Guinness Premiership semi-finals preview

There’s a brilliant couple of months in store for rugby fans that began last weekend with the Heineken Cup drama, and will finish in July at the end of the Lions tour.

Over the next two weekends, the Guinness Premiership reaches its climax as four teams remain to battle it out for the trophy.

Leicester v Bath, 3pm Saturday

Heineken Cup finalists Leicester face Bath tomorrow at the Walkers Stadium, with the westcountrymen desperate to add another Premiership title to their last triumph in 1996. The former giants of English rugby have endured a relatively barren spell in the silverware stakes, and have enjoyed success this season by playing an entertaining brand of rugby.

These two teams used to go head-to-head so often at the top of the table, and this season has seen that rivalry brought to life once more with some thrilling matches – none more so than the Tigers’ last-gasp win in the Heineken Cup quarter final.

Leicester appear to have the upper hand at the moment, and with Bath missing Butch James and Michael Lipman, two key players, the Tigers are favourites to reach the final. The home side have their own injury concerns with Toby Flood recently ruled out for six months, but that means that Leicester’s Players’ Player of the Year, Sam Vesty, will start at fly-half with Aaron Mauger outside him – many have argued that this is the optimum lineup for them anyway.

Bath will be relying on fatigue and perhaps a lack of focus given the Tigers’ European exploits, but for me, this is clutching at straws to some extent. Rumour has it that nobody needs to fire up the Tigers in their dressing room when Bath are next door – they’ll be full of determination, and I believe that will be enough to carry them through.

Harlequins v London Irish, 5.30pm Saturday

Later on Saturday, attention will turn to the Stoop and the London derby between two of this season’s outstanding teams. Players such as Nick Easter, Nick Kennedy and Delon Armitage may be looking to prove a point about their omission from the Lions squad, and this game should be a cracker.

Quins are marginal favourites going into the game, and after their heroic efforts against Leinster that brought them so close to the semis, the Irish defence will be concerned. With Danny Care and Nick Evans forming a lethal partnership, and the back row in impressive form, they’ll look to take control of the game from the outset.

Irish will be targeting the lineout as one of the key battle areas in an effort to starve Evans of possession. If their pack can gain the upper hand, they can certainly give Quins a run for their money by unleashing Seilala Mapusua and Armitage in the backs.

I’m predicting a Leicester versus Harlequins final next week, but the margins will be tight and the games should be enthralling.

What do you think? Could it be Bath v London Irish?

4 thoughts on “Guinness Premiership semi-finals preview

  1. I thought the editor predicted an Irish victory over Quins in the week….! Obviously the betfair odds helped persuade opinion.

    Evans vs Catt could well be the key battle. Interesting to see Armitage get a run-out at centre, but hopefully he’ll be dealt with and kept quiet by Turner-Hall & Tiesi.

    Both games should be crackers.

  2. What a climax to the season. Bath will be more fired up for this than any other game this season, but without James (or even with him based on his recent form) and Lipman I expect Tigers to steamroller. The other game is much tougher to call – makes sense that Quins are favorites, but who would be surprised if Irish scored a couple of tries late on to take it?

    I would love to see a Tigers-Quins final. The Deano factor will be intriguing. He’s always loved to beat his old team, but this year he’s demonstrated he has the team, the tactical nous and rock-solid resolve to achieve greatness.

  3. The Tigers will be tiered but they have a squad of massive proportions, which other team can play a big game and then bring Mauger, Moody, Corry, White into the team.

    Flood will not be a loss, he played well last week but which flyhalf wouldn’t with such good service from Dupey; it was the substitution of the Frenchman that allowed the blues back in the he game the yellow cards were a result.

    Vesty is a superior footballer than Flood and the big difference is Mauger who is the creative dynamo of the team. Very cool of Leicester to leave him out of the lineup last week, he will be fresh and hungry.

    On the other hand it feels like Bath’s turn, they were so close in the HC and being underdogs will take the pressure off them.

    Quins looked regal against the Falcons but that was because their pack were so dominant, that will not reoccur against the Irish.

    Evans is by far their most important player, without him Easter puts the ball under his shirt and they start to look rather ordinary. If Evans can last 80min, and that is a big IF, Quins will take this game but it will be a close run thing and I fancy Irish to come up with the goods.

    Tigers v Irish

  4. Nobody seems to rate him; even me, who is a tigers supporter, have always looked at Vesty as a good squad man but nothing else. However he has confounded his critics over and over again, Whether or not he tours with England should be elementary, Flood already know the danger of his inclusion but so should all the other England number 10’s. He is by far the best footballer in English Rugby, he can pass a ball and the speed of his delivery has made the Tigers looked like one of the most exciting teams in England.

    I think now he could do it for England and definitely deserves his chance, the only question is his goal kicking but neither Flood or Cipp are tremendous kickers.

    But he carries ball, score tries, kicks out of hand, passes and is no weakness in defense.

    He might just be the answer for Johnson.

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