Gallagher Premiership Rugby Round 19 Preview 

Premiership Rugby Round 19 Preview

The Gallagher Premiership season is quickly moving towards the business end, with this weekend's game being round 19 for the English teams. As we get closer to the end of the season, there are still many interesting storylines that will play out over the next few weeks.

Thankfully for Bath, Worcester or Newcastle, finishing the season bottom of the table does not mean relegation this season, so they are playing for pride at the moment. But the race for the playoff places looks incredibly tight, with eight teams still vying for the remaining three spots, as long as Leicester continue dominating.

Week 19 throws up some incredibly interesting matchups, with some squads bolstered by a few returning internationals without Six Nations rugby this weekend. The six games this weekend all have implications throughout the table, it is going to be a very exciting weekend in the Gallagher Premiership, which you can keep up to date with on the Rugby9.Today site.

Harlequins vs Newcastle Falcons

Coming off the back of a spirited second-half performance to put away Worcester, away from home last Friday night, Harlequins return to the Stoop for a matchup with the struggling Newcastle Falcons. After three losses on the bounce, Quins are coming off the back of two close victories in the last couple of weeks and will be looking to build on the momentum from their recent results.

Currently sitting in third, Harlequins will know that a win this weekend is crucial if they want to get to the semi-finals again this season. They have some big wins against top four contenders in 2022, but they need to take advantage of Newcastle Falcon's struggles.

With Joe Marler and Wilco Louw starting together for the first time since the Premiership final, Quins will look to continue to dominate the scrums the way they did last week against a young Worcester pack. Quins backs will be looking for someone else to step up with attacking creativity in the absence of Marcus Smith. Tommaso Allan has been good in Smith’s absence, but the side is still lacking the cutting edge in attack when Marcus Smith is in the side.

One positive heading into the game for Newcastle is that their only six nations casualty is Jamie Blamire, who will play a much bigger role for England the rest of the tournament after Luke Cowan Dickie’s injury. But Newcastle does go into the game without some key players.

Callum Chick is suspended due to his red card last week, with Matias Orlando, Connor Collett and Gary Graham all missing out due to injury. The Falcons are still without key players like Marcos Fuser, Will Welch and Carl Fearns. They will also still be without their head coach, former Quins boss Dean Richards as he continues to serve his touchline ban after criticising the officials after the Falcon's loss to Exeter.

With an incredibly young team travelling down to the Stoop, you would imagine it is going to be a long evening for the Falcons. Quins should look to take advantage of all of Newcastle’s continued struggles, making Quins the favourites heading into Friday night.

Saracens vs Leicester Tigers

Easily the most anticipated matchup of the weekend, league-leading Leicester tigers travel down to London, to face a Saracens side who are in a bad run of form having lost three of their last five league games. It has still been a pretty good return season for Saracens, who currently sit second in the table behind Leicester, although the Tigers have a massive 16 point lead heading into this weekend.

Saracens do benefit massively from the fact they are playing at home, with their only loss in the Premiership at StoneX stadium coming on the 8th of January against Gloucester when they lost by just one point. Their home record is excellent, and the team is massively boosted heading into the weekend with the return of Elliot Daly after he was released from the England squad to get some game time under his belt.

Still, without Owen Farrell, Saracens have former Internationals in the squad like the Vunipola’s, Vincent Kock, Alex Lozowski and Alex Goode. Saracens have scored more points and conceded fewer points than Leicester this season, despite being so far behind in the table. They look in a good position for a result this weekend.

But you can’t forget about Leicester. There are many reasons why the Tigers have been the best team in the Premiership this season. Steve Borthwick’s men have really clicked this season, having just missed out on the playoffs last year with a sixth-place finish. Leicester sit atop the premier league table, having only lost two of their seventeen games in the Premiership this season.

Leicester are coming off the back of winning all four games in February, with the only close win a four-point victory at Bath. The Tigers are also coming off the back of a pleasing 12 point win over Gloucester, who were pretty close to full strength with the return of Louis Rees-Zammit.

The Tigers managed to scrape out a narrow win against Saracens in the reverse fixture in Round 3, winning 13-12. It is an excellent chance for the Tigers to do the double over Saracens in the league for the first time since the 2008/09 season. It helps that they have their vocal point back, with England also releasing George Ford back to Leicester for this weekend's games. It probably means Freddie Burns drops to the bench, which is disappointing for Burns considering his excellent form in Ford's absence.

The Tigers also have guys throughout the team in good form, with Jasper Wiese and Julian Montoya proving to be two excellent signings over the past two years. Chris Ashton, Nemani Nadolo and Dan Kelly making up part of a very good backline.

It looks to be an excellent encounter between two of the most talented teams in the Premiership, with this game possibly being a preview for a semi-final or final matchup.

Bath vs Bristol

I don't think that heading into the season, many people would have been surprised that by this point, Bath sat bottom of the Premiership table. But Bristol Bear's recent form has been very concerning for Pat Lam, with the Bears nine places back from their finish last season.

But Bristol do still sit 13 points ahead of their west country rivals, with Bath still bottom of the table after losing 14 of their first 17 games.

