Covid permitting, the top clubs in England return to action in the Gallagher Premiership on Boxing Day when there are five games and then one next Monday featuring the current champions, Harlequins, who take on Northampton Saints at the Twickenham Stoop Stadium. Guy Williams reports.
Bristol Host Leicester at Ashton Gate
What should be the biggest crowd on Boxing Day will be at Ashton Gate where may be up to 20,000 will be present, many hoping to see an upset as Bristol Bears confront Leicester Tigers, currently the Premiership leaders with nine consecutive wins in as many league games.
With a 100 per cent record this season under coach Steve Borthwick, the Tigers are aiming to return to their glory days which saw them win 10 English titles, the last of which was achieved in 2013.
They’ve certainly made a cracking start to the current campaign and going into the clash at Bristol lead the Premiership on 41 points, that’s nine points in front of Saracens in second place.
Although the vast majority of the Ashton Gate crowd will be shouting for Bristol, a home win would be astonishing given the Bears’ poor form so far.
With just three wins in nine matches, they’re second from bottom, so it would be a brave person who’d back Bristol to topple the league leaders, but with thousands of supporters backing them, the outcome may be less certain, and what a scalp Leicester Tigers would be for Bears’ coach Pat Lam.
Can Bath Grab Their First Win of the Season?
The West Country derby between Bath, bottom of the league on only four points from nine games, all lost, and Gloucester at the Recreation Ground in Bath will also attract a massive crowd; in this case of more than 14,000.
The decline of Bath, once the powerhouse of English rugby, is of national concern, so for them to overcome Gloucester, even with the advantage of playing at home, would be a major shock.
Gloucester, sixth in the league, are experiencing mixed fortunes this season, having won five matches and lost three. A Gloucester victory is on the cards, not least because Bath’s new defence coach, Brent Janse van Rensburg, just appointed, has has had hardly any time to make his mark.
A Northern Battle at Kingston Park
In the North, the region’s only clubs in the Premiership, Sale Sharks and Newcastle Falcons, clash in the North East at Kingston Park in a game whose outcome is difficult to predict.
Newcastle, in mid-table in 8th place, have a semi-decent record, four wins, four loses and a draw, but the Sharks have dropped to 11th with only three wins and have suffered five defeats.
Expect a close contest at Kingston Park but a narrow win for the Falcons, coached by Dean Richards, the distinguished former England and Leicester Tigers hero.
Saints, Quins Round Off Action on Monday
Then on Monday, don’t be surprised to see a high scoring game at Quins’ Twickenham ground where they entertain Northampton Saints.
Both teams like to attack and keep the ball alive, watch out for the impact that Quins and England fly half, Marcus Smith, has on the match which is a contest between third and fourth.
Going into the game, Quins, the reigning champions, are only one point behind the Saints on 30 in third place.
So there’s plenty to look forward to this coming weekend, and with Premiership clubs Covid testing their players regularly, every effort will be made to put on a full programme.
Given half a chance, I’d like to be at Ashton Gate where the atmosphere will be emotional and passionate as two big clubs meet in an outstanding rugby theatre.