Gallagher Premiership Rugby: Round 9 preview
We’re locked and loaded for another pulsating round of Gallagher Premiership Rugby – giving teams the chance to grasp the initiative before European rugby returns next week.
The weekend begins under the lights at Twickenham Stoop as Harlequins bid to give league leaders Exeter Chiefs a scare with international stars back into the fold.
Perhaps the pick of the clashes sees Saracens take on Wasps, where Dai Young’s side will hope to give the reigning champions a run for their money as Leicester Tigers managed to in Round Seven.
Tigers journey to the south-west to face Bristol Bears while youth-infused Northampton Saints host Newcastle Falcons and Gloucester Rugby entertain Worcester Warriors.
The Rec rounds us off for a Sunday afternoon stormer between Bath Rugby, bidding to bounce back from Round Seven defeat to Newcastle Falcons, and Sale Sharks.
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs (Twickenham Stoop, 7.45pm) – Live on BT Sport
Exeter Chiefs boast a perfect record in Gallagher Premiership Rugby but as they brace to face Paul Gustard’s beefed-up Quins, last season’s runners-up can take nothing for granted.
Gustard has engineered a vast improvement in his side’s defensive work and having enjoyed plenty of possession in Round Seven against Worcester, will hope to ignite their attacking spark again.
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) November 26, 2018
After a knife-edged victory at Bristol a fortnight ago, Chiefs were back to their dominant best in a 23-6 win over playoff-chasing Gloucester Rugby.
Friday’s hosts have proven they can raise their game for the top sides, running rivals Saracens close back in October, so Rob Baxter’s men will be wary of what welcomes them in south-west London.
Bristol Bears v Leicester Tigers (Ashton Gate, 1pm)
With Leicester having amassed the most points of any team outside the top four and Bristol equally ambitious going forward, this is all set up to be a cracking contest.
Geordan Murphy is making his mark at Welford Road and the second-half surge to nearly take the Tigers past Saracens, featuring two tries from Brendon O’Connor, offered encouragement.
Equally, don’t expect the Bears to compromise on their attacking philosophy in their bid to secure a first win in Gallagher Premiership Rugby since Round Four.
With Charles Piutau up to speed, Will Hurrell making metres in the midfield and even hooker Harry Thacker bagging a hat-trick in Round Seven against Wasps, Pat Lam’s side are easy on the eye.
Saracens v Wasps (Allianz Park, 3pm)
Saracens’ form so far this season has been unquestionable – played eight, won eight.
The next challengers are a Wasps side that rediscovered their sting at the weekend – ending their worst run of losses since 2013 by beating Bristol Bears.
The internationals are back! 💪
Who’s looking forward to seeing them in action? ⚫️🔴
🎟 Don’t miss out! 👉 https://t.co/3BoJ0BFrYz
— Saracens Rugby Club (@Saracens) November 28, 2018
Mark McCall’s side have also scored the most points in the league this season with 280, but they’re not quite top of the table thanks to Exeter Chiefs’ superior defence.
With five league wins this season so far, Dai Young’s side can be confident of going toe-to-toe with their hosts at the weekend.
Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons (Franklin’s Gardens, 3pm)
The Premiership Rugby Cup proved a turning point in Northampton’s season as the introduction of a slew of promising young backs helped them find their feet in the Gallagher Premiership.
James Grayson, Andrew Kellaway, George Furbank and Fraser Dingwall – who penned a new deal this week – have all impressed in recent weeks.
Newcastle remain bottom of the table but a vital third win of the campaign in the Midlands can send Dean Richards’ side up the standings.
Gloucester Rugby v Worcester Warriors (Kingsholm, 3pm)
Gloucester will be out to consolidate their place in the upper echelons of the Gallagher Premiership when Worcester Warriors come to town this weekend.
But as Harlequins found to their peril last Friday night, Worcester are a tenacious team without the ball and with the ball have a clinical edge that saw them prevail 20-13 at Sixways.
— Worcester Warriors ⚔️ (@WorcsWarriors) November 28, 2018
A boisterous Kingsholm will want to roar their team to back-to-back home wins having beaten Leicester Tigers in front of the BT Sport cameras two weeks ago.
Bath Rugby v Sale Sharks (The Recreation Ground, 3pm)
Todd Blackadder was disappointed with Bath’s showing at Newcastle Falcons last time out and will have his side fired up for the visit of Sale.
There are signs the Sharks, who sit 10th in the table ahead of Round Eight, are turning the corner with the mid-season acquisitions of Rob and Jean-Luc Du Preez already inspiring improvement.
They will have to be at their very best to win the arm-wrestle against a Bath side who, despite their inconsistencies, always pack a punch up front.