Premiership, Semifinals - Teams and Predictions
THE TOP FOUR: With the regular season now in the books, all eyes turn to the two mouth-watering Premiership semifinals taking place this Saturday.
The first semifinal will be between Bristol Bears and Harlequins at Ashton Gate.
The Bears will be looking to dust off the cobwebs after their end-of-season fixture against London Irish was cancelled due to positive COVID-19 cases within the Exiles camp.
Pat Lam’s men were already guaranteed a home semifinal and finished the season top of the tree for the first time in their history after a memorable 2020/21 campaign.
Meanwhile, Harlequins will be hoping to pick up where they left off last weekend, after they defeated Newcastle Falcons 54-26, scoring eight tries in the process.
Harlequins General Manager Billy Millard said: “We have a great opportunity over the next two weeks to add to this club’s great history. I cannot praise highly enough the drive and dedication I’ve seen from our playing and backroom staff over the last few months. It’s been incredible to be a part of it.
“We had a great, closely contested battle with Bristol the last time we went to Ashton Gate. We know how close we were to winning that game and the areas that needed addressing to turn that result into a victory.
“Bristol are an attack-minded team, much like ourselves, but both sides know how to win games with the gritty battle up front.
“We’ve had a good week’s prep, and we know which areas we’ll need to be sharp on this week to go on to the final next week.”
Drum roll, please…🥁
Your @GallagherUK Player of the Season is:ADVERTISEMENT
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) June 18, 2021
‘It’s a real gift’
Elsewhere in the other semifinal, Sale Sharks travel away to Sandy Park to face defending champions Exeter Chiefs for the second time in as many weeks.
The Sharks have faced off against all three play-off sides in the last three weeks, dispatching Bristol and Harlequins before their narrow 19-20 loss to the Chiefs last weekend.
Ahead of the match, Sale boss Alex Sanderson was relishing the opportunity of a second crack at the reigning Premiership Champions.
“We’re very motivated to go down there and have another crack. It’s a real gift.
“Usually after a loss, or if you leave something out there or don’t quite empty the tank, you go home and you have these feelings of discomfort and anger, and you aren’t able to exorcise these feelings until the week after. Even when you do get that chance to exorcise them, it’s against a different team so you don’t get a chance to exorcise them fully.
“We’ve got the opportunity to right all our wrongs this weekend against the same opposition, I think that’s a rare gift, so we can’t wait to get back out there on Saturday.”
And the Chiefs will be hoping that home advantage can help catapult Rob Baxter’s men to their sixth consecutive Premiership Final.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend,” said Baxter. “In a funny kind of way, this is where the season gets exciting. People may think it’s because the big games are coming, which they are, but from a coaching perspective, it’s a little different. For me, getting into that top four, the top two, that’s the tough bit. Now, it’s about rolling our sleeves up and enjoying two games to win the season.
“Personally, I have to give great credit to the players for getting to this position again. To win 17, 18 games to get into the top two, that’s tough, but it also shows great consistency.
“I know Bristol were in the last four last season, but the other two sides haven’t been at this stage for some time, so we have to use our experiences of the past to lock ourselves in and really go after these games.”
We take a closer look at each semifinal!
Saturday, June 19:
Bristol Bears v Harlequins
(Ashton Gate, Bristol – Kick-off: 13.30; 12.30 GMT)
This is Bristol Bears’ third appearance in a Premiership semifinal, having lost on both previous occasions, both away from home at Leicester in 2007 and at Wasps at this stage last year.
Bristol did not play last weekend with their home game to London Irish being called off due to Covid-19.
The Bears have been defeated just once since the end of April: 12-22 at Sale in Round 20 of the Premiership. Bristol have lost only once at Ashton Gate since early February: 12-20 to Exeter on April 23.
Harlequins have appeared in four previous Premiership semifinal fixtures, winning just once, at home to Northampton in 2012. Quins have not appeared at this stage for seven years.
The Londoners last five encounters in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day whilst Harlequins only away win since early February came on the short trip to London Irish on April 24.
Bristol have won their last three matches against Harlequins since Quins 22-17 victory at Twickenham Stoop in October 2019. Harlequins only previous victory at Ashton Gate was 42-8 in February 2017.
The two clubs have met just once before in a semifinal with Bristol running out 21-18 victors at Memorial Stadium in the old John Player Cup in March 1984.
@rugby365com: Bristol by eight points.
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Siale Piutau (co-captain), 11 Max Malins, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Andy Uren, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steven Luatua (co-captain), 5 Chris Vui, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Harry Thacker, 1 Yann Thomas.
Replacements: 16 Will Capon, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 John Afoa, 19 Joe Joyce, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Harry Randall, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Piers O’Conor.
Harlequins: 15 Tyrone Green, 14 Louis Lynagh, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Aaron Morris, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Danny Care, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Jack Kenningham, 6 Tom Lawday, 5 Stephan Lewies (captain), 4 Matt Symons, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Will Collier, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 James Chisholm, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 James Lang, 23 Luke Northmore.
Referee: Wayne Barnes
Assistant Referees: Christophe Ridley & Paul Dix
TMO: Stuart Terheege
Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks
(Sandy Park, Exeter – Kick-off: 16.30; 15.30 GMT)
This is Exeter Chiefs sixth successive Premiership semifinal, and all have been played at Sandy Park where they have a 100 percent winning record in the previous five.
The Chiefs have won their last seven Premiership matches since their 18-34 defeat at Gloucester at the end of March.
Exeter have not been defeated at home in Premiership Rugby since Northampton were the visitors on February 20.
Sale Sharks have played in two previous Premiership semifinal matches, both against Wasps, losing at Adams Park in 2005 and winning at Edgeley Park in 2006.
Sale’s narrow defeat to Exeter on Saturday ended an eight-game winning run in the tournament. The last four fixtures between the two clubs have been evenly split with two wins apiece.
Sale have won just twice at Sandy Park in 12 previous visits in all tournaments, both in the Premiership in 2014 and January 2020. The two clubs have never met before in any knockout match.
@rugby365com: Exeter by five points.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Jack Nowell, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, |11 Tom O’Flaherty, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Richard Capstick, 6 Jannes Kirsten, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn.
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Marcus Street, 19 Sean Lonsdale, 20 Don Armand, 21 Stu Townsend, 22 Harvey Skinner, 23 Stuart Hogg.
Sale Sharks: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Sam James, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Ben Curry 6 Tom Curry (captain), 5 Jean-Luc du Preez, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Curtis Langdon, 1 Ross Harrison.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Valery Morozov, 18 Will-Griff John, 19 James Phillips, 20 Jono Ross, 21 Raffi Quirke, 22 Kieran Wilkinson, 23 Rohan Janse van Rensburg.
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant Referees: Jack Makepeace & Anthony Woodthorpe
TMO: Craig Maxwell-Keys