After a fortnight’s break in observation of the Champions and Challenge Cups, the Premiership is back in action, kicking off with two big clashes as Bristol Bears tackle Gloucester at Ashton Gate while the Exiles travel to Kingston Park to face the Newcastle Falcons.
Tenth-placed Bristol will be preparing for a fiery contest as the Cherry & Whites scramble for a possible spot in the play-offs. In Round 22, Bristol were put to the sword by Northampton Saints, 39-22:
Gloucester were unable to get the better of Wasps at Kingsholm:
This from Gloucester boss George Skivington:
"We know what a threat Bristol are. They’re a seriously good team regardless of league position or anything like that. We know that they’ve got some seriously threatening individuals who can do amazing things. They’ve got a strong set piece and a good game. All of their games are tight and their last two weekends could have gone either way. They were physical battles and we know that it’s going to be a tough game on Friday.
"We’re fully aware that Friday is a massive challenge for us and we’re excited about it and we’re looking forward to getting there. Obviously it’s a big challenge and it’s a really important game for us."
Newcastle Falcons vs London Irish:
Turning attention to the other fixture on Friday evening, London Irish remain around the mid-table while Newcastle find themselves in 11th spot on the log.
The Falcons showed good form to bring the hammer down on Worcester Warriors in the previous round, 45-10:
London Irish felt the wrath of defending champions Harlequins, the final whistle sounding with the score at 41-14:
Falcons Director of Rugby Dean Richards said the following ahead of the game:
“I’ve often said that the Gallagher Premiership is the most competitive club league in the world.
“Every game is up for grabs and you have to be on your mettle every single round, which is the beauty of the competition.
“We’re all new to this ring-fenced scenario, but we still go out there with the firm intention of winning every game we play.
“It changes nothing in that sense, and you put your best available side out every week with a view to winning each game. For various reasons we have not been able to do that for a lot of the middle part of the season, but we’re starting to get guys back and it’s nice to have that degree of consistency.
“It’s well documented that we went through a difficult patch around Christmas and throughout January with a number of games missed due to Covid, and a high volume of guys testing positive throughout the squad,” Richards continued.
“In February and March things started to settle down a bit and we began to get a greater degree of consistency in performance and personnel, and we had some narrow defeats against some really good teams.
“We didn’t quite get the rewards that we wanted from those games, and the Worcester away game was probably the game where things came together in terms of the level we had been building towards.”
Of London Irish, Richards said:
“London Irish play an incredibly fast game of rugby.
“Their ruck-speed is probably the quickest in the Premiership at the moment, they like to play on the front foot and it’s all about containing them in that respect. It’s also about pin-pointing their defensive weaknesses, and we know they’ve got a few.
“Glasgow play a similar type of rugby to London Irish, and I think we got caught cold against them last Friday. We weren’t quite at the races during the first ten minutes, and the start on Friday is key.”
Exiles’ boss Declan Kidney is expecting a tough assignment for his troops at Kingston Park.
“We only have three regular league games left in the Gallagher Premiership this season, and we know that every point counts in this tight league table,” he said.
“Heading up to Newcastle is always a tough fixture and we know that under the tutelage of Dean Richards, they are a difficult team to come up against, especially at home. The last time we travelled to Kingston Park, we lost 52-27, so we are fully aware of their ability.
“It’s another Friday night fixture for us, and we know that there will be a good atmosphere at Kingston Park come kick-off tomorrow night.”
Bath vs Northampton Saints:
Bath will continue what has been a poor campaign when they face the Saints at The Rec. Saints will throw the kitchen sink at Neal Hatley’s men as the former attempt to break into the top 4. Saints are currently on a three-match winning streak and looking dangerous on attack. Their last encounter saw them flatten Bristol at Ashton Gate:
Bath found themselves on the receiving end of some Exeter firepower at Sandy Park:
Bath captain Charlie Ewels emphasised that pride and passion are front and centre regarding his team’s goals as the season draws to a close.
“Every game now is an opportunity to show what you are about and what this club is about,” he said.
“It’s playing for pride and for passion. We’ve got two more games in front of our fans and that’s two more opportunities to repay the faith.”
