After a thrilling opening weekend of Premiership Rugby, and the first coach sacking of the season, we look ahead to all the Round 2 action this weekend.
Here are our previews:
Friday September 7
Northampton Saints v Harlequins (Franklin’s Gardens, 22.45 UAE time)
Referee: Tom Foley (53rd Premiership game).
Northampton slipped up at Gloucester on Saturday and have not begun a season with a pair of defeats in rounds 1 and 2 since 2003/04. The Saints have won three of their last five home games in Premiership Rugby, the defeats being to Sale and Saracens in March and April.
Harlequins 51-23 home win over Sale Sharks ended a five-game losing run in Premiership Rugby. The Londoners have not won their opening two games in the tournament since season 2012/13 whilst their most recent away victory in Premiership Rugby came at Wasps in round 3 last year.
The last five meetings between the two have all been won by the home side on the day with ‘Quins most recent victory at Franklin’s Gardens coming in December 2012.
Marcus Smith is on a streak of seven successive successful kicks at goal.
26 - @WaspsRugby's @NateWJHughes made 26 carries against @WorcsWarriors at the weekend, seven more than any other player in round 1 and the most he has ever made in a @premrugby match. Impact. pic.twitter.com/NZC0YxAT0P— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) September 3, 2018
Saturday September 8
Wasps v Exeter Chiefs (Ricoh Arena, 17:00 UAE time)
Referee: Christophe Ridley (7th Premiership game).
Wasps only defeat in their last five Gallagher Premiership Rugby fixtures was in last season’s semi-final to Saracens at Allianz Park. Wasps have won their opening two games of the season for the past two years. Wasps only defeat at the Ricoh Arena in Premiership Rugby since last October was to Saracens on January 7.
Exeter only defeat since mid-February in any competition was in last season’s Premiership Rugby final to Saracens at Twickenham Stadium. The Chiefs have won their last three away games since they tripped up at Wasps in round 15 last season.
Overall in Premiership Rugby the two clubs have met on 18 previous occasions with Exeter winning twelve, Wasps five and one game drawn. The Devonians only previous victory at Ricoh Arena was 41-27 in December 2015.
Leicester Tigers? What on earth? If Matt O’Connor isn’t the right man after just 80 minutes this season, why not make the change at the end of last season? I mean...— Nick Mullins (@andNickMullins) September 3, 2018
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons (Welford Road, 18:00 UAE time)
Referee: Matthew Carley (76th Premiership game).
Leicester Tigers only victory in their last four Premiership Rugby fixtures was at Sale in round 22 last season. 2017-18 began with a pair of defeats for the Tigers, the only previous time this has occurred in Premiership Rugby history.
The Tigers, no longer with Matt O’Connor at the helm, have lost their last two home games in the tournaments, to Northampton and Newcastle, and have only once before lost three in a row at Welford Road in Premiership Rugby – at the start of the 2011/12 campaign.
Newcastle Falcons have lost their last three Premiership Rugby matches since beating Leicester at Welford Road in April – their only victory in their last five away games in all tournaments.
The Falcons have won just two of their last 17 encounters with Leicester, at Kingston Park in February 2016 and Welford Road in April.
Sione Kalamafoni has played 99 Premiership matches.
💬| "We’re away from home and we’re playing the number one team in the country. It's a completely different challenge."— Bristol Bears (@BristolBears) September 4, 2018
Head coach, Pat Lam previews Saturday's @premrugby trip to Allianz Park. ⬇️
Saracens v Bristol Bears (Allianz Park, 18:00 UAE time)
Referee: Andrew Jackson (15th Premiership game).
Saracens have won their last eight Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches, scoring at least four tries in each of the last seven. Saracens have lost just once at Allianz Park in Premiership Rugby since November: to Leicester in February.
Bristol Bears have won their last six competition matches since tripping up at home to Jersey Reds in last year’s RFU Championship. Bristol’s most recent away game in Premiership Rugby was also at Allianz Park, losing 9-27 there to Saracens in April 2017.
Saracens have won their last five fixtures against Bristol in Premiership Rugby since the Bears 18-3 win at Memorial Stadium in January 2008.
David Strettle is on 49 Premiership tries
Richard Wigglesworth is on 263 Premiership appearances, two behind record holder Steve Borthwick.
Bath Rugby v Gloucester Rugby (Recreation Ground, 22.30 UAE time)
Referee: Luke Pearce (77th Premiership game).
Bath Rugby have won just two of their last seven Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches, at Gloucester in April and at home to London Irish in May. Bath have not lost their opening two matches of a Premiership Rugby campaign since 2009/10.
Gloucester beat Northampton 27-16 at Kingsholm in round 1 but have not won their opening two fixtures of a season since 2007-08. Gloucester’s only victory in their last six away games in Premiership Rugby was on a visit to London Irish in March. Each side won its respective away game when the two sides met last season. Gloucester have won just once in their last four visits to the Recreation Ground in all competitions.