Bath is coming into the game in slightly better form, winning their first away game in the Premiership in almost twelve months last weekend when they beat Newcastle at Kingston Park. It was a good win for Bath who have been ravaged by injuries this season. Heading into this weekend's games, Bath are still without Beno Obano, Sam Underhill, Danny Cipriani, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson due to injury.

Bath will also still be without Charlie Ewels, Will Stuart and Taulupe Faletau who are all still with their international teams due to the Six Nations. Possibly the biggest loss for Bath this weekend is Nathan Hughes, who is not eligible for selection for Bath having been loaned out from Bristol.

The Bears are also missing key players like Kyle Sinker, Harry Randall and Callum Sheedy all because of the Six Nations. But Pat Lam's team will be looking to build off a comfortable win against Wasps last week. The Bears will likely still be too far away from the top four to get into the playoffs.

Bristol should still be able to see off Bath without too much issue. The Bears have been pretty dominant against teams around them this season, having beaten Bath in the reverse fixture in Round 3 of the competition. It should be a win for Bristol over Bath at the Rec.

Gloucester vs Northampton Saints

Gloucester and Northampton are both looking for a big win in the push for top four, with both teams still in the hunt, being a game behind on teams ahead of them.

Gloucester are coming into this game after tough back to back losses against Exeter and Leicester, despite a relatively healthy and full squad. The Cherry and Whites will once again be able to call on star winger Louis Rees-Zammit after his release from the Wales squad. This will however be the first game for Gloucester since long time winger Charlie Sharples retired mid-week.

Gloucester have been unlucky in that they have lost their captain Lewis Ludlow after he was called up to the England squad on Wednesday, as England prepare for Ireland next weekend. But Gloucester still have some great talent to call on like Ollie Thorley, Adam Hastings and Mark Atkinson, all of which could easily be at the Six Nations.

The Saints come off the back of a heartbreaking loss at home last week, as Joe Simmonds kicked the winning points over in the last minute of the game. Despite this, Northampton will know that a win this weekend can push them above Wasps and possibly Sale, taking them closer to the top four.

Northampton have struggled with Dan Biggar and Courtney Lawes, as they have lost their last three games in a row, with the last two being by less than four points. The Saints have the chance to do the double over Gloucester for the first time since 2016/17, with an exciting game in store this weekend.

London Irish vs Worcester Warriors

The last game at 3pm on Saturday pits two teams in a very different form, with London Irish being the surprise team this season. Irish have lost just once since boxing day, with some huge wins over Bristol, Saracens and Exeter in 2022. The Six Nations have been massively helpful for the Irish, with other teams struggling while London Irish have only had to deal with the loss of Allan Dell, Ben White and Ollie Hassell-Collins so far.

They will be without Will Goodrick-Clarke as he was called up to the England squad this week. But even without the prop, London Irish should still be favourites going into this game, knowing that a win could take them into the top four, a year on from finishing ninth.

One of the few teams to have a worse 2020/21 season was Worcester Warriors, who currently sit in 12th, where they finished last season. The Warriors have been hurt by the Six Nations, with British and Irish Lions Duhan Van der Merwe and Rory Sutherland both still with Scotland this weekend.

The Warriors faced a difficult Harlequins team last Friday, with Quins pulling away in the second half thanks to scrum dominance and good line breaks. It shows that Worcester needs to improve all-round, despite the good performances from 19-year-old Fin Smith and the excellent ball carrying of Sione Vailanu, who got across the line last week.

Worcester certainly have some promising players, and the first half was a good performance last week. If they can put up an 80-minute performance, they may have a chance against London Irish. But you would imagine that considering how hard they have worked to get into this position, Irish won't pass up the chance to possibly jump into the top four.

Exeter Chiefs vs Sale Sharks

Sunday's sole game I another exciting fixture between two teams battling for top four, with Sale and Exeter being two of the most in-form teams heading into this weekend. The Chiefs will come into Sandy Park with huge momentum, having beaten the Saints right at the death last week.

But the Chiefs are still without a lot of their key players. Johnny Gray, Johnny Hill, Sam Skinner, Sam Simmonds, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell and Stuart Hogg all still with their squads for the Six Nations. The Chiefs are also without injured pair of Christ Tshiunza and Luke Cowan Dickie.

Despite this, the Chiefs have still been able to win their last three Premiership games, since their one-point loss to Wasps at the start of February. The Chiefs will also be pleased to know that they have won ten of their last twelve games against Sale. If the Chiefs want to win, they will need another big performance from Joe Simmons and the rest of the team.

Despite Exeter’s good form, Sale come into the game in brilliant form, having not lost in the premiership since the 7th of January, even without internationals Tom Curry, Evan Ashman and Manu Tuilagi. Sale accepted a draw last week after a tough 80 minutes against London Irish.

But Sale may have the most talented squad during the Six Nations, especially with Faf de Klerk returning. The Sharks still have Ben Curry, Raffi Quirke, Marland Yarde as well as their talented cohort of South Africans.

This could end up being the best game of the weekend. Exeter have the most carries and most metres made from carries this season, and Sale have an incredibly exciting attack with the creativity of Faf de Klerk and Aj McGinty. Sunday sure looks like a thriller in Sandy Park.

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