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Premiership Rugby

2003/4 Zurich Premiership Preview Seven

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

Last season’s top three, Gloucester, Wasps and Northampton have started to make significant strides in the right direction. For Leicester and Saracens  things are starting to go from bad to worse. Docked points off the pitch for fielding ineligible players, as they are both losing regularly on the pitch as well. Newcastle are also struggling.

The seven  teams above them, and just below Bath, are separated by just four points. As the end of this is seventh round of matches in Zurich Premiership, Bath and Rotherham are bound to remain in the same positions. For the rest, it could be all change yet again.

GLOUCESTER (2)  vs LEEDS TYKES (6)

Last season’s league winners gained a vital 16-0 away victory at Harlequins last weekend and in the process leapfrogged up of the Londoners into the runners-up spot in the table. The centre Robert Todd scored as the Cherry and Whites’ only try, when he touchdown in the dying minutes, while fellow centre Henry Paul kicked 11 points in a disappointing encounter.

Leeds thrashed Leicester 39-18 at Headingley, scoring 30 points without reply in the second half to record for third try-scoring bonus point of the season. Former Scotland international Duncan Hodge led away with 24 points- a try, five penalties and two conversions- while Matt Cardey, Dan Hyde and James Ponton scored the other tries.

Gloucester have not lost at home this season, or last season for that matter, and have never remotely looks like doing so. This despite playing poorly on day one against Rotherham, though they still won comfortably.

Since then though they have also accounted for Saracens and Leicester at Kingsholm. The Cherry and Whites have now won four of their six matches this season and only Bath have conceded fewer points.

Leeds are the Premiership’s third highest scorers, with 161 points in their six matches to date. They have not won away from home this season, losing at a London Wasps on day two and at London Irish a fortnight later.

Gloucester beat and Leeds 28-10 at Kingsholm last season, and in Premiership matches with the Tykes they have never lost. They won 30-23 at Headingley last May and on the only other two occasions they played the Tykes, put 50 points past them. They may not score as many this time, but Gloucester should win comfortably.

LEICESTER TIGERS (10) vs NORTHAMPTON SAINTS (4)

Leicester slumped to their third successive defeat when they went down 39-18 at Leeds. They weren’t helped when lock James Hamilton was sent off in the 16th minute but nevertheless, still led 18-9 at half-time through tries from Will Skinner and Sam Vesty, with a penalty apiece from Luke Myring and Tim Stimpson, who also added a conversion.

Northampton recovered of from a 8-10 deficit at half-time to crush Newcastle 33-20 at Franklin’s Gardens. Sam Howard, Shane Drahm and Nick Beal, with two, secured the scoring bonus point, while Drahm weighed in with two conversions and three penalties for an 18 point haul.

Leicester lost their five-year unbeaten at home record when Northampton beat them 25-12 at Welford Road last season. That was in fact a first reverse for the Tigers in this fixture for seven matches. The Tigers have already been beaten at home by Sale the season could go into this match on the back of three straight defeats and in an unfamiliar 10th place in the table.

Northampton drew their first away match of the season that Sale and have subsequently lost at Bath and won at Rotherham. With three wins from the last four matches, the Saints are definitely in better form than of their neighbours.

An away win, and more misery for the Tigers.

NEC HARLEQUINS (3) a vs SALE SHARKS (8)

Harlequins lost their first home match of the season, and only their second of the campaign, when they went down 16-nil to Gloucester at the Stoop. To make matters worse on a very disappointing afternoon, they also lost hooker Tani Fuga and try-scoring sensation Ugo Monye to injury.

Sale got back to winning ways with a 28-14 success at Rotherham. Stuart Pinkerton, Mark Cueto and Graeme Bond scored their tries, with former South African international Braam van Straaten adding two conversions and three penalties.

The high-point of Sale’s campaign last year was an amazing 45-0  victory at the Stoop against Harlequins in February. That was a fourth straight defeat in the series for the Londoners, who have only won eight of the last 10 matches against Sale.

