Rugby Union: Weekend Preview

New Year’s cracking start to the Gallagher English Premiership sees two games on Saturday January 1st, three on Sunday and one on Monday.

Just short of 14,000 will pack Sandy Park for the West Country derby between Exeter and Bristol on Saturday, one of the keenest contested fixtures in the league.

With home advantage, Exeter will be confident of a win against the side that’s second from bottom and one which has won only three times in the Premiership.

Exeter, currently sixth with six wins from 10, have been boosted by the news that one of their major players, Scotland and British Lions full back Stuart Hogg, has pledged to remain at Sandy Park where in his first season in 2019/20, Hogg won both the Premiership and the European Champions Cup.

Up in Manchester at the AJ Bell Stadium, Sale Sharks return to competitive action after their Christmas clash in Newcastle was called off because of Covid.

Their fixture against Wasps is hard to predict..the Sharks,11th, and Wasps,ninth, is a battle between two evenly matched teams.

Wasps arrive in a positive mood having beaten London Irish 38-30 on Boxing Day, but Sale, under boss Alex Sanderson, have won two of the last three league meetings against the Coventry based team.

Punters should watch out for an important contribution from Wasps’ centre Jimmy Gopperth who kicked 18 points against London Irish.

Sunday’s largest crowd, 20,000 plus, will be at Welford Road for the Tigers game against Newcastle Falcons.

Leicester, facing allegations that they may have broken salary cap rules which are being investigated by the Premiership, will put controversy to one side as they’ll be hell bent on continuing their excellent start to the of the league with 10 consecutive wins.

Head Coach Steve Borthwick, who has revived the Tigers’ fortunes, won’t be distracted and neither will England international, fly half George Ford, the expert goal kicker who’s the leading points’ scorer in the league with 131.

Newcastle, coached by former Tigers hero Dean Richards, are 7th, and it would be a major shock if they were to overcome the Premiership’s best team.

Expect a much closer game at Kingsholm on Sunday when champions Harlequins take on Gloucester. Quins moved up to third following their recent victory at Twickenham against Northampton Saints.

Star player, England fly half Marcus Smith, should be back for Quins, but Gloucester(4th) have a fine record at home and are well worth backing.

Centre Chris Harris, Scotland and the British and Irish Lions, scored twice as Bath were demolished over Christmas, and with back row forward, Lewis Ludlow in decent form, Gloucester, in front of thousands at Kingsholm, may just be favourites to start 2022 with a win.

This Sunday will also produce an opportunity for Northampton Saints, back at Franklin’s Gardens, to recover from their Twickenham loss to Quins.

Internationals Courtney Lawes and Dan Biggar confront the might of Saracens, second on 37 points with seven wins from 10.

You can be sure that England and Lions forward, Maro Itoje, will deliver a top class display for Sarries who thrashed Worcester Warriors on Boxing Day as they scored nine tries, two by England number eight, Billy Vunipola.

Saints,5th, though, have lost only once at home in the league this season, and if they don’t give away many penalties as they did against Quins, they may survive and emerge victorious.

The Premiership’s top try scorers, London Irish(8th) who’ve touched down 44 times, will be favourites on Monday at Brentford’s Community Stadium to beat Bath, yet to win this season in 10 matches.

The league’s joint leading try scorer, Argentina’s hooker Agustin Creevy with nine, will feature strongly as Irish aim to earn their fourth victory in 11 games.