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Rugby Union: Gallagher Premiership Weekend Preview 18-20 February


Top and Bottom Clash at the Rec on Saturday

The contrast in fortunes this season between Leicester, top of the Premiership on 61 points, and Bath, bottom of the league on 14, couldn’t be greater.

Bath, once the powerhouse of English rugby, are rebuilding while the Tigers seem to go from strength to strength and will be favourites to win the Premiership title based on current form.

As the two clubs prepare for the game at the Rec, you have only to look at some of the important stats to see why Bath are struggling, in 15 league matches, they’ve conceded 62 tries and with such a poor record in defence, you can see why Leicester will be well worth backing to win their 14th league game on Saturday.

Bath have also been disappointing in attack, scoring only 28 tries in 15 matches whereas Tigers have touched down 52 times.

Leicester appear at the Rec following an impressive victory in the East Midlands derby against Northampton Saints who were beaten 35-20, a win achieved without England internationals Freddie Steward, Ellis Genge, Ben Youngs, George Ford and Ollie Chessum.

Tigers’ first team squad has excellent depth with players who are ready to come into the starting XV, knowing full well what the Tigers system is and fully understanding the game-plan laid down by head coach Steve Borthwick.

While Leicester possess a mentality that is used to winning, Bath’s losing streak is hard to remove…in their last game they lost to Wasps by 41-24.

One positive aspect this week, apart from seeing forwards Charlie Ewels and Will Stuart perform satisfactorily for England in the Six Nations, has been the signing of Tongan prop Ma’afu Fia who’s on loan from the Ospreys until the end of the season.

Fia is expected to be in the Bath squad for the Tigers game and has been signed as cover for the injured prop Johannes Jonker.

Can Worcester’s New Boss Steve Diamond Inspire a Win?

Meanwhile, another club that is experiencing a tough time and urgently needing a victory, Worcester Warriors, who’re second from bottom, are in action this Friday evening at Sixways, kick off 19.45.

Bristol should be confident of returning home with the points considering that Worcester are suffering a bad run, since Diamond took over in January to revive Worcester, he has had little luck despite all the hard work that’s been put in on the training ground.

Defeats by Northampton, Leicester and by Diamond’s former club, Sale Sharks, in which the Warriors conceded six tries, proves that it’s going to take the long term to improve performances, especially in defence where Worcester have the worst record in the Premiership, they’ve let in 77 tries.

And talking of conceding tries, Worcester will be encouraged by the weaknesses Bristol revealed at Ashton Gate in their last game where in a high scoring contest, London Irish scored six tries and won by 49-32.

Bristol’s coach, Pat Lam, was not best pleased, particularly as his team led by 15-10 at the interval, and in previous games had produced a successful sequence of four straight wins in the Premiership and Heineken Cup.

In fact, as Lam and his squad approach the contest at Sixways, he’ll be hoping for the sort of form Bristol demonstrated in the last two Premiership matches against Worcester. Victories by 27-5 and 24-23, wins that may suggest Bristol are worth backing to succeed again.

Going to Sixways, Bristol are 10th with five wins from 14 encounters and have accumulated 27 points whereas Worcester have won three matches and find themselves on 21 points.

London Irish and Saracens Promise Cracking London Derby

London Irish, who put almost 50 points past Bristol in their last Premiership match, are one of several clubs who are within reach of the top four play-offs, so it would be a big help towards achieving that ambition if they were to beat Saracens at the Brentford Community Stadium this Saturday.

It’s a safe bet to say that Saracens, second in the table on 53 points with 10 wins in 15 matches, will contest the play-offs, but London Irish still have much work to do, and bearing in mind that Saracens have won their last nine Premiership games against the Irish, they may just be favourites to win again.

However, in an exciting 34 all draw at the StoneX Stadium back in November, London Irish delivered an outstanding performance, and it should be remembered that in fly half, Paddy Jackson, scorer of 24 points against Bristol, Irish have a potential match winner.

And the same goes for Saracens: outside centre Alex Lozowski is one of the deadliest goal kickers in the Premiership, indeed, he’s the joint top points’ scorer, along with Leicester’s George Ford, with 148.

Expect a feast of points from these two clubs, they are the highest try scorers in the league, Saracens are top with 59 and Irish are not far behind on 54.

Northampton Return to Franklin’s Gardens for Sale Clash

As with London Irish, both these sides are so determined to make the play-offs, such is the fierce competition from teams that are currently below the top four in the table.

Saints are relieved to be back in Northampton after contesting three consecutive away games, and with home advantage, you’d expect them to recover from the defeat(35-20) in the derby against leaders Leicester Tigers.

In fact, there’s little to choose between these two teams. Saints have won eight league games, Sale seven, and Northampton are one point only in front of the Sharks in the Premiership table.

Now that the Sharks have scrum half Faf de Klerk back in the side, the South African World Cup winner, may make all the difference in what should be a close game.

Sale won the first meeting by 30-6 and having beaten Worcester 36-12, Alex Sanderson’s squad arrive at Franklin’s Gardens in good shape.

Can Newcastle Repeat Exeter Victory from November?

This Sunday, Dean Richards team confront Exeter Chiefs, hell bent on gaining revenge for their defeat by Newcastle who amazingly won 15-14 t Sandy Park in the first league meeting.

Now, Newcastle must show the same resilience again but, unfortunately, they’ve not been in decent form at Kingston Park where the last two Premiership games have been lost to Northampton and Gloucester.

The Falcons don’t find it easy to score tries, 29 in 15 matches, which helps to explain why they are 11th in the league; but don’t write them off because in second row forward Sean Robinson they possess the top lineout jumper in the country.

In fact, Robinson averages almost eight lineout takes per game, making him the best in the Premiership which will provide some encouragement for Newcastle.

As for Exeter, Rob Baxter’s squad have not been able to reproduce their excellence of past campaigns, and their 24-15 victory against Gloucester last weekend, was a welcome boost having lost three successive Premiership matches.

Sixth in the league, the Chiefs are not enjoying the level of success they once achieved, and Newcastle will be keen to finish the week on a high note following the sad news that star forward, Mark Wilson, capped 32 times by England and such a great asset who played more than 200 games for the Falcons from 2010 t0 2022, has decided to retire because of injury.