Gallagher Premiership Round 22 Preview

Things are really starting to get interesting as we head towards the final weeks of the Premiership. The race for the semi finals is very much still on, with eight teams still in contention for the final three playoff places. With few games still to go and international stars returning, this weekend looks to be a thriller.

Sale Sharks vs Saracens

This weekends action starts on Friday night, with current second placed side Saracens travelling up north to face Sale Sharks who are still very much in the hunt for the top four.

Sale have had a very unique run of form, with one win, one loss and two draws in their last four games in the Premiership. Their last time out ended in a draw, as they were held 24 all at the Rec last weekend by Bath. It was a disappointing result for Sale as Bath have been very poor this season.

The result makes the top four a tougher task for Sale, as they currently sit in fifth, one point ahead of Gloucester who have played two fewer games. They are also one of the teams who are benefitting least from the conclusion of the Six Nations. Two of the teams stars will not feature this weekend, with Tom Curry and Manu Tuilagi both missing the game due to injury.

But the team do still have some brilliant talent, led by South African Faf de Klerk. Their huge number of South Africans will be crucial this weekend.

Saracens are quite opposite in a lot of ways. For one, they head up to Manchester in terrific form, winning five of their last six games in the Premiership. But the team won’t have taken too much confidence from their result last week. Thanks to a bit of luck they were able to take away five points from Bristol, putting them in second in the Premiership.

They are an incredibly talented team who are pretty much full strength. Owen Farrell made his return last week after a fourth month injury absence, so the team is likely to feature a huge amount of internationals. Maro Itoje and Billy Vunipola were sensational last week and the team are looking very scary.

I really think that there are very few teams who can stop a full strength Saracens team. They just have so much talent with internationals throughout the squad. Saracens should have too much for an injured Sale to start off the weekend.

Exeter Chiefs vs Bath

Saturday sees four games at 3pm, beginning with Exeter looking to take another step to securing top four as they face bottom of the league Bath.

This has to be looked at as a crucial game for the home team. The Chiefs are currently in fourth, but they know that Gloucester are only three points behind with two games in hand. It looks likely that the cancelled fixture from last Friday will award four points to Gloucester, so the Chiefs certainly aren’t the favourites for the semi-finals.

This has not been helped by back to back defeats in the premiership. Exeter are really struggling at the moment, with Leicester outperforming them throughout the game last week. It was a close loss, but Leicester were the better team for large portions of that game.

One of the big reasons for the Chiefs loss last week was their struggles at the lineout. Losing Luke Cowan-Dickie for the rest of the season has had huge effects on the team. So even with the return of some of their internationals, the Chiefs haven’t looked great.

They will also be without Jack Nowell who could be out of the rest of the season with a broken arm. They hope to see Stuart Hogg return, but the team is certainly not performing to anywhere near their heights of last season.

Their opponents are definitely having a bad season, still currently sitting bottom of the Premiership table. Bath had a terrible start to the season, but their for has picked up recently as the squad is starting to become healthier.

Bath have not lost in their last three Premiership encounters and are starting to improve their performances. Despite not winning last week, it was one of their best performances as they drew 24 all with fifth placed Sale at the Rec. It shows that the team is improving and this is helped by a lot of stars returning.

Last week, they were able to call on stars like Danny Cipriani, Nathan Hughes, Sam Underhill and Joe Cokanasiga. All of these guys and many more have not always been available this season, but it looks like Bath are getting close to their best now. While it may be too little too late, Bath are still looking to take some momentum into next season.

With club captain Charlie Ewels returning from his ban, Bath are looking strong. I think this could be a very close game and a difficult one for Exeter.

Gloucester vs Wasps

Gloucester finally get the chance to continue their push towards the semi-finals, having not played a game of rugby since the 12th of March. They were meant to have a Friday night game last week against Worcester, but the game was cancelled. This weekend’s game is Gloucester’s chance to get back on track.

The Cherry and Whites have had a very good season, coming off the back of finishing eleventh in 2021. They currently sit in sixth, but are two games behind the two teams above them. Gloucester are still favourites for that final top four spot, but games like these will be crucial for them.

They will still be without long term absentees Jake Polledri and Johnny May. They do benefit from the end of the Six Nations, with Lewis Ludlow, Stephen Varney, Louis Rees-Zammit, Chris Harris and Adam Hastings all being available for the game this weekend. It adds to a talented squad who will need to hit the ground running, having not played a game for three weeks.

They have an interesting challenge in Wasps. The Coventry based team currently sit in ninth in the Premiership table, not technically out of the race for the top four, but it would take a huge effort over these last five games to give them any chance of an unlikely semi-final.

They will be massively helped that their squad is getting a lot healthier. It was great to see Jack Willis return after a long absence and he add to a very talented squad that is getting a lot healthier.

Wasps were able to end their three game losing run in the Premiership to Newcastle last Saturday. However, they have struggled away from home, winning just once away from home since October so its going to be a difficult task for them.

Last week they were able to call on Willis as well as Brad Shields, Alfie Barbeary, Dan Robson, Jacob Umaga and Paolo Odogwu who have all not been available much this season. Captain Joe Launchbury is also available for Wasps once again. They have a very talented team that is getting better.

With that being side, I think its going to be a very physical encounter at Kingsholm on Saturday. But Gloucester just have slightly too much firepower and I think they will take all five points away from Wasps this weekend.

