Premiership: Five storylines to follow in Round 19 as Marcus Smith looks to prove a point in Big Game 14
The Premiership is back in full swing this weekend, with five fixtures taking place across England during the Six Nations fallow week.
The race for play-off places heats up while the iconic Big Game celebrates its 14th instalment at Twickenham.
Planet Rugby highlights five storylines to keep an eye on during Round 19 of the Premiership.
Marcus Smith out to prove a point in Big Game 14
The rescheduled Big Game 14 showdown at Twickenham gives Marcus Smith the perfect opportunity to force his way back into the England squad.
Steve Borthwick released the mercurial fly-half from England duty to get some much-needed game time after short stints off the bench in the Six Nations matches against Italy and Wales.
The crunch clash takes place at the home of English Rugby and doubles up as a replay of the 2021 Premiership Final against Exeter Chiefs.
Harlequins desperately need a win after losing four of their last five matches and are on a six-match losing streak in the league. Conversely, their opponents have won their past three league games.
Smith needs a big performance, and so does his club.
🏴 England duo Marcus Smith and Ollie Hassell-Collins both start.
📋 Team news and predictions for the weekend's #GallagherPrem. https://t.co/xgyGo839Cr
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 3, 2023
Sale Sharks circle to close Saracens gap
It’s second versus first on Sunday afternoon as Saracens head to the AJ Bell Stadium to tackle Sale Sharks.
Alex Sanderson will hope his current side can get one over his former employers, as Sale have lost four of their last five encounters against Saracens. In fact, the last time Sale defeated the Londoners at home was back in September 2020, with Saracens claiming a hat-trick of wins at the venue since.
The Sharks are riding high at home, winning their last four games on the trot in Manchester but face the daunting task of stopping the Saracens machine.
It’s a battle of the two best defences in the competition, with both sides conceding 38 times, but Saracens have turned that into 13 wins from 15 matches compared to Sale’s 10.
Heading into the fixture, Saracens hold an 11-point advantage on the league standings, a gap that Sale could close to six with a convincing win.
Seven into two doesn’t go
With Saracens pretty much securing their place in the play-offs and Sale also highly likely to make it, that leaves a fierce battle for the final two positions. Although Newcastle Falcons will say that they can qualify, realistically, we think that there are seven teams that are vying for those spots.
The battle for Top 4 is really starting to heat up 🔥
Here are the #GallagherPrem standings after Round 18 👏 pic.twitter.com/BUPZZd0CCs
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) February 26, 2023
Northampton Saints and Gloucester currently reside in third and fourth – on 43 and 39 points respectively – but they have played a game more than Exeter Chiefs (38) in fifth. Then follows Leicester Tigers (38), London Irish (36), Harlequins (34) and Bristol Bears (34).
It is a remarkable situation and it certainly makes for an intriguing final quarter of the campaign. Most matches have a lot riding on them, with play-off challengers Bristol and Northampton kick-starting matters on Friday before Harlequins and Exeter Chiefs face off at Twickenham.
Leicester Tigers, who face Bath, and London Irish, at Newcastle, also play this weekend, so brace yourself for a thrilling end to the campaign. After the Six Nations finishes, the Premiership is the league to watch in the northern hemisphere as the campaign heads towards its conclusion.
Will Bath finally win in 2023?
There is a lot of excitement for what Bath can do next season when Finn Russell arrives at the Recreational Ground.
However, it has been a tough start to the year for Johann van Graan’s side. Bath are yet to win a game in all competitions, with their best result coming against Glasgow Warriors – a 19-all draw.
They kicked off the year with a Premiership Rugby Cup loss to London Irish, with defeats to Toulon and Sale sandwiched between the Glasgow stalemate.
There was no love for Bath at home in February, falling to home defeats to London Irish and Bristol Bears.
This week, Van Graan’s charges head to Welford Road in search of their maiden win over the year. It will be no easy task as Leicester are starting to find their feet following the departure of Steve Borthwick and have named a stacked side, including the back-row of Hanro Liebenberg, Tommy Reffell and Jasper Wiese.
Will Bath finally get off the mark in 2023?
Bears searching for a hat-trick of wins
While their West Country rivals have struggled this season, Bristol Bears look to be trending in an upward trajectory.
Pat Lam’s side heads into this weekend’s clash with Northampton Saints off the back of two successive Premiership wins.
The return to full fitness of Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau has certainly aided their cause. Lam’s side also fell to a narrow 20-19 defeat to league leaders Saracens.
🚨 𝙎𝙚𝙢𝙞 𝙍𝙖𝙙𝙧𝙖𝙙𝙧𝙖 𝙞𝙨 𝙗𝙖𝙘𝙠 𝙞𝙣 𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙩𝙤𝙣𝙞𝙜𝙝𝙩 🚨
The @BristolBears man is one of @premrugby's most in form players right now.pic.twitter.com/HV7DeOfTQF
— Rugby on BT Sport (@btsportrugby) March 3, 2023
The Bears are currently ranked ninth overall on the standings, and with six rounds, including this weekend, left in the Premiership, they could make a late charge for an unlikely play-off spot.
It’s been a tough season for the Bears winning just five games overall, but recent results will re-assure fans.
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