After losing narrowly at Newcastle in round two, Sale have won two successive matches away from home – an extraordinary 22-16 win at Leicester followed by a comfortable 28-14 success at Rotherham last weekend – while Harlequins, after winning three home matches on the trot- against Wasps, London Irish and Newcastle, came unstuck at the Stoop for the first time this season when going down to Gloucester.

Quins have now lost two of their last three matches, while Sale sandwiched those two vital away wins with home defeat at the hands of Wasps. In a contest between two of the most unpredictable teams in the Premiership, Quins should come out of top.

NEWCASTLE FALCONS (9) vs BATH (1)

Not for the first time this season, Newcastle took an early lead only to lose the match. They went down 33-20 at Northampton, after leading 10-8 at half-time. Jamie Noon and Marius Hurter contributed the early touch-downs, while David Walder, who also added a penalty, converted Hugh Vyvyan’s second-half try.

Bath, meanwhile, continued to sweep all before them. They crushed Saracens 25-3 at the recreation ground, to record their sixth win of the season.  Olly Barkley kicked five penalties are but failed to convert tries by Alex Crockett and Michael Lipman as the West Country but extended their grip on the early part of the season.

Newcastle lost 24-20 in the corresponding fixture last season, and then went on to lose the return 24-12 at Bath in May. Bath have now won 7 of the last nine fixtures between the two.

This season the Falcons started with two home matches, losing narrowly to Saracens and edging home by a single point against Sale. In their only other fixture at Kingston Park, Newcastle thrashed Gloucester by 42 points to 22.

While Newcastle have been inconsistent, Bath have kept on winning. They have won all three of their away matches so far, at Leeds, Sale and Wasps, and have looked more and more impressive as the season has progressed.  With leading scorer Olly Barkley closing in on 100 points for the season, they should win at Kingston Park and extend their lead at the top of table.

Sunday

LONDON IRISH (7) vs ROTHERHAM TITANS (12)

The Exiles went down 22-15 at London Wasps, with outside-half of Mark Mapletoft kicking five penalties in a close-fought encounter, while Rotherham lost 28-14 at home to Sale. The Titans actually took the lead with a try from skipper Chris Johnson, which outside half Jason strange converted, but they did not score until the dying moments, when the flanker James Cockle went over with Strange again converting.

The Irish have been consistently difficult to beat this season, and they have also found it difficult to put sides away. They have won three matches and lost three matches, with two losing bonus points, while their points for and against are almost identical. 

At home this season the Irish are unbeaten, with wins over Gloucester and Leeds, while Rotherham’s away form is as an abysmal as their home record. They have lost at Gloucester, Leeds and Bath, while the last time they went to the Madejski Stadium they conceded more than 50 points. The margin may not be as big again, but it is a very difficult to see Rotherham beating a London Irish of this weekend.

SARACENS (11) vs LONDON WASPS (5)

All Saracens had to show for their 25-3 defeat at Bath was a penalty from Andy Goode, while the highlights of Wasps’ 22-15 win at home to London Irish was a first half try from Shane Roiser and five penalties from Mark van Gisbergen, who also added a conversion.

The Saracens actually began the season with a win at Newcastle and a draw at home to Leicester. Their only success since then -and to be fair their only home match – was a 39-33 win over Harlequins. Confidence, always apparently fragile at Vicarage Road, is low after three defeats in the last four matches and deduction of two points for fielding an ineligible player has left them one-off the bottom in the Premiership.

Wasps have won their last two matches, including a 37-33 victory away to Sale, but have been worryingly inconsistent themselves, losing matches they should have won at Harlequins and at home to Bath.

Last season the they did the double over Saracens, winning 42-30 won at vicarage Road and 51-23 at the causeway Stadium.  The they have actually won the last seven matches against Saracens, and on their last five visits to vicarage Road they have only lost once – by a single point in 1999. They should win again.

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