The Gallagher Premiership has provided some high drama in the opening two weeks of the season and Joe Harvey previews the latest round of action ahead of this weekend.
Gloucester Rugby vs Bristol Bears
Both of these teams announced their squads live on BT Sport on Wednesday night, well in advance of tonight’s fixture.
It’s the visitors, Bristol, who have made the most changes, with the likes of John Afoa, Chris Vui, Tusi Pisi and Ian Madigan returning to the starting line-up.
There is a debut for former Hartpury student and Gloucester Academy player Harry Randall after his summer move. Harry Thacker remains on the bench as Shaun Malton comes in to make his first start at hooker for the Bears.
George Smith maintains his place in the team after avoiding any further action for his red card at Saracens. It was Smith’s card that was ultimately the turning point in their loss at Allianz Park.
Competitive up to that point, Pat Lam would have been happy with his side’s overall performance in the game.
Gloucester come into this fixture after a nail-biting draw away to Bath. Kingsholm’s most faithful will no doubt be excited to see Danny Cipriani in action again after two superb displays from the England international so far this season.
Johan Ackermann has made only three changes coming into this match. He has moved his son, Ruan, to number eight, allowing Italian international Jake Polledri to come in at blindside.
He has also brought two more South Africans into the side. Former Munsterman Gerbrandt Grobler and hooker Franco Marais join the pack for what looks to be a very physical set of forwards.
Many supporters will be glad to see that Val Ravapa Ruskin didn’t suffer any serious injury, with the prop coming off in the first half at the Rec. He starts his third successive game in a row and he will be hoping to impress again.
With both of these sides not gaining the results that they wanted last weekend, it looks like it will be a fiery affair in Gloucester.
The hosts look to have an impressive pack that could seriously overpower their opposition. In addition to this, the Cherry and Whites have a vastly more exciting back-line.
However, many would have tipped Bristol to lose their first game of the season against fellow West Country rivals Bath and look what happened there.
Exeter Chiefs vs Sale Sharks
Unfortunately for Sale fans, this game looks to be a bit clear-cut. Chiefs very, very rarely lose at Sandy Park, with the team only falling short of a home victory on one occasion since October 2016.
Jack Nowell will start his first game of the season against the Sharks on Saturday. The Cornishman made a return last weekend in the Premiership Shield, completing 40 minutes, as well as scoring a try.
Picking up a good win away last weekend too, Exeter look to be in a league of their own so far this season.
The visitors, on the other hand, haven’t looked too convincing so far this year. A narrow victory over Worcester last weekend hasn’t done much to convince anyone that Steve Diamond’s side will really challenge Exeter.
Harlequins vs Bath Rugby
Paul Gustard sang his side’s praises last Friday despite Harlequins losing at Franklin’s Gardens. Quins looked competitive and went toe-to-toe with their hosts and only lost narrowly.
Fans at the Stoop will probably want to see a game similar to the one that they were treated to on the opening weekend of the season. Full of attacking vigor as well as being defensively solid, Quins looked a completely different side to the one we saw last season.
Bath on the other hand are yet to pick up a win this term. Their abject performance at Ashton Gate and their unconvincing draw at the Rec are a sure sign that Bath haven’t turned a corner just yet.
Jamie Roberts will be playing against his former club after his joining the Blue and Whites as will Ben Tapuai and Nick Auterac after their moves in the opposite direction.
Yet again, home advantage will probably be the decider in this fixture. Quins have looked much better in the two games they have played so far this year, whilst there has been no real spark from Bath…. Unless a burger van has been involved.
Northampton Saints vs Saracens
With Saints having picked up their first win of the season, this will be a very interesting game at Franklin’s Gardens.
Sarries will pretty much be at full strength. Alex Lozowski has been incredible at outside centre, but finds himself amongst the replacements on Saturday while Liam Williams starts at 15 after his hat-trick off the bench against Bristol.
Sarries will be without Duncan Taylor who has suffered a double cruciate ligament rupture, whereas Saints welcome Taqele Naiyaravoro to the squad.
The bulldozing, record-breaking winger enjoyed a brilliant Super Rugby season and will be linking up with Piers Francis, Luther Burrell and Ahsee Tuala in the Saints back-line.
This will, no doubt, be an extremely exciting fixture and it is far too difficult to call who will come out on top.
Worcester Warriors vs Newcastle Falcons
Sixways will play host to two sides who have not won a game so far in this Premiership season.
Falcons have put in two good performances against Leicester and Saracens. On the other hand, Worcester so nearly beat Wasps on the opening day, but struggled against Sale at the AJ Bell last weekend.
Falcons have brought in Craig Mitchell this week on a short-term deal, but the Welsh international will not play for his new club this weekend.
Neither side has any fresh injuries concerns as a result of last week’s fixtures, but the Warriors’ major injury blow is the knock that Cornell Du Preez took in the opening game. The Scottish international is still in hospital receiving treatment.
To be honest, this could be a very open game with both sides needing to get a win. It could even be fair to suggest that the loser of this fixture is the prime candidate to get relegated this season.
Wasps vs Leicester Tigers
One of the most historic fixtures in Premiership rugby returns to our screens for another season. Now a Midlands derby game, these teams will probably finish in a similar position to one another this season.
Leicester looked really good last weekend at Welford Road, with George Ford and Manu Tuilagi taking all the headlines after their 49-33 victory.
However, Kyle Eastmond is not fit, which could be a concern for Tigers fans as he looked to link up really well with Ford last weekend.
Wasps will be without Brad Shields, who broke his cheekbone in a collision with Stu Townsend and is expected to be out for at least three weeks.
Lima Sopoaga will start for the first time at 10 to replace Billy Searle. The All Black looked impressive last weekend coming off the bench for Wasps.
In what will hopefully be a competitive game, Wasps probably need the win more than Leicester after two unconvincing performances so far this season.
Albeit, Geordan Murphy will want another good display to increase his chances of making his temporary role, full-time.
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?
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