TOP BAR - Fixtures

Gallagher Premiership Rugby round three preview

Gallagher Premiership Rugby round three preview

Gallagher Premiership Rugby has provided plenty of thrills during the first two weeks and as we head into round three, every team will be looking to lay down another marker.

This week’s action kicks off on Friday night with a mouth-watering West Country derby between Gloucester Rugby and Bristol Bears, while on Saturday there is a repeat of the 2014 Premiership Rugby Final.

Finally on Sunday, Wasps host Leicester Tigers to round out the weekend and could well put on a show just as memorable as their enthralling 2016 semi-final.

Friday

Gloucester Rugby v Bristol Bears (Kingsholm, 7.45pm) – Live on BT Sport

There’s nothing quite like a West Country derby and Friday’s night’s fixture – live on BT Sport – will see two teams that have made promising starts to the season squaring off.

Gloucester Rugby lie third in the nascent Gallagher Premiership Rugby table after a win and a draw, while newly-promoted Bristol Bears won their first game back in the top flight against Bath Rugby before holding their own, but ultimately falling to defeat, against champions Saracens last weekend.

That loss ended the Bears’ six-game winning run in all competitions and they’ll be seeking a first away Premiership Rugby win since beating Sale by a single point on New Year’s Day 2017.

Meanwhile, the Cherry and Whites have the edge in this derby over recent years, with their only defeat in the last seven fixtures between the sides being a 26-29 reverse at Memorial Stadium in February 2008.

Saturday

Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks (Sandy Park, 3pm)

Last season’s runners-up Exeter have started the new Gallagher Premiership Rugby season as if they’ve got a point to prove, with back-to-back bonus-point victories putting them top of the table.

Their recent form in the competition is exceptional – in fact Rob Baxter’s men have not been defeated in a Premiership Rugby regular-season fixture since they visited Wasps on 18 February.

Sandy Park has also become something of a fortress, with the Chiefs’ only defeat at the venue in the competition since October 2016 was by the narrowest of margins to Worcester last February.

Sale have only once recorded a victory in Exeter but that was a convincing 55-12 triumph back in April 2014 – still the only time the Chiefs have conceded 50 points at Sandy Park.

Baxter could have Jack Nowell back in contention after the England winger completed 40 minutes for Exeter Braves last Sunday on his comeback from ankle surgery.

Harlequins v Bath Rugby (Twickenham Stoop, 3pm) – Live on BT Sport

The Paul Gustard reign at the Twickenham Stoop got off to a perfect start when Harlequins beat Sale Sharks on the opening weekend but a defeat away to Northampton Saints in round two proved that nothing comes easy in Gallagher Premiership Rugby.

Gustard will be keen to continue improving Quins’ home record when Sale Sharks come to town – live on BT Sport – on Saturday, with only two home victories in the competition at the Twickenham Stoop in 2018 to their name.

Bath Rugby are without a win in the opening two rounds of Gallagher Premiership Rugby – although they did draw 31-31 with Gloucester having been 21 points down, last time out – and have not been winless in the opening three rounds since the 2005-06 season.

However, with only one away win in the competition since January and the last five meetings between the two clubs being won by the home side on the day, Bath will need to buck a recent trend to leave London victorious.

Northampton Saints v Saracens (Franklin’s Gardens, 3pm)

Northampton Saints beat Saracens in one of the most memorable Premiership Rugby Finals of all-time back in 2014 and if Saturday’s clash provides half that drama, then the fans are in for a treat.

Locked at 14-14 after 80 minutes, Charlie Hodgson’s two extra-time penalties to Stephen Myler’s one looked to have given Saracens the title until Alex Waller rumbled over the whitewash with 100 minutes played to hand Saints an incredible victory.

However, Mark McCall’s men have won their last seven encounters with Northampton in all competitions and have won on their last five visits to Franklin’s Gardens, including the victory over Exeter Chiefs in the final of the Anglo-Welsh Cup in 2015.

Saracens also bring a lengthy unbeaten streak to the table – having not been beaten in Premiership Rugby since they visited Sandy Park to face Exeter Chiefs in early March.

But they did receive some bad news this week as McCall confirmed that centre Duncan Taylor is out until next June with a double cruciate ligament rupture sustained in an A-team game earlier this month.

Worcester Warriors v Newcastle Falcons (Sixways, 3pm)

The only sides to have lost both their opening two matches square off at Sixways as 11th-placed Worcester Warriors and bottom side Newcastle Falcons look to start climbing the table.

The Warriors have lost their last three Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches, while their only victory in the first three rounds of the tournament in any season since 2012 was 13-12 at home to Northampton in 2015.

Worcester’s summer signing Cornell du Preez remains in hospital after sustaining a nasty injury to his throat in the game against Wasps earlier this month, while prop Craig Mitchell has joined the Falcons on a three-month deal this week.

Newcastle have slipped to four straight Premiership Rugby defeats but have not lost five in succession in the tournament since season 2015/16.

However, they will have to overturn a disappointing record at Sixways that has seen them record just a solitary victory at the venue since 2004 – which came in October 2013.

Sunday

Wasps v Leicester Tigers (Ricoh Arena, 3pm) – Live on BT Sport

A Midlands derby that always produces drama is on the docket come Sunday and you can catch all the action live on BT Sport.

Perhaps the most memorable clash between the side in recent years was their Premiership Rugby semi-final on 20 May 2017 when Josh Bassett’s 78th-minute try in the corner sent Wasps to the final for the first time in nine years.

The Tigers came so close that day but their only previous win at the Ricoh Arena was in fact on their first visit in May 2015.

However, Leicester’s 16-15 victory at Welford Road in March at least ended a run of five successive defeats to Wasps in Premiership Rugby and their only defeat away from home in the competition since February was at Exeter on the opening weekend

Wasps were defeated 42-31 by Exeter last weekend, in a game that also saw back-rower Brad Shields sustain a broken cheekbone – an injury that will sideline him for three to eight weeks.

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