Premiership - Preview and Predictions, Round 14
BACK ON THE PITCH: The coronavirus pandemic has posed enormous challenges for clubs and leagues worldwide but for high-flying Bristol Bears it has been a “wonderful opportunity”.
Those were the words of the director of rugby Pat Lam.
The 51-year-old Samoan rugby great and his third-placed side will resume a Premiership campaign interrupted in mid-March when they play already-relegated Saracens at home on Saturday.
The Bristol squad have every reason to have an extra pep in their step as they can dream of winning their first Premiership title.
They enter the final nine matches of the resumed league season bolstered by two high-profile buys – Fijian star Semi Radradra and England prop Kyle Sinckler.
Bristol’s first aim is to finish in the top four to qualify for the play-offs.
Lam, who has been in his present role since 2017, said he treated COVID-19 no differently to how he confronted other obstacles in life.
“Life is full of challenges. Like on the field [when] you have a big guy running hard at you, is it fight or flight?” he told AFP in an interview at the team’s High-Performance Centre.
“Do you complain or moan or get on with things?
“I saw COVID as a wonderful opportunity.”
Lam, who played in three World Cups, reaching the 1991 and 1995 quarter-finals, said lockdown gave the players a very different challenge to their usual squad training regime.
“Here we talk about ownership, you have to own your development, own your living,” said the former No8.
“Everyone talks about players being spoonfed but they suddenly had to do things on their own even if we gave them a programme to follow.”
Lam says the gradual stepping up of training evolving from small groups of six into larger ones of 20 has been helpful too as it has given more time for one-on-one coaching.
🗣 “I feel ecstatic and I feel euphoric that my face is being immortalised in the Twickenham pitch.” 😂
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) August 12, 2020
‘Bums on seats’
CEO and former flyhalf Mark Tainton – who is the club’s record points scorer – says there is pressure on the players but he calls it “good pressure”.
“We are very excited and we are very ambitious to achieve what we can this year,” he told AFP.
“We have built up a coaching team and a squad capable of winning trophies soon, and why not this year?
“Before the lockdown we had won five on the trot which is a club record.
“We have to hit the ground running and build up a few wins as who knows where we will be if a second wave [of coronavirus] comes.”
The Premiership’s resumption will, like all other sports, take place behind closed doors – which means both a lack of atmosphere and a substantial hit to club revenues.
Tainton said the players had been given an insight as to what it would be like when the game kicks off at the 27,000-capacity Ashton Gate Stadium on Saturday.
“We have prepared the players for such an atmosphere by getting them to train in the stadium to get them used to no noise,” he said.
However, it is harder to budget for the future with no matchday revenue.
“We cannot survive on TV revenue and central funding,” said Tainton.
“It is bums on seats that we rely on and it was going really, really well pre-COVID.
“We had amongst the highest average crowds and our hospitality was doing really well.
“It leaves a big hole in the funding.”
However, another upside is the Bears have just started training at their new state-of-the-art High-Performance Centre just outside Bristol.
When private equity firm CVC took a substantial stake in the Premiership in 2018, each club received a £10.4 million ($13.5 million) payment.
Bristol’s owner, locally-born self-made billionaire Steve Lansdown, who made his fortune in financial services, chose to use that payment to create the new training facility.
There are two full-sized outdoor training pitches, one of which is called “Lansdown”, which as Lam wryly observes appropriately overlooks the rest of the complex.
“They could have put all the money into players which would have been short-term investment but this is a statement we are here for the long term,” Lam said.
*Article continues below…
This week’s predictions
Friday, August 14
Harlequins v Sale Sharks
(Twickenham Stoop, 19.45, 18.45 GMT)
Harlequins have won just twice in the last seven rounds of Premiership Rugby: both at Twickenham Stoop, against Saracens on January 26 and Exeter on February 29. The Londoners have lost just twice at the venue in Premiership Rugby this season, to Worcester in round four and London Irish in round ten.
Sale Sharks’ only defeat in their last six Gallagher Premiership Rugby fixtures was 22-36 at Saracens on February 15. Sale have won three times on the road in the competition this campaign, at London Irish in round two, Exeter in round nine and Gloucester in round twelve.
Harlequins’ only victory in their last four encounters with Sale was 51-23 on the last occasion that the two locked horns at The Stoop in September 2018. The Sharks have won only once at Twickenham Stoop in Premiership Rugby since 2008: 16-12 in November 2014.
England wing Chris Ashton makes his debut against the club he left to join Harlequins. Fullback Mike Brown has recovered from a knee injury to make his first appearance since November. Centre Joe Marchant returns from his spell in Super Rugby.
Centre Manu Tuilagi makes his bow for Sale alongside fellow debutant Sam Hill. Faf de Klerk is present at scrum-half after overcoming the knee problem that has prevented him from playing since January. De Klerk’s fellow World Cup winner, Lood de Jager, makes his full debut at lock.