“I think Dunky is one of the bravest rugby players you will find” – Worcester Warriors hooker Niall Annett backs fly-half Duncan Weir to bounce back from drop goal miss https://t.co/LMtQxzXOu6— Geoff Berkeley (@geoffberkeleyWN) September 4, 2018
Sunday September 9
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors (AJ Bell Stadium, 18:00 UAE time)
Referee: JP Doyle (154th Premiership game).
Sale Sharks slipped to a fourth successive Gallagher Premiership Rugby defat at Harlequins on Saturday. The Sharks two defeats in their last seven Premiership Rugby encounters at AJ Bell Stadium were to Saracens in round 15 and Leicester in round 22 last season.
Worcester Warriors have won just two of their last eight Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches, both at home in April, to Newcastle and Harlequins. The Warriors won just twice on the road in the competition last season, at Leicester in November and at Exeter in February.
Sale have lost only one of their last nine fixtures with Worcester in Premiership Rugby, at Sixways in February 2016, whilst the last time that Warriors won on Sharks soil was at Edgeley Park in November 2008.
Mercer has made 38 appearances and has drawn wide acclaim for his performances in the Blue, Black and White, with the 21 year-old finishing the 2017/18 season with six tries. The back rower also caught the eye of England Head Coach Eddie Jones, making his debut against the Barbarians in May.
Mercer, who was promoted to the senior squad from the Academy in 2017 said: “I couldn’t ask for a better place to continue my development – we’ve got a great setup with the coaches and players along with an amazing supporter base.
“It’s a really exciting time to be part of this Club, and our challenge now is to make sure we’re up there competing with the best in the (Gallagher) Premiership and Europe.
“Zach is a huge talent, and we’re really pleased to have secured his future with the Club.” said Director of Rugby, Todd Blackadder.
Zach Mercer is going all the way to the top, the lad’s got an unreal engine on him 🔥👏— Steve Trenchard (@SteveTrenchard1) March 5, 2018
Having played a full match he goes the length of the field to stop Marcus Smith score a certain try...#RugbyUnited
“Over the last two years, he has worked incredibly hard at all the aspects of his game; this has paid dividends and is clear to see in his dominant performances. He has got all the attributes to become a world-class player, and it’s great to know that he sees Bath as the place to do that.
“With the likes of Toby (Faletau) and Francois (Louw), he’s got some of the best players to learn from and I’m sure he’ll continue to thrive in this environment over the next three years.”
Smith bagged a personal record 26-point haul in Saturday’s season-opening 51-23 Premiership win over Sale at The Stoop.
The 19-year-old steered Quins intelligently as the Twickenham men kick-started Paul Gustard’s coaching reign with a six-try, bonus-point victory.
Smith has appeared as an “apprentice” in previous senior England squads, before helping the under-20s to this summer’s Junior World Championship final.
The precociously-talented teenager has big ambitions for his career, but remains adamant he will have to earn England boss Jones’ interest through consistency and graft.
“Obviously it’s every kid’s dream to play for England, that’s my goal at the end of the day, but I need to let my performances do the talking here and hopefully get Eddie (Jones) calling me – hopefully,” said Smith.
“My focus is here at Quins, that’s one game, I’ve done alright this game but there’s still a long way to go and like I said there’s a big test on Friday night (at Northampton) and hopefully I can carry the performance today and take it into next week along with the team.”
Owen Farrell, George Ford and Danny Cipriani – barring any influence on boss Jones’ thoughts from his arrest in Jersey – are England’s current frontline playmakers.
But Jones has long since admired Smith’s potential to develop into a top-level outside-half, and on Saturday’s evidence the young Quin is continuing his upward trajectory.
England lost the summer’s Junior World Championship final 33-25 to hosts France, but Smith starred in that tournament – and feels it has proved beneficial as he embarks on his second season as a senior pro.
“I learned a lot from that under-20s experience,” said Smith.
“I learned how to take control and try and lead a team, and I tried to take what I learned from the seniors experience into that World Cup. Unfortunately we fell at the last hurdle but I really enjoyed that experience.”
Debutant Ben Tapuai bagged two tries in Saturday’s Sale win, with Smith then hailing the Wallabies centre for easing the playmaking burden.
And Smith also believes new Quins boss Gustard can have a big impact on the Londoners, who struggled en route to an 11th place league finish last term.
“He’s brought a lot of energy, Gussy’s very enthusiastic at what he does, and I think it feeds well onto the group,” said Smith, of Gustard.
“I hope you saw there we were all energised for the full 80 and that’s something we hope to bring for the rest of the season.
“Obviously I want to add a bit of control to my game. I love playing with the ball in hand and I’ll just try to give and go there.
“Taps (Ben Tapuai) has got a lot of experience, played for the Wallabies a lot of times so having him outside, bouncing ideas off him and trying to learn off him as well is really good and really helpful.
“He gives me the information, so if he sees they’re short and he wants the ball early I’ll try and communicate to Danny (Care) to get the ball early to him and unleash our backs.
“He’s just a second pair of eyes that help me try and manage the game.”