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Match Preview: Northampton Saints (A)

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Fixture: Northampton Saints vs London Irish

Competition: Gallagher Premiership, Round 2

Date: 17th September 2022

Kick-off: 2pm

Stadium: cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens

Capacity: 15,200

 

London Irish is back on the road this weekend for a first away trip of the Gallagher Premiership season, with Northampton Saints lying in wait at the cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.

Phil Dowson’s side welcome Irish to the Midlands after the Exiles continued their excellent run of home form against Worcester Warriors (losing just once in their last 14), with the 45-14 result also being the first opening day win of the Premiership since 2019 for Irish.

The Boys in Green not only top of the charts in the Gallagher Premiership overall standings, but amassed the most points (45), tries (7) and turnovers won (9) in Round 1 and rank in the top five teams in carries (131), tackles (151) and visits to the 22 (10).

Saints conversely managed a losing bonus point in their away visit to Sale Sharks, finishing with a flurry through a Tom Collins brace and an Ollie Sleightholme try that meant the Franklin’s Gardens side walked away with something from the 29-22 defeat.

The vivacious style of the game employed by Saturday’s hosts was still evident in defeat, having topped the defenders beaten chart with (29), and also in top five of metres gained (505) and visits to 22 (10).

Whilst Irish’s win means they have lost just one of their last four league games, Northampton’s record is inversed with just one win in as many games, coming in a 65-26 victory at home against Newcastle Falcons in June.

In the time being, the East Midlanders have replenished their stock with nine new signings, namely Queensland Reds duo Angus Scott-Young and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, and scrum-half Callum Braley, formerly of Benetton Treviso.

The boss- Phil Dowson:

Possessing a distinguished playing career in his extensive repertoire, Dowson won the Powergen and Anglo-Welsh Cups twice, one each with Newcastle Falcons and Northampton Saints, also playing a part in the latter’s double winning side of the 2013/14 season.

Dowson spent eight seasons at Kingston Park with Falcons, two of which as captain, before a switch further south to Northampton where he earned his first England cap after time with the Saxons squad in numerous Churchill Cup tournaments.

Attaining a decorated stint with the side in Black, Green and Gold, the former back-row forward spent two seasons with Worcester Warriors where he reached 262 Premiership appearances, the joint third highest in the division.

Upon completion of his playing days, he then re-joined Northampton as Assistant Coach, impressing with a quick progression to being named as Forwards Coach ahead of the 2018/19 season, as well as coaching an England XV against the Barbarians in 2019.

In the 2022/23 campaign, Phil Dowson enters his first season in charge of at the Club he made 186 appearances for, ascending from the Forwards Coach position whilst operating under previous Director of Rugby, Chris Boyd.

One to watch- Lukhan Salakaia-Loto:

Salakaia-Loto was one of three debutants for Saints last week, joined by Sam Graham and former Queensland Reds teammate Angus Scott-Young in their maiden Saints run-outs against Sale Sharks.

On his debut, the second-row forward made 24 metres from 11 carries (second-most of any forward), seven passes including two offloads, nine tackles, one defender beaten, whilst also winning and stealing a lineout.

The Australian international joined from the Super Rugby Pacific outfit after a seven-year stay, with Director of Rugby Phil Dowson praising the abrasiveness and adaptability of Salakaia-Loto as well as Scott-Young in their first game.

Having represented Australia in the 2015 and 2016 World Rugby Under-20s Championships and then making his Test debut against South Africa in 2017, the versatile 25-year-old earned 30 caps for his country to date including five in the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Cutting an imposing 6’6”, 121kg frame able to slot in amongst the back row, Salakaia-Loto started his rugby career in the league code with Western Suburbs before representing Randwick in Sydney.

Classic Encounter- London Irish 25-23 Northampton Saints – 26th December 2015 – Aviva Premiership:

The Exiles earned a satisfying win over Northampton Saints in their Christmas fixture at the Madejski Stadium in 2015, a late penalty try being the only divider between the sides.