This from Bath Head Coach, Neal Hatly:
“Our focus is Northampton. We need to get this game right and be consistent for 80 minutes as opposed to 50 minutes. That's the goal.”
Saints boss Chris Boyd hinted that there was no place for complacency amongst his troops as a capable squad of Bath players lie in wait.
"They've got an outstanding squad so we take them lightly at our peril,” he said. “We'll be determined."
Harlequins vs Leicester Tigers:
A mouth-watering clash is set for the Twickenham Stoop as defending champions Harlequins host Leicester Tigers. Quins are currently in third position with a total of 68 log points, giving them an enviable 6-point cushion on fourth-placed Exeter. Leicester, meanwhile, maintain their lead on the pack with 80 points – still 8 points ahead of Saracens.
In Round 22, Quins showed good form to brush London Irish aside 41-14:
Leicester Tigers enjoyed a bye in the last round but managed to pull off an away victory against Exeter Chiefs in Round 21:
Leicester boss Steve Borthwick said:
“We have a blend of experience and some players that are just coming into Leicester Tigers.
“I am excited to see how the players go on Saturday at Twickenham Stoop.
“Harlequins are a dangerous team with multiple threats.
“They have a really strong attacking game, phase attack game and also have a strong kicking game, led by Danny Care and Marcus Smith.
“On top of that, Harlequins are a side with a strong set piece and experienced players up front in their forward pack.”
This from Quins Head Coach Tabai Matson:
"It will be a tough day for us if we aren’t on top of our own performance. We’re looking forward to playing the Harlequins way against the league leaders. It will be a fantastic challenge for us.”
Wasps vs Worcester Warriors:
Wasps will be eyeing Round 23 as an opportunity to bag 5 points as they host the struggling Worcester Warriors. The latter found no joy in the last round as they slumped to a 45-10 defeat to Newcastle Falcons at Sixways:
Meanwhile, Wasps put Gloucester through their paces, notching up a 6-point win at Kingsholm:
Saracens vs Exeter Chiefs:
The round will close off with another juicy encounter as Exeter travel to the StoneX Stadium to take on Saracens.
Both sides are in strong positions as far as the play-offs are concerned with Sarries currently occupying second spot on the log while Chiefs hold fourth.
In the previous round, Saracens managed a 6-point victory over Sale Sharks at the AJ Bell:
Exeter piled on the points against Bath with a 42-22 victory:
This from Saracens hooker Jamie George:
“We’ve had really good preparation leading into it and I’m sure they’ve had the same. Whenever you play Exeter, they are a very physical team, and they know the sort of game plan they want to put in place.
“It’s going to be a big game for us. They’ve got great players all across the field and they utilise that and play to their strengths. They are a team we respect massively, and a team we also love playing against because it brings the best out of both sides.”
Chiefs Director of Rugby Rob Baxter said the following ahead of the match:
“It’s a fixture that is important to both sides. We have met in numerous finals in the past and people are aware there is a bit of history between us around the salary cup. There is no point in me saying that doesn’t exist because it plainly does.
“If you play in numerous finals against a team, then what happened is bound to have some effect on how a club feels from the top to the bottom. If it happened the other way around, I’m sure the feeling would be exactly the same.
“For us, it’s a growing rivalry because this week it’s an opportunity for Saracens to dent us getting into the top four and to help them cement a top two. For us, it is a fight to stay in the top four. Sunday’s game has got a lot of connotations and for that reason, it should be a very full-blooded encounter. If it is not, that will probably be us not delivering on the day what we need to.
“Every game is a huge challenge and you have got to step up and step up and step up and that builds you your momentum, builds your belief across the board and everyone is buying in, turning up at training and doing what needs to get done, questions don’t need to be asked, guys aren’t looking around for a reason to do something different and you just get on with things.
“That is where you have got to really credit Saracens. They get on with things probably with the best, the most consistency in the Premiership for a long time now but then you look at the teams that are thriving this year like Leicester, they are getting on with it. Their lads are just getting on with it, they are doing what Leicester do and they have agreed to do it and they work hard at it.
“It makes you a very good side and there are not really any questions being asked because it is successful for them so they love doing it. That is what makes strength and that is the little bit we have got to re-find, that we just get on with things and we enjoy doing it.”