Gallagher Premiership Rugby Round 21 Preview

With the Six Nations ending last week, Premiership rugby returns this weekend with six games spread across the weekend. With all of the teams having five or six games left in their season, every game matters a little more this weekend, with some big games that could be vital in the season coming up this weekend.

Gloucester vs Worcester Warriors

The weeks fixtures begin with a Friday night clash at Kingsholm. Gloucester and Worcester both come into this game off the back of very different seasons.

Despite being six places above Worcester, Gloucester come into this game in some bad form. The Cherry and Whites have only won one of their last four Gallagher Premiership matches, particularly struggling away from home where they haven’t won since January.

Despite the poor form, Gloucester head into Friday night knowing that a win would put them into fourth, with current fourth place side Exeter facing a huge challenge in league leaders Leicester on Sunday. It seems as though this season is Gloucester’s best chance to get back into the playoffs, a year on from finishing in eleventh.

With their squad nearing full strength, Gloucester may have international stars like Lewis Ludlow, Chris Harris and Louis Rees-Zammit to call on thanks to the end of the Six Nations.

Worcester may be struggling with a poor season, but they come off the back of their best win of the season, beating Exeter at Sixways last time out. Worcester haven’t won successive premiership games since September 2020 so it is going to be a challenge for the side currently in 11th.

However, it has been a tough week for the Warriors. On Tuesday, scrum half Willi Heinz left the team with immediate effect, to return to his family in New Zealand. To add to the Worcester fans woes, fan favourite Sione Vailanu announced on Wednesday that he would be leaving the team at the end of the season, signing with Glasgow for next season.

Worcester’s incredibly young squad welcomes back Scotland winger Duhan Van der Merwe as he had served his ban for his red cars in the teams 43-12 defeat to London Irish. Worcester will also have Rory Sutherland back, with the former Lion recovering from the rib injury that took him out of Scotland’s second half of their Six Nations.

Friday night looks to be a great game. But with the home crowd and returning stars, Gloucester will likely have too much for Worcester and should head into the weekend in fourth in the Premiership.

Bath vs Sale Sharks

Saturday begins with another game between two teams with very different aspirations for the rest of this season. For the home team, their last six games will be purely for pride, as Bath sit bottom of the Gallagher Premiership, 31 points off fourth placed Exeter and 23 points off the European places.

Unfortunately, the teams poor start to the season is just too much to overcome. But Bath come into this game in good form, winning their last two Premiership games including the incredible thriller against Bristol last time out at the Rec.

The team will be helped by some big returns, with internationals Taulupe Faletau. Sam Underhill and Josh Bayliss all available for the game. They will still be without club captain Charlie Ewels, as he serves the second game of his three week suspension after his red card against Ireland.

Baths opponents are top four chasers Sale, who have stuttered recently as they look to make it into the top four for the second year in a row. Despite some questionable form of late, Sale still have only lost once in their last seven Premiership games. Last time out was a very impressive performance to defeat Gloucester by two points.

A big reason for the impressive performance was international superstar Faf de Klerk to the starting 15. De Klerk is part of the huge number of South Africans that Sale have to call on, but the teams biggest loss is an Englishman. Sadly for Sale, they will be without Tom Curry as he recovers from a hamstring injury sustained on England duty.

But there is one huge comeback this weekend. Manu Tuilagi should be healthy enough to feature against Bath as he trained most pf the week. They will be without fly half Aj MacGinty as he is set for five weeks on the side-lines with a knee injury.

Despite this, Sale have an incredibly talented squad that should be too much for Bath at the Rec this weekend. But considering Baths current form, this game should remain close throughout.

London Irish vs Northampton Saints

The next game at 3pm on Saturday sees a clash between two teams still aiming for the top four, but coming into the game on very different form. London Irish come into this game in much better form, as the surprise team of this season. A year on from finishing in ninth, London Irish are making a real push for the top four after some big wins in 2022.

The Exiles have not lost at home in any competition since October and have won four of their last five league games. Last premiership game was a tough one for the team, as they fell to league leaders Leicester, playing 50 minutes with 14 men thanks to a Curtis Rona red card.

Rona will be absent from this game thanks to his suspension, but the team is relatively healthy other than that. The premierships leading try scorer Agustin Creevy will be looking to add to his tally, with London Irish welcoming back Scottish internationals Ben White and Allan Dell.

Albert Tuisue will continue to be a problem for the Saints as he is coming off a big carrying game last week in the Premiership Rugby Cup. It is going to be a tough test for Northampton.

But the Saints will have some massive boosts heading into this weekends game. Courtney Lawes, Lewis Ludlam, Dan Biggar and George Furbank should all be available for selection once again. These are huge additions to the team and could help turn around Northampton’s poor form.

This poor form has resulted in Northampton losing four of their last five Premiership games and making a run at the title very difficult. The Saints currently sit in eighth, eight points behind fourth placed Exeter and five points behind London Irish.

These two teams are sixth and eighth, so both will know that the race for the semi finals is very much still on. So Saturday should be a massive result and its too close to call.

Saracens vs Bristol Bears

In terms of surprising seasons, I think very few people are surprised by Saracens returning to the top four of the Premiership. But very few people expected to see Bristol struggle as much as they have.