Harlequins: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 James Lang, 11 Nathan Earle, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Chris Robshaw (captain), 6 James Chisholm, 5 Matt Symons, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Simon Kerrod, 2 Scott Baldwin, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Joe Gray, 17 Santiago Garcia Botta, 18 Will Collier, 19 Dino Lamb, 20 Tom Lawday, 21 Will Evans, 22 Scott Steele, 23 Paul Lasike
Sale Sharks: 15 Simon Hammersley, 14 Byron McGuigan, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Sam Hill, 11 Marland Yarde, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Faf de Klerk; 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Jono Ross (Captain), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Jean-Luc du Preez, 3 Will-Griff John, 2 Akker van der Merwe, 1 Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Curtis Langdon, 17 Ross Harrison, 18 Jake Cooper-Woolley, 19 James Phillips, 20 Ben Curry, 21 Will Cliff, 22 AJ MacGinty, 23 Denny Solomona.
Referee: Luke Pearce
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson and Paul Dix
TMO: Rowan Kitt
*Predictions: Sale Sharks by 15 points
*Article continues below…
Saturday, August 15
Worcester Warriors v Gloucester Rugby
(Sixways Stadium, 12.30, 11.30 GMT)
Worcester Warriors have lost their last six Premiership Rugby matches since beating London Irish at Sixways on December 28. The Warriors have lost four in succession in all competitions at home but have not lost five in succession at the venue since early 2016.
Gloucester have lost their last five Premiership fixtures but have not lost six in succession in the competition since 2012. Gloucester have lost their last nine away games in all tournaments since their 18-16 victory at Sale on the opening weekend of this season.
The last six fixtures between the two clubs have all been won by the home side on the day, while Gloucester have not been victorious at Sixways in the Premiership since May 2010.
Worcester: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tom Howe, 13 Ollie Lawrence, 12 Ashley Beck, 11 Scott van Breda, 10 Billy Searle, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Matt Kvesic, 7 Sam Lewis, 6 Ted Hill (captain), 5 Graham Kitchener, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Nick Schonert, 2 Niall Annett, 1 Ethan Waller
Replacements: 16 Beck Cutting, 17 Lewis Holsey, 18 Richard Palframan, 19 GJ van Velze, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Gareth Simpson, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Francois Venter
Gloucester: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Ollie Thorley, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Jonny May, 10 Danny Cipriani, 9 Joe Simpson, 8 Jake Polledri, 7 Lewis Ludlow, 6 Ruan Ackermann, 5 Freddie Clarke, 4 Ed Slater, 3 Fraser Balmain, 2 Jack Singleton, 1 Val Rapava-Ruskin
Replacements: 16 Henry Walker, 17 Logovi’i Mulipola, 18 Jack Stanley, 19 Matt Garvey, 20 Jack Clement, 21 Stephen Varney, 22 Tom Seabrook, 23 Louis Rees-Zammit
Referee: Christophe Ridley
Assistant referees: Andrew Jackson and Wayne Falla
TMO: Keith Lewis
*Predictions: Worcester Warriors win by 5 points
Exeter Chiefs v Leicester Tigers
(Sandy Park, 14.00, 13.00 GMT)
Exeter Chiefs have lost just once in the last four rounds of the Premiership: 30-34 at Harlequins in round twelve. The Chiefs have been defeated just twice at Sandy Park in Premiership Rugby this season, by Bristol in round four and Sale in round nine.
Leicester Tigers’ last six matches in the Premiership have all been won by the home side on the day while Tigers’ only away victory in the Premiership since October 2018 was at Newcastle in April 2019.
Exeter have won their last four encounters with Leicester in the Premiership. Tigers’ most recent victory at Sandy Park was 24-20 in September 2014.
Exeter Chiefs: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tom O’Flaherty, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Devoto, 11 Olly Woodburn, 10 Joe Simmonds (captain), 9 Jack Maunder, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Dave Ewers, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Jonny Gray, 3 Harry Williams, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Alec Hepburn
Replacements: 16 Jack Yeandle, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Don Armand, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Gareth Steenson, 23 Ian Whitten
Leicester Tigers: 15 George Worth, 14 David Williams, 13 Jaco Taute, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Tommy Reffell, 6 Harry Wells, 5 Calum Green, 4 Tomás Lavanini, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Tom Youngs (captain), 1 Ellis Genge
Replacements: 16 Jake Kerr, 17 Nephi Leatigaga, 18 Joe Heyes, 19 Hanro Liebenberg, 20 Luke Wallace, 21 Thom Smith, 22 Ben White, 23 Zack Henry
Referee: Tom Foley
Assistant referees: Greg Macdonald and Jonathan Healy
TMO: Stuart Terheege
*Prediction: Exeter Chiefs win by 10 points
Bath Rugby v London Irish
(The Recreation Ground, 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
Bath have lost their last two Premiership matches since beating Harlequins at the Recreation Ground on February 22. Bath have lost twice at home in the Premiership this season, to Saracens in round five and Bristol in round twelve.
London Irish have lost their last two Gallagher Premiership encounters since beating Gloucester at Madejski Stadium on February 22. The Exiles have won three times on the road this season in the Premiership, at Wasps in round one, at Northampton in round nine and at Harlequins in round ten.
