Zurich Premiership - Week 3 Preview
September 13, 2001
The RFU and Premier Rugby confirmed earlier this week that the fixtures would go ahead, and as a mark of respect for victims of the New York atricity there will be a minute silence before each kick-off and all flags will be lowered to half-mast.
As for the action, two games take place on Saturday while the remaining four fall on Sunday. Bath will be desperate to get their season back on track against Saracens at the Recreation Ground, but that may be easier said than done now that Francois Pienaar's charges have rediscovered their winning habit. One Bath player summed up his side's recent form this week with the phrase, 'We can't pass, we can't catch and we can't kick.' Which is pretty condemning for a side favoured to go close to the title this year. The return of Iain Balshaw to the side this weekend cannot come quick enough for the west country side who appear to be distinctly short of impetus.
Balshaw has a lot to prove after a disappointing Lions tour and with England manager Clive Woodward naming his squad for the potential Grand Slam decider against Ireland on October 20 just two days later Balsh has got to turn it on.
Bath director of rugby Jon Callard has also been keen to defend 19-year-old flyhalf Ollie Barkley after his first senior appearance. "I don't think people realise what a step up this competition is. You get less time, you get people in your face, and you learn very quickly." The west country men will be led by American skipper Dan Lyle who has been in shock ever since the tragedy hit his home nation on Tuesday.
After bringing out the big guns of messrs Johnson and Healey last weekend the Tigers were able to bounce back from an opening day defeat to sweep Wasps aside last weekend. They will be looking for even more improvement when they visit Gloucester on Saturday. Philippe Saint'Andre's charges have proved the doubters wrong who predicting disaster before the season began. Victory over the Saints was followed by a narrow defeat at Sarries and they'll e hoping they can overtunr their Heineken Cup semi-final defeat back in April.
Bristol host the undefeated London Irish and will be hoping that skipper Jason Little will be in the same excellent form that inspired the Shoguns last weekend's victory over Quins. But the resurgent Exiles under player coach Brendan Venter will be favourites and have made limited changes to their starting line up with squad rotation sees Mike Worsley, Naka Drotske and Simon Halford start. Eddie Halvey takes over from Richard Bates on the replacements bench. The Exiles will once again hope that Barry Everitt is on form again with his boot after his 27 point tally last time out.
Leeds, in only the third week of their Zurich Premiership life have already experienced the ultimate high of a debut victory and the crushing low of a heavy defeat to London Irish so who knows what fortune will lay before them at home to the Northampton. It's not yet known whether new signing prop Kris Fullman will appear for the Tykes, his debut may come against his ormer club Bristol next week.
The Saints responded well to a disappointing defeat to Gloucester on the opeing day to add to Bath's woes last weekend with a notable victory and they will be looking to build on their good work their. They also hope former All Black flanker Andrew Blowers will start after pulling out of the team before last weekend's clash.
The bruised and battered Wasps will have to piece themselves together once again after a mauling from the Tigers last weekend in time for the visit of in-form Sharks. On current form you would expect Sale to take a similar bite out of the London club's title aspirations.
In the final game of the weekend the Falcons entertain the troubled Quins. Newcastle will welcome Olympic Super Heavyweight gold medallist Audley Harrison to training next Monday, which will not be a pretty site for the gathered press if Rob Andrew has to tear a strip of his side for a below par performance so expect them to deepen Quins' troubles. Quins's director of rugby John Kingston will be praying that injured centre Will Greenwood makes the starting line-up to provide the creative midfield spark that has been so sorely missed so far this season.