Northampton Saints vs Bristol

One of the teams that struggled during the Six Nations was Northampton, but they have looked very good in the last couple of weeks, including an impressive away win last week at fellow top four contenders London Irish. It was a big result for the Saints as they hope they can move closer to the top four.

The Saints are welcoming back a lot of talent thanks to the end of the Six Nations. Courtney Lawes, Dan Biggar and George Furbank all played crucial roles in Northampton’s win last week. They are huge players to be adding back to the team and Northampton are looking good heading into the final stretch of the season.

They will need a big push heading into the final few weeks of the season. But it looks likely that this weekend should be a good one for the Saints. They beat Bristol 36-20 in the reverse fixture in Round 9, but haven’t gotten the double over the Bears since the 2016/17 season.

It won’t necessarily be an easy task, with Bristol coming off the back of a very good performance against Saracens last week. If Joe Joyces pass had not been forward, Bristol would have claimed a brilliant win against Saracens. They were excellent in the second half and deserved more than one point from the game.

A big reason for their second half success was the brilliant performances of Harry Randall, Charles Piutau and Semi Radradra. Bringing back Randall and Sheedy from the Six Nations are huge additions to the squad. There is also a good chance that the team could feature England international Kyle Sinckler, who is still managing knocks picked up during the tournament.

Despite a good performance last week, it has been a very poor season for Bristol as they are tenth, out of contention for a semi final place, a year on from finishing top of the Premiership. With a team closer to full strength, Bristol look good.

But they have still only won one of their last six games in the Premiership, having not won since the 25th of February. They do have some very good history at Franklin Gardens, winning on their last three trips there. So it won’t be a simple affair. But Northampton should still have too much for the Bears and claim the points this weekend.

Worcester Warriors vs Newcastle Falcons

The last game on Saturday pits two of the teams near the bottom of the table against each other, as Newcastle make the long trip down to Sixways.

Worcester sadly had to cancel their game last weekend due to only have three available front row players. It was a pretty good encapsulation of their season, as Worcester have constantly struggled to remain healthy during the season. It is a big reason why they currently sit in eleventh, out of contention for Europe and miles away from the top four.

It may have been three weeks ago, but Worcester’s last game was a brilliant win against Exeter at Sixways, with the home team pulling away by four points. They are also welcoming back Duhan Van der Merwe who has finished serving his ban. Their scrum half options are depleted though after Will Heinz left the club with immediate effect last week.

Fan favourite Sione Vailanu is also departing soon, but they hope to take some momentum into next season, starting with another good performance at Sixways.

They have a good chance this weekend, as Newcastle have really struggled since the turn of the year. The Falcons haven’t won in the Premiership since November sixth last year. Newcastle have been really poor as a team, but they have seen a few outstanding individual performances throughout the season.

George McGuigan is continuing to impress and Adam Radwan is one of the few highlights in the Falcons back line. The team also welcomes back Marco Fuser and Jamie Blamire after their times with their nations.

The Falcons are not without talent in other areas of their team. Callum Chick and Mike Brown are excellent Premiership players, but the team as a whole are really struggling. They will hope to take some good form into next season with a fw young players impressing. Newcastle need to make adjustments and they have a great opportunity for a win this weekend.

Both of these teams are in very poor form and it is a good opportunity for either to get a good result to take some momentum into next season. Worcester should win at home, but both teams have been unpredictable this season and it could actually be a very interesting game.

London Irish vs Harlequins

The only game on Sunday sees a derby between West London and East London as Harlequins travel across the Capital to face London Irish at the Brentford Community Stadium.

The home team have been one of the surprises of the season, currently still in with a good chance of reaching the semi-finals. London Irish are currently sitting in eighth, but only four points off fourth placed Exeter Chiefs. They are only a year on from finishing 23 points off of the semi-finals, but they are in with a real chance of their first top four finish since 2009.

They have struggled though over the last four weeks, only winning once in that time. Their five game unbeaten home run came to an end last weekend as they lost to Northampton by 20 points. The teams discipline really hurt them last week, as two yellow cards really took the game away from the Irish.

London Irish still come into this game with a lot of talent. Ollie Hassell-Collins, Sean O’Brien and Agustin Creevy have all been excellent this season. They have a lot of talent throughout the squad and are a dangerous team. London Irish are a very good team and can defeat any team on their day.

They face some tough opposition this weekend, with Harlequins coming off the back of most of the squad having three weeks of rest. Quins last game in the Premiership was a nine point victory against Bristol. Tabai Matson’s team is in very good form, having won their last four Premiership games.

They are also one of the teams that benefits from the end of the Six Nations the most. Joe Marler, Alex Dombrandt, Marcus Smith and Joe Marchant should all be available this weekend. The England internationals add to an incredibly talented squad that has had some big additions over the last few weeks.

Turnover machine Will Evans could also be set to feature after a long injury absence, having been one of the teams best players last season. Wilco Louw is also back and adds a huge element in the scrums. There is some worries about the health of Tyrone Green and Cadan Murley, who both went off injured in the first half of the teams last game.

Despite this, Harlequins look very strong with some additions from the Six Nations. It looks to be a thrilling game between two of the most exciting teams in the Premiership this season. It looks to be a high scoring close affair, with both teams knowing a win this weekend could be crucial in making the semi-finals.

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