To win a championship, you need depth. And there is no greater test of that than during the Six Nations period. Here we look at the new Gallagher Premiership stars who are shining, in the absence of the Premiership’s usual leading figures.
Gallagher Premiership stars shining in the Six Nations
Saracens – Theo McFarland
Saries fans will remember the giant Will Skelton marauding around north London, and now with Theo McFarland, there are striking similarities.
Huge congratulations to our supremely talented @manusamoa International #Theo McFarland who's signed for @premrugby giants @Saracens. Theo brings plenty of physicality as well as athletic ability having also represented his Country at Basketball. Good luck Theo! 🇼🇸 pic.twitter.com/88QOPBCsY8
— TSMC Global (@TSMCGlobal) August 16, 2021
The big Samoan lock/back row player was a relative unknown coming into the season. After playing basketball at the Olympics McFarland now has his sights set on the World Cup in France. Being capped by Samoa in the Summer shows the potential to realize this dream if he performs well at Saracens.
Saracens have not had the number of players missing that they were perhaps expecting, with the Vunipola brother in particular still available. But an area Eddie Jones and Gregor Townsend have heavily raided is the second row and back row. Add in the fractured skull of Jackson Wray and there has been an open position in Saracens’ back five that McFarland has been doing an excellent job in filling.
His history in basketball has been on the show with some lovely offloads. This has been paired wonderfully with some incredible physicality, especially evident against Bath where he swatted away defenders on his way to a try. As a relative newcomer to the sport, he is still prone to the odd mistake ball in hand, but Saracens will be incredibly pleased with the progress he has made. Additionally, his versatility means when the likes of Itoje return, Joe Shaw will be forced into several tough selection decisions.
Leicester Tigers – Freddie Burns
A player that Leicester initially did not expect to be missing was George Ford. However, with Farrell requiring further surgery, the Tigers’ ten received a deserving recall after missing the Summer and Autumn games. This left Steve Borthwick to replace Ford with Freddie Burns, a man now in his second spell at the club.
Many would have expected a drop in standards after the excellent form that Ford has been in but, Burns has proved an inspired piece of work by the Tigers’ recruitment team after showing an incredible knack for managing a game and combining this with a touch of attacking flair.
— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) February 16, 2022
He received the player of the week award for Round 16 with a performance that saw him produce the above some astounding individual statistics.
Further evidence of how much he is influencing the team was on show during the loss Leicester suffered against Sale. At the time of his departure from the field, the Tigers were winning 12-23. But in the period he was off the pitch, Sale outscored the visitors 23-3 and ended up winning the match. Whilst rugby is a team sport and losses cannot be put down to one player, a momentum shift of this magnitude goes to show the influence Burns possesses on his team.
London Irish – Tom Pearson
The London Irish club is one of the least affected teams when it comes to international call ups. Only Ollie Hassell-Collins has spent time away with England while Scotland has given two caps to scrumhalf Ben White. Sometimes though, hard work in training is enough to force the coach’s hand and Tom Pearson has done just that.
Exiles can pick from players such as British and Irish Lion, Sean O’Brien, Argentine international, Juan Martín González, and Fijian wrecking ball, Albert Tuisue. Declan Kidney though has seen enough to say Pearson should be in the starting lineup though and he has delivered.
FULL-TIME: Wooooooow! What a performance!!!!! 💯
We get the bonus point win at Sandy Park 😍
— London Irish (@londonirish) October 23, 2021
Another product of Cardiff Met University (along with Alex Dombrandt and Luke Northmore), the Welsh University is starting to have a reputation for producing top-quality talent. Even Eddie Jones is now on notice if his press conference early last week is anything to go by!
Pearson has an incredible engine; in Round 14, he made 22 tackles, hit 39 rucks, eight carries, and beat seven defenders. This played a big role in the London Irish winning by 12 points. Also, numbers like this go a long way to explaining why he is already catching the attention of England’s head coach. With O’Brien there to mentor him, Pearson looks to be a big name for the future. Judging on recent performances though, he is looking more and more like a man for the here and now too.
Harlequins – Andre Esterhuizen
International call-ups have been incredibly tough for teams such as Harlequins. Not only in the number of players missing but how important those particular players are to the way Quins like to play and their leadership group.
Losses to Saracens, Bath and Sale only make this more evident. One player though who has been talismanic for the Londoners is Andre the giant. He has carried on the form that saw him named January’s player of the month and has shown frightening physicality on both sides of the ball.
His match-up with Tuilagi was a seismic affair and a Springbok recall cannot be far away. He has added a directness to Quins attack that has allowed more space to their flyers out wide and Esterhuizen’s defensive work provides an increasing highlight real of big hits and sore rib cages.
Esterhuizen has not just fallen into being a straight wrecking ball though. The South African has shown great skills to distribute and a boot that can seriously punish teams from penalties.
Gallagher Premiership stars shining during 2022 Six Nations
The Six Nations segment of the calendar can be the most challenging for Gallagher Premiership teams to navigate. However, it is also time for players not playing in the 6 Nations Championship to ‘step up’. This is what has happened in the Premiership, as news stars are shining. Like Theo McFarland, Freddie Burns, Tom Pearson, and Andre Esterhuizen, to name a few.
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