Luke Narraway and Sean Maitland lifted the home side into the ascendency with two first-half scores, although Ken Pisi bit back to bring his men back into the conversation.

Pisi’s score set the tone for second period, Saints leapfrogging Irish with smart scores from George North and Kahn Fotuali’I to establish a five-point swing.

Nevertheless, a late penalty try was awarded following a dominant set-piece from the Exiles and victory stayed with Tom Coventry’s side in Reading.

London Irish

Tries: Luke Narraway, Sean Maitland, Penalty try

Conversions: Chris Noakes, Shane Geraghty

Penalties: Chris Noakes (2)

Northampton Saints

Tries: Ken Pisi, George North, Kahn Fotuali’i

Conversion: Steven Myler

Penalties: Steven Myler (2)

Pre-match patter:

Northampton Saints Director of Rugby Phil Dowson has confirmed that Wales international out-half Dan Biggar will be in contention to play against London Irish in Round 2 of the Gallagher Premiership this weekend.

“Dan Biggar’s available, we’re just waiting and seeing,” Dowson revealed this week.

“He’s not done much contact so we look at the GPS data, we talk to the medics and the S&C and decide at what point they’re ready to go or if they’re ready for a position on the bench.”

Whist also announcing that forwards David Ribbans and Ehren Painter have returned to training, Dowson also said that his Club’s England tourists of Australia will have to face another week away from the pitch.

“We’ve got guys coming back in this week and then the following week the England guys are available,” Dowson said.

“I can’t pick them this week, as you have to apply for special dispensation.

“Courtney played a lot of minutes on tour, Lewis played a lot of minutes on tour, and we try to give those guys a proper off-season.

“We’d love to have them available to play against Irish, but we trust the depth of the squad and we know that in the long term we need to look after those guys in terms of player welfare.”

Content & Images from – London Irish Rugby


Premiership

Hill ready for Chiefs test at the AJ Bell

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Following an extended break due to his involvement in England’s summer tour of Australia, the Sharks family finally got their chance to see Jonny Hill in action last week as the British & Irish Lion made his highly anticipated debut against Bath at The Rec.

But rather than focus on his own efforts, it was the team performance at Bath that Jonny was especially proud of on his first outing as a Shark, with the 28-year-old recognising the resilience of his new teammates in the face of adversity after going down to fourteen men after just nine minutes.

He said: “I was really impressed with the boys at Bath. I thought we fought really hard and showed a lot of perseverance going down to fourteen and then thirteen men at some stages.”

It was a performance to be proud of for Jonny too as the England International played all 80 minutes to help the Sharks complete their second consecutive bonus point victory in as many weeks.

After seamlessly slotting into the Sale squad following a busy summer on tour with England, Jonny credits the extended break offered to him by Sale as a catalyst for his early form this season.

He said: “The extra time I had off following the tour was good. The main thing it allowed me to do was freshen up physically and mentally whilst it also gave me the chance get used to being in a new environment. I’m feeling good for it now though and looking forward to getting stuck into the season.”

It’s a season of change in many areas for Jonny, having to settle into a new city and integrate himself amongst the squad. But the Devon-born giant admits he’s been pleasantly surprised by the northern weather at least.

He said: “It’s been brilliant so far to be fair. I’ve been here five or six weeks now and luckily the weather has been really nice since I moved up. I’ve not been up to too much so far, just getting into the swing of things in pre-season and spending time with the lads. I’ve managed to played a bit of golf but I haven’t found myself a beach to relax on just yet.”

The culture shock of a move from the South-West was balanced by the bromance Jonny already shared with Tom Curry. In fact he revealed he enjoys both Curry twins’ company, so much so that he moved in with the pair when he first arrived in Manchester.

He said: “I’ve spent quite a lot of time with the Curry’s. I knew Tom from England and the Lions and he offered to put me up when I first arrived. That was a strange experience! I’m glad to be out of their way for a bit now.”

