LONDON, ENGLAND – The US may not celebrate Boxing Day, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the fixtures served up by the Premiership over the weekend. Everyone at RugbyWrap wishes you and yours a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to go along with our Aviva Premiership preview.
London Irish v. London Welsh
A match-up between the bottom two sides in the table, this probably represents one of the Welsh’s only realistic chances for victory this season. Both teams are coming off of thumping losses away from home. The Irish were demolished by Wasps in the hosts’ Coventry opener, while Welsh were handed a record defeat by Saracens. Piri Weepu will retain the number 10 shirt, while Tom May enters the centers for the visiting Welsh. Irish’s Shane Geraghty enters the match closing in on 500 career points in the Premiership, with 446 on his ledger entering play.
Harlequins v. Northampton
Quins enter “Big Game 7” at Twickenham in their worst league in years, sitting ninth in the table at the midpoint. Despite the team’s European success, they have struggled to put together a solid run of games, and the coming Six Nations will leave Connor O’Shea’s team depleted once more. Chris Robshaw is still out with a shoulder injury. On the positive side, Tim Swiel proved that he could kick for goal with an impressive five for six performance against Newcastle last weekend. Northampton’s captain Dylan Hartley was handed a three week ban for his elbow to the face, leaving Stuart Lancaster with a dilemma. A year ago, the England manager claimed that Hartley was on his last disciplinary warning, but the ban will end in time for the hooker to be recalled to the England set-up ahead of the Six Nations. Prudence will probably carry the day, and Hartley’s England career continues on life support.
Sale v. Leicester
Leicester look to bounce back after their poor performance in the East Midlands derby, while Sale are coming off an impressive victory against Exeter. As ever, Leicester have started the season extremely poorly, but they are hanging around the fringes of the playoff race. Sale sit a mere two points behind the last playoff spot, and are boosted by the news that Danny Cipriani’s injury was not as bad as first feared. Sale have home field advantage for this Saturday clash. They have been impressive so far at the AJ Bell Stadium in 2014, with their only loss coming against Bath.
Bath v. Exeter
A holiday match-up between the second and third placed sides is always a big occasion, and never more so than for a team that has missed the spotlight for the past five years. Bath have continued to build a rock-solid foundation, and their depth has been evident throughout the Premiership campaign. Mike Ford has access to two extremely solid front rows; the drop-off between starters and back-ups is hardly noticeable. Rob Baxter has continued his tried and tested formula of getting the most out of the least. Though it’s possible no Chiefs wind up on a “Starting XV” for the Premiership, they are performing at a much higher level than the sum of their parts. Exeter have an exceptional +112 point differential, demonstrating that their victories have not been flukes.
Newcastle v. Saracens
Saracens are twice lucky, following up their demolition of London Welsh with a visit to Newcastle against the Falcons, who will likely be outclassed. Newcastle put up an unexpected fight against Harlequins, but Owen Farrell has come back from the Autumn Internationals with a real point to prove. So far, his kicking has been hugely impressive, while he is creating offensive opportunities for his centers in a way that was not occurring in an England shirt. Sarries are the highest scoring outfit in the Premiership this season, notching 330 points thus far.
Gloucester v. Wasps
Gloucester lost the West Country derby in spectacular fashion, setting all the wrong records in the process. Wasps meanwhile are riding high off their successful move and Andy Goode’s record-setting point haul. However, the match may wind up being much closer than momentum indicates. Wasps have struggled mightily away from home, and have yet to record an away victory. Billy Twelvetrees’ continued good form will be key to the Cherry and Whites hopes on Sunday afternoon to wrap up the weekend’s action.
Merry Christmas to one and all. Thank you for reading and Feel free to comment below, look for and “Like” our Facebook Rugby Wrap Up Page and follow us on Twitter@: RugbyWrapUp,Junoir Blaber, DJ Eberle, Nick Hall, James Harrington, Cody Kuxmann, Jaime Loyd, Karen Ritter , Jamie Wall, Jake Frechette and Declan Yeats, respectively.