Bath’s only defeat to London Irish in any competition in the last decade was 22-29 at Reading in September 2012, while London Irish’s last success at the Recreation Ground came with a 16-0 victory in the Premiership in November 2009.
Bath: 15 Anthony Watson, 14 Semesa Rokoduguni, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Josh Matavesi, 11 Ruaridh McConnochie, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Ben Spencer, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Zach Mercer, 5 Charlie Ewels (captain), 4 Josh McNally, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Tom Dunn, 1 Lewis Boyce.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Christian Judge, 19 Elliott Stooke, 20 Josh Bayliss, 21 Will Chudley, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Tom de Glanville
London Irish: 15 Tom Parton, 14 Ben Loader, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Terrence Hepetema, 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Paddy Jackson, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Albert Tuisue, 7 Seán O’Brien (captain), 6 Matt Rogerson, 5 George Nott, 4 Ben Donnell, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Harry Elrington
Replacements: 16 Matt Cornish, 17 Will Goodrick-Clarke, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Sebastian de Chaves, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Theo Brophy Clews, 23 Matt Williams
Referee: Craig Maxwell-Keys
Assistant referees: Robert Warburton and Phil Watters
TMO: David Grashoff
*Prediction: Bath win by 3 points
Bristol Bears v Saracens
(Ashton Gate, 16.30, 15.30 GMT)
Bristol Bears have won their last five Premiership fixtures, their best ever winning run in the history of the competition. Bristol have lost just one of their last 14 home games in all competitions: 21-26 to Wasps in round seven.
Saracens’ only defeat in the last four rounds was 10-60 at Wasps on February 21. Saracens’ 27-21 victory at Northampton in their most recent away game ended a three-game losing run on the road in Premiership Rugby. Bristol’s only victory over Saracens in the Premiership since 2008 was 23-21 at Ashton Gate in April 2019.
Bristol Bears: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Semi Radradra, 12 Siale Piutau, 11 Henry Purdy, 10 Callum Sheedy, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Dan Thomas, 6 Steven Luatua (captain), 5 Chris Vui, 4 Dave Attwood, 3 John Afoa, 2 Bryan Byrne, 1 Jake Woolmore
Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Ed Holmes, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Andy Uren, 22 Ioan Lloyd, 23 Alapati Leiua
Saracens: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Alex Lewington, 13 Dom Morris, 12 Juan Pablo Socino, 11 Rotimi Segun, 10 Alex Goode, 9 Richard Wigglesworth, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Jackson Wray, 6 Mike Rhodes, 5 Callum Hunter-Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Tom Woolstencroft, 17 Eroni Mawi, 18 Alec Clarey, 19 Joel Kpoku, 20 Sean Reffell, 21 Aled Davies, 22 Harry Sloan, 23 Elliott Obatoyinbo
Referee: Matthew Carley
Assistant referees: Adam Leal and Jake Makepeace
TMO: Claire Hodnett
*Prediction: Saracens win by 7 points
*Article continues below…
Sunday, August 16
Northampton Saints v Wasps
(Franklin’s Gardens, 15.00, 14.00 GMT)
Northampton Saints’ four-game losing run in the Premiership ended with their 16-10 victory at Worcester Warriors in round 13. The Saints have lost their last three encounters at Franklin’s Gardens but have not lost four in succession in Premiership Rugby at the famous old venue since 2006/07.
Wasps’ only defeat in the last five rounds of the Premiership was 9-18 at Leicester on February 15 – that was Wasps’ only away defeat in any competition since early December.
Northampton have won two of their last three Premiership fixtures against Wasps immediately following a run of six successive defeats stretching back to 2015. Wasps’ only victory at Franklin’s Gardens in the last five years was 36-17 in November 2018.
Northampton Saints: 15 George Furbank, 14 Harry Mallinder, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Ahsee Tuala, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Alex Mitchell, 8 Teimana Harrison (captain), 7 Lewis Ludlam, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Api Ratuniyarawa, 4 David Ribbans, 3 Paul Hill, 2 Mikey Haywood, 1 Francois van Wyk
Replacements: 16 Sam Matavesi, 17 Danny Hobbs-Awoyemi, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Alex Coles, 20 JJ Tonks, 21 Henry Taylor, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro
Wasps: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Zach Kibirige, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jimmy Gopperth, 11 Josh Bassett, 10 Jacob Umaga, 9 Dan Robson, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Thomas Young, 6 Jack Willis, 5 Will Rowlands, 4 Joe Launchbury (captain), 3 Kieran Brookes, 2 Tommy Taylor, 1 Ben Harris
Replacements: 16 Gabriel Oghre, 17 Tom West, 18 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 19 James Gaskell, 20 Sione Vailanu, 21 Ben Vellacott, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Ryan Mills
Referee: Karl Dickson
Assistant referees: Anthony Woodthorpe and Hamish Smales
TMO: Graham Hughes
*Prediction: Wasps will win by 3 points