Derby weekend is upon us, with all five matches from this weekend’s Gallagher Premiership having the added edge of a regional rivalry. The action kicks off this evening, with two matches clashing across the North East and West Country.
Newcastle Falcons host Sale Sharks at Kingston Park, as the two Northern clubs collide to decide the true ‘Kings of the North’. Bristol Bears make the half hour journey across Somerset, and arrive at the Recreation Ground for a battle with Bath. Both of this evening’s matches kick off at 19:45, with the action lit up under the fabled ‘Friday night lights’.
Onto Saturday, and arguably the Premiership’s most storied rivalry writes its newest chapter, when Leicester Tigers take on Northampton Saints in the East Midlands derby. Welford Road is the elected colosseum for the afternoon, as this grudging rivalry will light up November with some late fireworks. Following this match we have the London derby, as Saracens travel down from North to West of the capital to take on Harlequins.
The Stoop is set to be ignited by the top stars of the international stage, as the reigning Premiership champions take on the current league leaders. Closing out the weekend is a scintillating South West match-up between Exeter Chiefs and Gloucester Rugby. The Cherry and Whites will march down the M5 to Sandy Park, with both sides eager for a return to winning form.
Here are the five key battles from the weekend, as we pick out a high-stakes meeting in each of the derby matches.
1. Number Eight: Callum Chick vs Daniel du Preez – Newcastle Falcons vs Sale Sharks
Starting off in the North East, we’ve picked out this clash of the number eights as a key battle within the war. South African bulldozer Dan du Preez has had an unrelenting start to the 2023/24 Premiership season, leaving his mark on each defence that has come in his way. Du Preez crossed over for a nice try against Leicester Tigers, and has continuously run out solid outings in the season’s early goings for the Sale Sharks.
Newcastle Falcons back-row Callum Chick is given the unenviable task of halting du Preez, and will have to be on red-alert for the picks at the back of the scrum. Chick has tasted victory against Sale once already this season, as the Falcons recorded a 23-10 win in the Premiership Rugby Cup. Chick packed down the scrum on the blind-side flank for that win, however du Preez was absent from the match-day 23.
That match stands as the last victory for the Falcons, who are currently grinding through a six-match losing streak. Frustration must be building for Chick, as despite leaving it all on the line for his club, the Newcastle captain has been unable to guide his side to a Premiership victory so far this season. Both number eights are well documented in the carry, yet du Preez packs an added punch over the gain-line. This is countered by Chick’s added defensive acumen and chop tackle prowess, which could well provide a stalemate between the two eight jerseys.
2. Front Row: Will Stuart vs Ellis Genge – Bath Rugby vs Bristol Bears
The West Country derby between Bath and Bristol features a key battle within the front row. We will see a duo of England teammates go head to head in the scrum, as Will Stuart packs down the tight-head against Ellis Genge on the loose-head. There is an intriguing narrative heading into this one, as Stuart continues to establish himself as the heir to the number three England jersey. This of course, would come to the detriment of Genge’s Bristol teammate Kyle Sinckler, who is rumoured to be on his way out of the England fold, should a heavily reported move to Toulon come to fruition ahead of next season.
Stuart has been stepping up his game since Steve Borthwick took over control of the England team, with a significant break-through coming in the 2023 Six Nations. With 36-year-old Dan Cole’s time in an England jersey expectedly winding down, Stuart needs to continue in this fine form. A dominant scrummaging display against former England captain Genge would do just that, and build momentum ahead of the 2024 Six Nations next February.
This well-matched battle at scrum-time could certainly sway the outcome of this Somerset derby. Genge’s scrummaging came under the spotlight during the Rugby World Cup, as he was prolific throughout the majority of the competition, yet gave away costly penalty in the semi-final loss to South Africa. Genge was overpowered by Vincent Koch, and buckled under the titanic tight-head, for a penalty that was slotted by Handre Pollard for the eventual Springboks win. This match will be Genge’s first since coming back to the Bears, and he will pack an added punch in this firery front row battle.
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