Gallagher Premiership stars shine in the shadow of Six Nations

Gallagher Premiership stars shine in the shadow of Six Nations

With all the incredible rugby going on with the Six Nations, it can be tough to remember that Gallagher Premiership stars are performing during round 20 fixtures, that still rage on domestically while the Test nations fight it out.

Just like last year, Last Word on Rugby looks into who is making the most of the international players being away. Which Gallagher Premiership stars might create some selection headaches when the tournament is over?

Gallagher Premiership stars shine in the shadow of Six Nations

Theo Dan – Saracens

As is often the case Saracens are heavily impacted with international call ups. England, Wales, Italy and Scotland have all been calling up players from last seasons’ runners up. Saracens have lost two of their three matches during this period although they still sit at the top of the table.

Despite a couple of losses, they have uncovered a number of players who have shown that Saracens’ academy continues to produce incredible talent. The latest player to make the most of his opportunity is Theo Dan. The hooker only made his premiership debut in June last year. He has shown over recent weeks that he has what it takes to be a star of the domestic league.

Dan Theo lineout throwing may not match that of regular starter Jamie George, but his impact in open play is incredible. He has been one of Saracens top carriers in their past three matches and against Sale only wing Sean Maitland beat more defenders, against Leicester he beat the joint most and against Newcastle he was once again second.

It is not just the number of defenders he beats though but where he beats them. While wings carry in the wide open spaces, Dan is carrying close to the ruck where the defensive line is most set and as such far harder to bend and break unless you possess the physicality and footwork that Dan has brought to his team.

He is a slightly different player to Schalk Brits who many Saracens fans will remember as one of the greatest ever stars of the Gallagher Premiership and perhaps the comparison is a little premature; given where Dan is in his career yet there are definitely some similarities in their work ‘ball in hand’.

Josh Hodge – Exeter Chiefs

Hodge is a player Exeter signed as a youngster full of potential back in 2020. We had seen glimpses of this skill in attack before but until now he had yet to show he had the ability to perform to the level expected of him on a consistent basis.

Once again international call ups have given a player the opportunity with Hogg away with Scotland and Hodge has made the most of this extended run in the first team after Hogg has also been missing for a number of weeks through the season with injury.

With a smaller frame than most, much is often made of Hodge’s defensive frailties. However, since the new year, the elusive back three player has been named the Chiefs player of the day three times. Furthermore, he has signed a new deal to remain at the club. It is well known that many of Exeter’s stars will be moving on at the end of the season. Hodge though, is staying, and is a man the Devonians can build around for the future.

In fact if he continues to put in performances like the two-try showing against Sale, Steve Borthwick may view him as the man to challenge Freddie Steward or perhaps bring his attacking flair onto the wing for England.

Mike Brown – Leicester Tigers 

When Brown left Harlequins for Newcastle, many thought his career was drawing to a close. Then when he was let go by the Falcons, most would have said that his time in the Premiership was over. A former star of the Gallagher Premiership ending his career. Not the former England fullback though. He has kept himself fit all year and after a trial period with the Tigers, he signed a short-term contract. On his Tigers’ debut Brown showed the world his doubters were wrong. He put in a man of the match display to help Leicester beat table toppers Saracens. His performance was full of everything you would associate with Brown, grit, ariel prowess, determination and a try to top it all off.

Brown will bring a huge amount to the Tigers’ setup off the field with his experience and desire to be the best showing the younger players what it takes to play at the highest level but right now the Leicester need him to perform for them on the field and that is exactly what he has done. Brown has started each Premiership game for his new club since then and has yet to taste defeat. With Freddie Steward almost guaranteed the 15 shirt when he returns from England duty, Brown is not there to add competition to the Tigers team, but to fill a gap and get results and it is a role he is performing admirably considering his time out of the game.

This may be the last professional contract Brown ever gets but he is doing everything he can to persuade the Tigers to offer him an extension. That or hope to get the attention of another club enough for them to offer him a deal.

Jasper Wiese – Leicester Tigers

While this is a period clubs will look to their fringe players to step up, they also will expect the regular first team players to lead by example. Wiese is one of these international standard players. So while the Tigers’ pack is missing Cole, Chessum, Reffell to England duty he has been expected to step up and lead in their absence.

Against Saracens the Springbok produced two line breaks. He was also crucial in the try for countryman Pollard that set the tone early in the match. Against London Irish he put in a try scoring performance that saw him named in the Premiership team of the week for the second week in a row and another 80 minutes against Bath saw him consistently getting his team on the front foot in attack. On the flipside, whilst also putting himself about in defence with 22 carries and 10 tackles.

If Leicester are going to retain their title they are going to need Wiese to maintain this form when the Six Nations players return for the remainder of the season and, if the Tigers make it, through the playoffs.

Fraser Dingwall – Northampton Saints

Finally a player who has been in and out of England camps over the past few years but never capped. Dingwall came through the Saints academy and was named Premiership player of the month for February. He has become a star of the Gallagher Premiership and a mainstay of the Northampton backline in recent years but it feels like this season he has transformed into a real leader of the side after being captain for the first time last year against Worcester.

Dingwall is a centre with a huge amount of skill and pace that are perfect for Northampton’s expansive game plan. However, he also has incredible defensive capability that means he is in the top eight for tackles made in the league and no back has made more tackles. Moreover, only three backs have made more turnovers than the 23 year old. Dingwall must wonder what else he needs to do to impress the England coaching staff, now headed up by Borthwick.

Meanwhile, Saints fans will just hope their star player remains fit and in form as the battle for top four is far from done yet.


See all this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership stars performing across all five Round 20 fixtures. Follow this year’s competition with Last Word on Rugby, and add to the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.


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