The Premiership heads into the fifth round of the 2022/2023 season with some exciting match-ups ahead.
Planet Rugby breaks down five talking points to consider ahead of this weekend’s action.
Third play fourth on Friday night at Ashton Gate, and in the last 24 hours, Bristol Bears boss Pat Lam has dipped into the transfer market to bolster his lock stocks with the signing of the outstanding young ex-Worcester Warriors lock Joe Batley. Batley has overcome huge adversity once in his life already, beating cancer at the age of 22 before returning to the game to become one of the best locks in the Premiership this season, tipped for potential international honours.
Lam’s side have had a remarkable return to form after an underwhelming season in 2021/2. Their ability to play coast to coast rugby will stretch the famous Exeter defence in a match that might well be summed up as pace versus power.
Ashton Gate on a Friday night is a wonderful experience and we’re sure it’ll be packed to watch this local-ish derby. But we think streetwise Exeter might just spring a surprise, turning over the Bears at home and our bullish prediction is a loss for the Bears by a score.
Tigers lick wounds
Welford Road sees a visit from high flying Sale after a week spent licking the considerable wounds inflicted by Saracens last weekend in an absolute pounding for the champions, where Theo McFarland, Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell dismantled Leicester.
They face a side in Sale that play a similar confrontational style as they do – big forwards hitting big carries with intensity, based upon a great aerial game and, crucially, detailed control of the drop zone. However, this year, Sale have done that rather better than Tigers have and with both England stars, Tom Curry and Manu Tuilagi, in fine form and fitness, this could be another tough day at the office for Leicester as they will come up against a team equally as physical as they are.
In the set-piece, Sale shade the lineout, Tigers shade the scrum. With Tigers’ Handre Pollard’s knee injury ruling him out, we see this match as an uphill struggle for the hosts and fully expect Sale to test them all the way, with an upset on the cards.
It is scant consolation for the Worcester Warriors faithful that even after the suspension of the club, Bath languish below them in the Premiership, again without a win this season.
Even the former Bulls assistant coach Johann Van Graan has failed to inject steel into the jelly like spine of one of England’s most famous clubs and yet again, last week, they were beaten up badly by London Irish, especially in the first half.
Considering the international talent at their disposal and the fine history of the club, the continued underperformance of Bath Rugby is remarkable. With local rivals Gloucester Rugby only playing two games so far this year (courtesy of a bye and a cancellation v Worcester), Round Five will see them visit The Rec with a lot of energy and a lot of desire to beat their old foes.
It’ll be an absolute corker of a game, and we believe this might just see another away win to keep Bath rooted at the foot of the table and to ask further big questions of the Bath management.
Tale of the full-back
Despite his obvious talent no player divides England supporters more than the brilliant full-back of Northampton Saints, George Furbank.
The 25-year-old has always been seen as something of Eddie Jones’ pet – a player that has yet to prove his selectorial worth.
However, when players like Dan Biggar eulogise about him, describing him as one of the best carriers from the 10 channel he’s ever played with and talking about how much he loves playing with the Englishman standing at 10 and Biggar working off him as second receiver, then you tend to listen.
— Northampton Saints 😇 (@SaintsRugby) October 3, 2022
The bigger question is how does he fit into an international side? At Rugby World Cups, adaptability is key – every team needs that 33rd player – the man that gets on with the team and gets on with the job, without moaning about selection or his own situation. Furbank is that man – but right now he’s pushing all the way for the England 15 shirt, to the point that, much to the dismay of middle-England man, we might well see Freddie Steward moved onto the wing to accommodate him.
Furbank has been a revelation this year and we hope this continues at Wasps on Sunday, where we expect to see him back at his running best again and to get the press typewriters chattering. We hope so – he’s a joy to watch.
Wasps buzz off
As Worcester’s embers glow bright on the other side of the West Midlands, and with the high scoring Northampton Saints visiting Wasps at the Coventry Building Society Arena on Sunday, the newswires are humming with the thoughts that the home team could be forced to forfeit ownership of the Coventry Building Society Arena if they are declared insolvent. Coventry City Council, the freeholder of the stadium, has revealed such a move could happen if the tenant enters into “some kind of insolvency regime”.
The broadsheets reported the council has “no intention” of exercising the forfeiture clause “unless Wasps were sold to someone planning not to continue to use the stadium for sporting purposes”. On Tuesday, Wasps Holdings Limited confirmed a second notice of intention to appoint administrators had been filed.
Rugby is at its lowest ebb off pitch, but conversely, the product on pitch is thriving. This one could be a high scoring end-to-end affair, and we sincerely hope that the headlines on Monday are about the quality of rugby, rather than the lack of quality of the balance sheets.
As Oscar Wilde may have observed: “To lose one club, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.”