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The Premiership is making a comeback with a strategy to utilize the positive energy of the Six Nations tournament. The plan is outlined by Robert Kitson.
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The Premiership is making a comeback with a strategy to utilize the positive energy of the Six Nations tournament. The plan is outlined by Robert Kitson.


The men’s Six Nations has ended, but the club game is facing an important time both on and off the field. Following a self-imposed break of eight weeks, the top English professional league is now striving to provide an enjoyable feast of Premiership rugby in the spring, just like the national team’s recent victories against Ireland and France.

As the regular season nears its final six rounds of play, the race for the top four spots is heating up, with only a few points separating the seven teams vying for a place in the top rankings. The potential for an exciting end to the season is already apparent, but there is also an added element, as described by Harlequins’ forward-thinking CEO, Laurie Dalrymple. “After a successful Six Nations, we have a great opportunity,” Dalrymple stated ahead of Quins’ much-anticipated “derby” against Saracens at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. “As fans of English rugby, it would be a missed opportunity not to carry that momentum into the club level.”

How many such fumbles have there been in the past 20-odd years, from financial meltdowns and Covid disruption to salary cap sagas and club v country score settling? How many other businesses, already faced with a shortfall in matchday income as a consequence of a slimmed down 10-club league, would respond by shutting up shop – the odd friendly apart – at the precise time of year its product is at its most nationally visible? “Rugby union is brilliant at killing itself,” was the pithy verdict delivered this week by Newcastle’s director of rugby, Steve Diamond.

It would be advantageous for the sport to take a break from focusing solely on itself and instead showcase its greatest potential in the coming 11 weeks. Should the weather cooperate by providing favorable conditions for matches and inspiring teams to play their best, exciting events are sure to be in the works. A substantial crowd of 60,000 is anticipated for the Saracens versus Harlequins match on Saturday, further proving that with the right presentation, club rugby can be enjoyed by a wide audience. The clash between Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith is just one example of the intriguing storylines that await.

For the time being, let’s put aside the ongoing discussions about the important new Professional Game Partnership agreement. The current deadline for determining the structure of the Championship and the plans for promotion and relegation is in mid-April, and some clubs are struggling financially. Instead, let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember which teams were playing well at the time when the games suddenly came to a halt in late January. One notable team was Northampton, who were leading the pack by seven points after 12 rounds.

Securing three additional victories in their past six games, along with some extra points, should effectively prevent other teams from catching up. This is especially true once their players who were participating in international games return. The remaining three spots in the semi-finals, however, will be determined by small moments and the energy of key players. For instance, will Bath see the return of a fatigued Finn Russell or a rejuvenated match-winner? Their upcoming opponents include Sale, Quins, Exeter, and Saracens, and they may need to defeat at least two of them, including home games against Sale and Saracens, to make it to the playoffs.

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Owen Farrell in Saracens trainingView image in fullscreen

In the upcoming games, Saracens will have to face Northampton, Bath, and Bristol while dealing with the distraction of losing some key players. Although they are expected to secure a top-four spot, earning a home semi-final will require a significant improvement. Meanwhile, Exeter is making progress in their rebuilding phase, but they may have to defeat Leicester on the final day to secure a playoff spot. Before that, they must face a determined Newcastle at Sandy Park. Newcastle, currently in last place, is determined to win at least one more game in their remaining matches, with their coach Diamond even promising to cover the team’s celebratory expenses if they win this weekend. This not only motivates the players for new contracts, but also gives them an extra incentive to perform well.

Could last year’s runner-up make a comeback in the rankings with four wins in the last six games? The deciding factor may lie with the powerful Quins, who have been training diligently in the Algarve and have a balanced team of young and seasoned players. Exposure to the England team has boosted the confidence of players like Oscar Beard, while Louis Lynagh remains undefeated in a blue jersey as a capped Test player for Italy.

It will not be a simple task to surpass Quins in terms of scoring, with players such as Smith, Danny Care, André Esterhuizen, Tyrone Green, Nick David, and Cadan Murley. However, if a team like Saracens can successfully halt them as they did in their impressive 38-10 victory at the Stoop in November, then the challenge becomes more manageable. With players like Puma’s Juan Martín González, Scotland’s Andy Christie, Samoa’s Theo McFarland, and France-bound Billy Vunipola, Saracens possess a powerhouse back-row that can shut down any opponent.

Be on the lookout for exciting moments from Tottenham, as I predict they will win and secure a home semi-final spot alongside Northampton. This will support Dalrymple’s desire for club rugby to gain more fans and increase its commercial success. He believes that there are many positive aspects of the sport at a club level, and we should highlight those strengths to attract a larger audience. If we fail to capitalize on our rising popularity and attract new interest, we will have missed a golden opportunity. No pressure, team.

Source: theguardian.com