Hill is set to make his first appearance in front of the Sharks faithful on Saturday, with the 6ft 7in lock expected to start against his former side.

And after spending seven trophy-laden years at Sandy Park, Jonny knows just what to expect.

He added: “It’s going to be very physical, especially around the breakdown and the Chiefs always bring it up front. It’s going to be a very attritional game but I’m excited for the challenge. I’m just not so excited to see what’s going to happen at the bottom of those rucks!”

Catch Jonny in action this weekend as Sale Sharks face off against his former side Exeter Chiefs at the AJ Bell Stadium. With both sides still unbeaten so far this season, it’s set to be an absolute belter on Saturday afternoon.

Get tickets here

Images & Content from Sale Sharks Rugby


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Premiership

Match Report: Bath Rugby 15-29 Gloucester (Premiership Rugby Cup)

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Match summary – Bath Rugby 15-29 Gloucester

A youthful Bath Rugby side put in a spirited display in their Premiership Rugby Cup meeting with Gloucester, but the visitors’ experience told in the second half. 

Tom Doughty’s converted try and a George Worboys penalty had the Blue, Black and White 10-7 ahead at half-time. 

Jack Reeves’ double added to Jake Polledri’s opener to put Gloucester in front and Kyle Moyle edged the game out of sight. 

Bath remained in the hunt for points until late on and hooker John Stewart’s score proved a consolation just past the hour.


Team News

Tom Ellis returned to captain the side along with Ruaridh McConnochie, both having missed eight months of action.

Alongside their experience, Assistant Coach Luke Charteris gave his younger players their first run out of the season with Sam Harris and Louie Hennessey earning their senior debuts. 

Second row pairing of Michael Etete and JJ Tonks were also appearing for Bath for the first time.

Gloucester welcomed some experience back as Jonny May, Polledri and Lewis Ludlow were named by George Skivington.

Bath Rugby: 15 Sam Harris, 14 Ruaridh McConnochie, 13 Louie Hennessey, 12 Will Butt, 11 Gabe Goss, 10 George Worboys, 9 Max Green; 1 Arthur Cordwell, 2 Tom Doughty, 3 Johannes Jonker, 4 Michael Etete, 5 JJ Tonks, 6 Tom Ellis ©, 7 Ethan Staddon, 8 Nahum Merigan

Impact players: 16 John Stewart, 17 Archie Stanley, 18 Kieran Verden, 19 Mackenzie Graham, 20 Thompson Cowan, 21 Tom Carr-Smith, 22 Max Wright, 23 Darren Atkins

Gloucester: 15 Kyle Moyle, 14 Tom Seabrook, 13 Jack Reeves, 12 Giorgi Kveseladze, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Barton, 9 Stephen Varney; 1 Ciaran Knight, 2 Henry Walker, 3 Bryan O’Connor, 4 Arthur Clark, 5 Cameron Jordan, 6 Jack Clement, 7 Lewis Ludlow (c), 8 Jake Polledri

Replacements: 16 Seb Blake, 17 Fed Ma’a, 18 James Pollard, 19 Freddie Thomas, 20 Jack Bartlett, 21 Matty Jones, 22 Isaac Marsh, 23 Jake Morris


First half

The first 10 minutes were evenly matched on physicality, with the ball going through both Bath and Gloucester hands in attack.

Debutant Harris got an early touch on the ball on the receiving end of a nicely placed crossfield kick and demonstrated Bath’s attacking intent.

With solid hits coming from Arthur Cordwell and Etete, and strong carrying from Will Butt, the hosts looked in a good place. However, Gloucester had their moments too.

Italy international Polledri received the ball off the back of a line-out to charge over the line, giving his side the first points of the game.

Answering back, Bath cashed in on a penalty and Worboys got his side’s first points on the board.  

Showing their intent once again, a break from Gabe Goss put Bath on the front foot as he made 15 metres down the wing. Spotting the space, youngster Harris put boot to ball to bounce it into touch deep inside the Gloucester 22 as Bath began to put the pressure on.

