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Premiership Rugby

2003/4 Zurich Premiership Preview Nine

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

The hapless Yorkshiremen are still winless and pointless and ten points adrift at the bottom of the Premiership. With 14 matches to go, they must post at least three more victories than nearest rivals Leicester, who can welcome back almost an entire team when the World Cup is over.

Above Rotherham, the Premiership is starting to split into two. Nine points separate leaders Bath from Harlequins in sixth place , and nine points separate Sale, in seventh place, from Leicester. But, while Harlequins have won five matches this season, Sale – admittedly just three points behind – have only gained three victories.

This week’s round of matches is unlikely to change the overall shape of the table.

SALE (7) vs LEEDS TYKES (9)

Sale lost at home for the fourth time this season, when they went down 26-28 to London Irish. Graham Bond and Steve Hanley scored their tries, with Braam van Straaten converting both and kicking four penalties.

Meanwhile Leeds crashed at home for the second time this season when Harlequins beat them 30-16 at Headingley. Phil Christophers scored a try, which Duncan Hodge converted as well as adding three penalties.

Sale have never lost to Leeds in four Premiership meetings to date. Last season they drew 29-29 that Leeds, before winning 32-20 at Heywood Road. But Sale have also not won at home this season, beginning their campaign with a draw against Northampton, before losing to Bath, Wasps and London Irish. The Sharks have not lost four in a row at home since February 1999, while Leeds have not won away from home since they beat London Irish at the Madejski Stadium last March.

This should be Sale’s first home win this season.

GLOUCESTER (5) vs BATH (1)

Gloucester lost 17-30 at Northampton to lose ground on their West Country neighbours. Andy Hazell and James Forrester (twice)  scored tries in the fourth quarter of the match, with Henry Paul kicking one conversion. Bath had another home win, crushing Leicester 31-17 at the Recreation ground. Isaac Fea’unati, Matt Perry and Olly Barkley scored tries with Barkley adding two conversions and three penalties and Chris Malone contributing a drop goal.

Gloucester beat Bath 29-16 at Kingsholm last season, after drawing 21-21 at the recreation ground in September. Bath have won six of their  last eight meetings in the Premiership against Gloucester, but they have not won at Kingsholm since September 2000. Gloucester have won all  four Premiership matches at home this season, and have now won 24 successive matches in the competition in front of their own fans.

Bath have won three matches away from home this season, at Leeds, Sale and Wasps, but this is an altogether different task.

Gloucester should win.

LEICESTER TIGERS (11) vs LONDON WASPS (3)

Leicester slumped to a sixth defeat of the season, and a fifth reverse in a row, when they went down 31-17 at Bath. Austin Healey scored a very late try, while Ramiro Pez kicked a drop goal and three penalties . Wasps won their fifth match in a row when edging out Newcastle Falcons by 30 points to 26 at the Causeway Stadium. John Rudd, Craig Dowd and Shane Roisier scored tries, all converted by Mark van Gisbergen, who also added three penalties.

Leicester beat Wasps 9-6 at Welford Road last season, before going on to lose 26-13 at the Causeway Stadium in December. The Tigers have won seven of the last nine fixtures against Wasps, but they have lost their last four matches in a row,including the last two matches at home.

It is 12 years since they last lost three successive matches at Welford Road. Wasps have never won a Premiership match in Leicester. This could be their best ever chance to end that record. NEC HARLEQUINS (6) vs NORTHAMPTON SAINTS (2)

Harlequins won away from home for the second time this season, when they beat Leeds 30-16 at Headingley. Andy Dunn, Chris Bell and Simon Keogh scored tries for Quins, with Dunne adding two conversions and three penalties and Paul Burke weighing in with one conversion. Northampton beat Gloucester 30-17 at Franklin’s Gardens to move up to second place in the table. Chris Budgen and Jon Sleightholme scored their tries, with Shane Drahm adding one conversion and four penalties, and Bruce Reihana kicking two penalties.

Last season Harlequins lost 31-19 to Northampton at the Stoop, after going down 35-7 at Franklin’s Gardens in November. In all they have lost five and drawn one of their last six fixtures against the Saints, and have to go back to April 2000 for their last win against Northampton. They have now lost their last two home matches, against Gloucester and Sale, while Northampton have won three successive Premiership fixtures.

This should be a fourth.

Sunday

NEWCASTLE FALCONS (8) vs ROTHERHAM TITANS (12)

Newcastle gained a bonus point in their 30-26 defeat at Wasps, to stay in eighth place in the Premiership. Hugh Vyvyan, Warren Britz and Michael Stephenson scored tries for the Falcons, with David Walder converting one and adding three conversions. Rotherham lost 25-12 at home to Saracens, for an eighth consecutive defeat. Phil Jones kicked four penalties for the Titans.

Newcastle have won both their Premiership matches against Rotherham, triumphing 39-36 at Clifton Lane in Apr 2001, after a 34-19 win at Kingston Park the previous September. The Falcons have suffered just one defeat at home since last December, and have secured at least one bonus point from their last ten outings at Kingston Park. Rotherham, with eight defeats from eight matches this season, can only clutch at straws. Titans optimists could point out that Rotherham have only, so far, lost to one team on a Sunday. London Irish have beaten them twice on a Sabbath.

Newcastle should be added to that list.

SARACENS (10) vs LONDON IRISH (4)

Saracens gained their third victory of the season when winning  25-12 at Rotherham. Taine Randell scored Saracens’ only try, while Andy Goode added six penalties. London Irish gained another unexpected victory on the road, when they won 28-26 at Sale. Barry Everitt kicked a conversion, a drop goal and six penalties, while Rob Hardwick scored the Exiles’ only try.

The Exiles did the double over Saracens last season, winning 14-12 at Vicarage Road in April and 32-10 at the Madejski Stadium in September, and they have now won  four Premiership matches in a row against the Watford-based team. London Irish have won their last two matches this season – against Rotherham and Sale- while victory at Edgeley Park was their second successive away success. Saracens have only played three matches at home this season, drawing against Leicester, winning against Harlequins and losing-on their last outing in front of their own fans-to London Wasps.

Saracens’ form  has been patchy – last week’s win was only their third in eight matches this season, while London Irish – with four wins from the last five matches- are getting better and better. They should win again.

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