Two more Gallagher Premiership rounds before International Rugby takes over

Two more Gallagher Premiership rounds before International Rugby takes over
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With just two more Gallagher Premiership rounds to be played before International Rugby begins, English rugby fans couldn’t be happier with such a full calendar.

It happens in the Northern Hemisphere autumn though, last year was so badly interrupted that the pandemic interrupted so much of the calendar, 2021 is gratefully welcomed by stakeholders, players, and by the organizations and unions involved.

The volume of rugby has seen six uninterrupted Gallagher Premiership rounds completed so far, with some surprises and many of the anticipated league-leading sides performing to their goals. Only the Bristol Bears seem to have fallen down the table from where supporters will have dreamed their team ‘should be’ though, Leicester Tigers fans are over the moon.

The comparative highs and lows can be analyzed in depth by others, yet the fact attendance is less restricted than over the past 12 months, is a win for the Premiership, as much as for the upcoming International fixtures.

 

Two more Gallagher Premiership rounds before International Rugby begins

At the completion of this weekend, two further full rounds of the Gallagher Premiership will be played by leading teams, before the competition is halted for a short break. That will mean Round 8 will clash with week one of the November Autumn Test schedule, though exactly how many club players will be deployed for national team duty is unclear, the effect could hurt some teams more than others.

Imagine the relief for Tigers’ fans when George Ford was omitted from the England squad? They will all hope that for the elongated time with which he is now available for their club, it pays dividends for Leicester. The opposite may apply to the Saracens, who ‘as ever’ lose a wealth of star players to national duties.

If you value the figures of how many players each side contributes to England Rugby, there are sides in the Premiership who claim more places than others. Though, at this early stage of the season is it more or less important? With several weeks of the calendar cleared for the November window, no clear advantage can be found if you have any more or any fewer players away from your base. For good or bad, representation is never a curse, as the higher standards are predominantly celebrated by clubs internally and externally alike.

The breakdown of Eddie Jones’ 32 man squad shows some favoritism. Fewer players from Gloucester, Sale, Bristol, Bath, or reigning champions Harlequins. Maybe that one club could be slightly aggrieved at that fact but being ‘more popular’ comes with its own challenges.

Leicester has five members of the England squad who depart for a week-long camp to Jersey, so if anything, the next two Gallagher Premiership rounds will be hardest for the Tigers (in theory), and to for teams like the Falcons, Saracens, or Northampton, harder than others. That is always the way though and is something every Internationally represented club demands on their domestic competition demands in November.

It always seems that if your side has more talent who are represented in Test match rugby, that you do suffer domestically (to a degree). Is that a reward, or a risk? Probably a risk, because you want International quality players, however, you want them to represent your club as much as their country. The proverbial double-edged sword in terms of rugby.

Impact of International rugby unavailability for clubs

No one club will plan to drop matches over the next fortnight. It is certainly unsettling, with key playmakers like Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje depleting Saracens strength. Yet coaches can then accommodate this to a degree – depending on how many players are removed.

The Tigers lose five members; Nic Dolly, Ellis Genge, George Martin, Freddie Steward, and Ben Youngs. One of those is uncapped, so may not feature in the England test squad immediately but, the loss of so many front-line players could deal a blow to their unbeaten start to this season – their longest winning run to start a single season ever. So can Leicester fans feel aggrieved?

No, they shouldn’t. Youngs is a big loss, as his combination with Ford will be greatly missed, yet replacements Richard Wigglesworth and utility Harry Simmons can fill the void. Retaining Ford is probably the club’s most crucial by-product of England’s selection policy. Ford has scored the most points (48 – 9 con, 10 pen) of any player in the Premiership this season.

The same can be said of losing their hooker, prop, and back-rower in George Martin. It will be critical that Steve Borthwick has already begun to rotate his squad so those unavailable players can be substituted effectively. Only two matches are affected, so the Tigers can operate as before, possibly only losing 10-15% efficiency over the period.

Others like Saracens have always had similar or even more demands in the past. They have coped well over the last 6-7 seasons, so that club can be confident. The Falcons could feel it more, as might Northampton. Others can easily fill a place or two from bench players; Bristol being one.

This period could be rewarding for the Bears, even if other members of their squad are called up for other International unions. But it is the attitude and application which will allow affected sides, to maintain their positions in these remaining Premiership Rugby rounds. Aside from the bye that Newcastle and Gloucester must take.

Lasting this period without Internationals continues in the Premiership Rugby Cup rounds, from November 12 to Nov 20. Two rounds where more development players can be blooded, in that shortened competition.

Which team will benefit the most over November Test window?

The secondary factors which may point toward which team benefits most over the window of International fixtures is theoretical. You conclude that some teams must still lose over Premiership Rugby rounds 7, 8, and possibly in the resuming round 9, beginning on November 26. The resumption f play can find teams absorbing players who are ‘spent’ from the energy used during rugged Test matches.

So who replaces the missing contingent is crucial, as is the fitness of returning players. Some may be rested for one game, or return to play from the bench. So three matches must be considered, as well as the fact Leicester Tigers have a Bye in round 9. It points to a scenario where two victories for the Tigers still see them leading the comp on 35 points (approximately).

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Notwithstanding their round 7 game versus Northampton, the following game against Bath may be ‘a blessing in disguise’.  Meeting the bottom-placed side is the one positive that Steve Borthwick (above image) can push his side to gain a vital bonus point. Do that, and win against the Saints, and they resume on 36 points – a big statement, looking towards more European Professional Club Rugby fixtures, and the Six Nations window that has similar effects on domestic rugby.

Northampton will be aiming to upset that pattern, and a significant defeat of the Tigers will bring those sides closer on the table. Do that, and defeat Sale and Bristol too, and they could sit equal on 31 points with their rivals. That is a harder task, as is the Sharks’ draw. To defeat Northampton, Worcester [probable], followed by a tough match vs Saracens.

The theory that Sarries can firstly beat Harlequins, followed by London Irish at home [probable] and Sale, might be their big test. Win them all, and look for Saints to beat the Tigers, and the recently reinstated side finds an all too familiar spot at the top of the table. Possible, though the Tigers will feel most confident in their position. Their mental strength in 2021/22 is clear to see.

Upsets can happen – look at London Irish beating Exeter. But the Tigers look the goods again. Their goal will be to hold their nerve, win two matches, rest during the Bye, and then focus squarely on defeating last year’s champions, Harlequins on December 5 at home.

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