Gallagher Premiership Preview: Round 22

Dan Biggar will hold the fortune for Northampton's play-off aspirations
Dan Biggar will hold the fortune for Northampton's play-off aspirations
©PA

With fourth place still up for grabs, Northampton, Harlequins and Bath could all claim the final play-off spot. Also, Newcastle Falcons will play their final game in the Premiership after being relegated last time out against Gloucester.

Saturday

Exeter vs Northampton

Northampton are going to Sandy Park with a play-off spot on the line. Currently in fourth, Saints have to beat an Exeter side that lost heavily on the road to Saracens last time out. A talented back-row featuring Teimana Harrison, Lewis Ludlam and Jamie Gibson will attempt to out-perform their opposite numbers and the reliable pairing of Cobus Reinach and Dan Biggar will be pulling the strings. If Saints want to secure fourth, this is the team to do it.

Joe Simmonds starts for Chiefs ahead of club stalwart Gareth Steenson whilst Jack Nowell starts at full-back and Henry Slade starts at outside centre. Don Armand is making his 100th Premiership appearance with the formidable Matt Kvesic and Dave Ewers also in the back-row. Luke Cowan-Dickie will start on the bench, with club captain Jack Yeandle being preferred to the England international. Exeter have the comfort of knowing that they have a home semi-final next time out, so will they take it easy this weekend?

Worcester Warriors vs Saracens

Many tipped Worcester for the drop at the start of the season, but their hard-working side have excelled all expectations and are on course to finish ahead of Leicester Tigers as well as relegated Newcastle. Josh Adams, Ben Te’o, Wynand Olivier and Jonny Arr will all be making their final appearances for Worcester in what will be an emotional day at Sixways. With a strong pack and talented backs, Worcester could be a threat against a weakened Sarries side.

Giving maiden Premiership appearances to academy products; Andy Christie, Billy Walker and Tom Griffiths, as well as a first start to England U20 international Manu Vunipola, Saracens do seem to be taking it easy this weekend. Many will be disappointed not to see Alex Goode lining up for Saracens following his three day drinking session that followed the clubs’ third Champions Cup win last week, as if he had, the full-backs’ name would have been cemented in rugby folklore.

Wasps vs Harlequins

Quins go to the Ricoh knowing that if they win and other results go their way, the club can get a play-off spot and carry on with their Twickenham dreams. Mike Brown will be making his 321st appearance for the club as Semi Kunatani appears in a Premiership starting line-up for the first time. Danny Care and Marcus Smith will reconnect as they hope to leave the Ricoh victorious.

It is a day of goodbyes for Wasps, with Elliot Daly, Joe Simpson, Nathan Hughes, Willie Le Roux and Jake Cooper-Woolley the most notable names leaving the club. As a result, it is uncertain what the mood will be like in Coventry, possibly wanting to beat their traditional rivals after tasty affair at Twickenham in December could be the biggest motivation, with nothing on the line for Dai Youngs men.

Newcastle Falcons vs Bristol Bears

Newcastle will be waving goodbye to the Premiership for at least a year this weekend and their team-sheet hints as to what the future could hold. A much changed backline featuring academy products; Chris Harris, Zack Kibirige, Adam Radwan, Alex Tait, Joel Hodgson and Michael Young, Newcastle could be playing even more homegrown talent come next season. With a fairly strong pack, Newcastle could cause Bristol some problems, but are far from favourites.

Featuring Charles Piutau at full-back, just that one name is enough to instil fear in any opposition fan. Added to this, the exciting half-back pairing of Harry Randall and Callum Sheedy, Bristol can only get better next season, and with the possibility of getting into the Champions Cup with a win at Kingston Park, Bristol aren’t short of the talent or the motivation.

Sale Sharks vs Gloucester Rugby

Knowing that they’ll be having an away play-off next weekend, Gloucester have taken the opportunity to rest some of their key players for what will be an attritional game at the A J Bell against Sale. Young player of the season Ollie Thorley plays on the wing, with Matt Banahan dropping into the centre’s and Lloyd Evans is faced with the difficult task of replacing Danny Cipriani at fly-half. Tom Savage will captain the side on what could be his final appearance in cherry and white.

In contrast, Sale have gone hell for leather in their selections. On the week they have announced that several high profile South African internationals will be joining the club, Sharks could sneak into the top six to get Champions Cup rugby next season. A pretty stacked backline including Faf De Klerk, Denny Solomona and Chris Ashton will get good front-foot ball from a pack containing the Curry twins, Jono Ross and TRU columnist Josh Beaumont.

Leicester Tigers vs Bath Rugby

This has certainly been a season to forget for Tigers. Sacking Matt O’Connor after the first game and struggling with depth all season, the icing was put on the cake when Matt Toomua left his contract early to join the Melbourne Rebels ahead of schedule. The most impressive thing about this Tigers side is the all English front-row of Ellis Genge, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole. In contrast, the biggest name in the backs is George Ford. Welford Road may be quieter than usual this weekend.

Playing a far stronger squad, Bath could get a good win on the road this weekend. On what is Todd Blackadder’s final game in the hotseat before Stuart Hooper takes over as Director of Rugby, Bath must win to consolidate a Champions Cup spot next season. Starting Freddie Burns, Ruaridh McConnochie, Jonathan Joseph, Joe Cokanasiga and Anthony Watson, Bath won’t be taking any prisoners.

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.

 
 

Premiership Rugby 2018/19 - Points Table