After the World Cup and Europe have dominated the early stages of the season, the Premiership takes centre stage over Christmas and it feels like the most pivotal festive period ever.
With Christmas Day and New Year’s Day falling on a Wednesday, each team has three consecutive league fixtures over this period and they will shape the table and tell us a lot more about who are contenders and who are fighting for their lives.
The majority of Premiership clubs, whether by design or because of the way things have unfolded, seem to be focusing on the league more than the Champions Cup this season so it feels like a massive few weeks.
Northampton will be looking to reassert themselves after leaking 14 tries in two games against Leinster. They are worthy leaders at this stage but Sale is a tough place to go and that is because of the quality of their squad now, not just because of their grit and because some teams perhaps have underestimated them in the past.
Bristol are sitting pretty in second place but they have the ultimate test of their credentials first up as they travel to the champions. If they’re still in the top two after the next few weeks, we’ll know they’re play-off contenders.
Exeter’s game against Saracens at Sandy Park next weekend is the most mouth-watering one of the whole festive period and. They have trips to Leicester and London Irish either side of that and will be hoping to have retaken their customary place in the top two by the end of all that.
The other end of the table is even more interesting, though. Leicester, Bath, Wasps and Saracens have won 27 of the last 32 titles between them and they now make up the bottom four.
Tigers have six of England’s World Cup contingent in their side to face the Chiefs at Welford Road this weekend, as well as a host of other international talent. They then travel to Quins and host Bristol in the coming weeks, tough fixtures but two home games in this run of three. They have to step up now or their situation will look seriously perilous come mid-January.
London Irish’s game at home to Bath on Sunday is huge because, while a win can’t possibly guarantee them safety this early in the campaign, with other sides struggling so badly it would make things look very good indeed for them.
Bath have all their big guns back with Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Sam Underhill all starting and they will be desperate to alleviate some of the pressure on them ahead of a home game against Sale and the West Country derby at Gloucester.
There’s no love lost between those two teams and it’s a fixture that always has a bit of bite and spite to it. It seems absurd to say it this early on but, with the fixtures they’ve got coming up, it almost feels like a must win game for Wasps.
If you’re Leicester, Bath or Wasps and you come out the other end of this run of three games and haven’t picked up at least one win, you’re in serious trouble. Big clubs have gone down before and it looks like one of that huge trio is favourite this time around.
Christmas Day falling on a Wednesday is almost convenient for clubs in a way as that can often be a day off anyway but there won’t be too much more than that one day off for the players this Christmas as it’s business time on the field.
A lot of clubs’ eyes are firmly on the league this season, whether they have ambitions to win it or need to focus fully on it to stay in it, and now the distraction of Europe has been put to one side for a few weeks there are some seriously big games coming thick and fast.
This is the most crucial Christmas period ever in the Premiership. It’ll be no good blaming too much turkey this year and one or two teams could find themselves stuffed if they get it wrong over the next couple of weeks.
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