It paid off as after a succession of penalties, Doughty bided his time at the back of a driving maul to burrow over and Worboys’ extras made it 10-7.

Edging closer to the close of the half, Bath needed to be resilient to thwart Gloucester of any points and they did just that, preventing such with a superb turnover.

Second half

Gloucester came out strong in the second period as Reeves capitalised on some open field to sprint over and George Barton kept the scoreline ticking over with another conversion.

The Cherry & Whites continued in the ascendancy with Reeves grabbing his second just before the hour with a bulldozing close-range finish which saw JJ Tonks sinbinned in the process.

A third second-half try came just shy of the hour mark as full-back Moyle slipped through a gap on the outside for Gloucester’s fourth.

Not to be downbeat, Bath bit back quickly and replacement hooker Stewart delivered accurate arrows before steering a maul over for a try.

Barton ticked Gloucester’s tally to 29 to make Bath need two scores to claw their way back in and despite many entries into the 22, they couldn’t quite get past a stubborn away defence.

With many patterns beginning to emerge of what Johann van Graan is trying to instil, there are plenty of positives, as well as work ons, to take from the performance. 


Pol Roger Performance of the Match


Gallery

GALLERY: GLOUCESTER (H – CUP) by Bath Rugby on Exposure

Content & Images from – Bath Rugby


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Baxter outlines Simmonds departure

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Exeter Chiefs

By Andrew Baldock
29/9/22

Rob Baxter says England international Sam Simmonds will leave Exeter with the club’s blessing.

Baxter has insisted there are no issues surrounding back-row forward Simmonds’ move to French champions Montpellier next season.

He is expected to be available for next year’s World Cup but after that will be ineligible to represent his country.

Saracens boss Mark McCall said on Tuesday that he believes the departure overseas of a player in his prime has wider implications for the Gallagher Premiership.

“I say that because Sam is 27, nearing his peak and is now making himself ineligible for England,” McCall said. “I kind of understand someone who is early 30s doing it after they’ve had their international career and want to experience something different. But to start losing the best young talent in the Premiership, someone like Sam, is a worry.”

Exeter rugby director Baxter, though, has adopted a philosophical stance.

“I think people sometimes get the wrong idea about this,” Baxter said. “I talk a lot to the players and staff in that you want people to be in an environment where they can thrive, work very hard, you want them to win and be successful for each other.

“The outcome of that is it means they are attractive propositions for other clubs who want a bit of that success. There are going to be some outcomes, and some of those are going to be that they are going to get big contract offers.

“It is not a negative when a player leaves you because someone wants them and can afford to pay them more than you can. It is negative when you fall out and a person moves for no positive reason at all. It’s very rare that happens here.

“Sam goes with our blessing for a great adventure, a great opportunity in France. He has still got a lot of good rugby left in him, and we had a long chat about it. He came to us first and explained. We haven’t been in massive, long, drawn-out contract debates about it. The figures are so far apart that there hasn’t really been a debate.”

The dire finances of Premiership clubs have resulted in the salary cap being reduced to £5million.

And, while necessary, reduced wages on offer to players has made it increasingly difficult for English clubs to compete with sides in France and Japan. The fear is that other members of Eddie Jones’ Test squad will follow Simmonds overseas.

The cap for Premiership clubs is due to return to £6.4m for the 2024-45 season.

Baxter added: “Even in the £6.4m cap, you could lose players, particularly to France. I suppose with a £5m cap, all of a sudden the attraction of staying in England lessens a little bit because of the difference in the figures.

“There is another argument that if England paid them more per game – that will cause some debate because England players are pretty well paid compared to some other nations – but that’s another way of bridging the gap. Players add up the whole package.

“It’s a challenge, and something that is going to happen for a little bit. But it is not keeping me awake at night. You have got to keep rolling.”

Content & Images from – Exeter Chiefs Rugby


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