani seriously impressed on his debut at Kingsholm so it will be interesting to see how he fares at the Rec.

Val Rapava Ruskin was mightily impressive on the opening weekend as well so it’ll be interesting to see if the English qualified loosehead continues his good form and which national team he’ll be involved with in the Autumn.

Gloucester were really impressive against Saints last weekend, defending really well when they had players in the sin bin. They seemed to just have that edge that they have been missing for some time now. Bath on the other hand made several mistakes and lacked this edge. It may come down to home field advantage.

Sunday

Sale Sharks vs Worcester Warriors

Sale Return to their fortress in the past few seasons, the AJ Bell. Not letting much slip with home field advantage in the past few years, the Sharks will fancy their chances against Worcester.

Humbled at the Stoop last week the Sharks seemed fairly toothless when Quins were running towards them. Given the nature of their defeat you can expect to see a reaction from the home side.

It seems unlikely that Steve Diamond will make wholesale changes to the side as the majority of the team was the starting XV that performed so well last season.

It remains uncertain if Tom Curry will play also. The young flanker took a blow to the head against Quins and has since said that he is okay. England fans will be hopeful that the openside is okay after his good performances on tour to South Africa.

Worcester were so close to victory against Wasps. Duncan Weir missing a drop goal surprised many after some of his exploits with Edinburgh last season.

Signs were promising for Worcester though. Able to call upon an impressive array of backline players, it looks like Warriors could be a force to be reckoned with at times this season.

Cornell Du Preez is unavailable due to breaking his larynx in the first half at Sixways and has reportedly undergone further surgery to repair damage that left him unable to breathe properly.

This is likely to be the closest game of the weekend. Both sides are evenly matched in all positions. The likelihood is that Sale will be victorious due to barely ever losing a game at home, however Worcester could just do it.

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.

The division is becoming more and more exciting as each year passes by so who will be lifting silverware at Twickenham in May?

At Talking Rugby Union, we aim to provide match reports and news together with our specially commissioned features and interviews.

 
 

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