DUBLIN, IRELAND – With the nineteenth round of Premiership action coming this weekend, a major development occurred on the continent. The future of European rugby has been secured in an arrangement that will comfort all three major parties involved, a coup for the RFU. Let’s break down this new structure, as well as the upcoming week’s matchups, in our Aviva Premiership Weekend Preview.
European Rugby Future Secure
After months of wrangling, Sky Sports and BT Sport agreed to an arrangement that will secured European Rugby’s future into the 2020’s. Six clubs from the Top 14, six from the Aviva Premiership, and 7 from the Pro12 will compete in the new top-tier tournament. Organizers hope that the new format will trim the fat, and that hopeless sides will be eliminated before the group stages; resulting in a more competitive format. In the 2014-15 tournament, the final spot will be taken by the winner of a playoff between the seventh place side in the Premiership and the seventh place side in the Top 14, imbuing the final spot with far more urgency than in previous incarnations. In subsequent seasons, the playoff will be contested between the seventh placed sides in the Premiership and Top 14, in addition to the eighth and ninth placed teams in the Pro12. Overall, this represents a quality competition that will more fairly determine the European champion, a victory for all parties involved. Though the slog towards the new arrangement was arduous, the end result is beneficial to all rugby fans, and should be celebrated in the years ahead.
Sale Face Quins
Two teams on the fringes of the playoff race face off in Salford on Friday afternoon. Though the Sharks’ chances at securing a top-4 finish are slim, they absolutely must secure a bonus point victory at home against a quality team to stay in the hunt. The Sharks have played some great rugby over the past three months, but they have had difficulty producing the offensive fireworks that result in bonus points. Harlequins endured a difficult two months without their England stars, but Mike Brown has been talismanic, while Chris Robshaw refuses to let his team back down. This should be a titantic clash between two sides with all to play for, and Danny Cipriani bears particularly close watching as calls increase for him to win a place in the England squad.
Potential Playoff Preview at Copthall
Saracens will face off against the Northampton Saints at Copthall on Sunday. The Saints hope they have gotten their season back on track after a difficult month stretch which saw the team lost three consecutive matches. Sarries did not receive the usual impeccable service from Owen Farrell in the last match, and Stuart Lancaster is sure to keep an eye on a game between two sides that produce so many England players. The game-plans of both teams will be vitally important. While Saints appear to have an advantage up front, Sarries backs are unmatched in this season’s Premiership, and Owen Farrell only grows as a ball distributor with each game. Tries will be hard to come by for the season’s top scoring side, but Saracens will be looking to make a major statement ahead of the playoffs.
Best of the Rest
Leicester face off against old friend Andy Goode and the London Wasps at home on Saturday, attempting to finally edge ahead of Bath in the standings and put some pressure on the second place side. Geoff Parling will slot back in for the Tigers, who once more are positioning themselves for a strong run at the championship after a lackluster start to the campaign. Worcester will attempt to keep their momentum against Exeter at the Sixways. Another victory for the Warriors would put major pressure on the Newcastle Falcons, who will have a tough away match against the London Irish. Despite Worcester’s desperation, the London team’s place in the top-flight remains secure. Gloucester will try to ruin Bath’s playoff coronation at Kingsholm in a West Country derby with major playoff implications. Though the Cherry and Whites are disappointed that this match does not mean more for them, for Bath it holds the potential to make or break their playoff hopes.
That’s it for now. Feel free to comment below, please look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@:RugbyWrapUp, Junoir Blaber, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Jamie Wall, Jaime Loyd, DJ Eberle, Cody Kuxmann, Karen Ritter, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.