For Saracens, the adjustment back to the premiership has been a pretty quick one. After winning the championship last season, Saracens sit in second heading into this weekend, looking pretty comfortable to reach the top four. They have had some excellent results over the past few weeks even without their stars.

Wins against Bath, Harlequins, Newcastle and Leicester have put Saracens in a great position over the last two months. So everything is going pretty well for the London team. But their team this weekend is going to be scary healthy, as club captain Owen Farrell is set to return from injury this weekend.

As well as Farrells return, Sarries welcome back internationals like Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Elliot Daly, Nick Tompkins and Max Malins. While we don’t know exacty how much these players will feature are a long Six Nations campaign, Saracens will still be fielding a very strong team this weekend.

Bristol head east this weekend to the Tottenham Hotspur stadium having won only one of their last five Gallagher Premiership matches. The Bears team is enduring a dire season, currently in 10th, a year on from finishing in first and being knocked out of the semi finals despite leading 28-0.

In fact, Bristol have really struggled away from home this season. The Bears have won just one game away from home this season, so it seems like its going to be tough for the Bears. But the Six Nations ending should also help Bristol.

Harry Randall, Kyle Sinckler and Calum Sheedy have all missed time for the Bears with their international teams. Randall should feature heavily, but Pat Lamb has said that there’s very little chance that Sinckler plays this weekend, having picked up an couple of knocks. Sheedy may feature, but Pat Lamb has spoken about caution in bringing the players straight back into the team.

It just seems like everything is set up for a tough game for the Bears. Still missing the sensational Charles Piatau, it would take a huge performance for Bristol to take anything from this game.

London Wasps vs Newcastle Falcons

The last of the 3pm Saturday kick offs sees two teams who are both out of top four contention.

It may be slightly harsh to say that Wasps are out of contention for the top four. They are currently 12 points behind fourth placed Exeter. But Europe is definitely not out of the reach for Wasps as they are four points behind eighth placed Northampton.

But the team come into this game in very poor form, slipping to three straight defeats in the Premiership. It hasn’t helped that all three of these games have been away from home. In fact at home, Wasps have won their last five games which goes all the way back to December.

Having suffered with a huge injury crisis this season, they are finally starting to get healthy. Key players like Joe Launchbury, Jack Willis and Jacob Umaga all available for selection this weekend. Paolo Odogwu and Dan Robson should also be available, giving Wasps a very talented group to pick from now that the team is starting to get healthy.

Their visitors this weekend might be the worst form team in the Premiership. The Falcons haven’t won a game since November, not counting any forfeited games. The team is in terrible form and currently sits just one point off bottom of the table.

They are pretty close to full strength now, with Mike Brown, Jamie Blamire and George McGuigan being the teams outstanding players. Winger Adam Radwan has incredibly fast feet and can be a danger for any teams defence.

But Newcastle has really struggled this season. Losing Mark Wilson, Toby Flood and John Hardie have all turned out to be big losses and the team needs a big rebuild heading into the future. While they have nothing to play for anymore, a few big wins towards the back end of the season would do wonders for this Falcons team.

However, I don’t think they get it done this weekend. Wasps are looking very good with a lot of returning players and have an exceptional record at home. They should be able to take five points from this game.

Exeter Chiefs vs Leicester Tigers

The final game of the weekend is the only game on Sunday, live on BT sport. It will be brilliant, pitting two of the best teams in the Premiership against each other at Sandy Park as Leicester travel down to take on the Chiefs.

For Exeter, they have only lost one of their last five Premiership games which was a loss against Worcester in Round 20. Coming off the back of a disappointing loss in the Gallagher Premiership final last season, Exeter look set for another attempt at the title.

They currently sit fourth in the table, but are only two points above fifth placed Gloucester who have a game in hand. It means that Exeter have some crucial games coming up, starting with this weekend.

They will be boosted by a huge number of returns. Johnny Gray, Sam Skinner, Sam Simmonds, Stuart Hogg, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade should all be in contention for some impact this weekend. They are still without star Luke Cowan Dickie, but the Chiefs are still looking very strong heading into this weekend.

It will be an incredibly tough test, as Leicester currently sit comfortably top of the Premiership, with their semi final place pretty much secured. The Tigers are 22 points ahead of Gloucester so don’t have to worry about the next few games as much as Exeter. But the Tigers also welcome back a group of stars after the Six Nations.

Ellis Genge, Ollie Chessum, Ben Youngs, George Ford and Freddie Steward are all back from England duty, with Genge and Steward being two of England’s best players in Le Crunch last week. While these players involvement may be limited, Leicester still has an incredible squad to call from.

Julian Montoya, Jasper Wiese and Freddie Burns have all been excellent for Leicester while their stars were at the Six Nations. The Tigers team is filled with talent throughout and it is a big reason why they have won five of their last six games in the Premiership.

When these two sides met in Round 1, Leicester ran at 34-19 victors at Welford Road. But it will be no easy trip down south for Leicester. The Tigers have not won at Sandy Park in their last six visits and Leicester’s away form recently has been very poor.

It is shaping up to be an incredible game between two of the best sides in the Gallagher Premiership. With international stars returning, this game could be one of the games of the season. I do still think though that Leicester will have just slightly too much talent, edging it in a high scoring affair.

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