After a new year dominated by Covid business for professional rugby and the end of the winter break for semi-pros, rugby returns this Saturday in southwest London.
Not a single game has taken place in the region over the New Years weekend as London Irish, Richmond and Ealing Trailfinders have had their matches postponed, all due to cases in the respective opposition teams Bath, Coventry and Cornish Pirates.
The Harlequins Women also saw their match against Worcester Warriors Women this Saturday postponed, again after the Covid cases in the latter.
With Premiership London Irish having their week off this weekend, due to the odd number of top-flight teams, and Ealing and Richmond both having a week off due to the championship winter break, they will all have another week away from the field.
But they will be plenty of rugby for the rest of the South West London teams in the first four levels, both at home and away, as the Harlequins return to the Twickenham Stoop and rugby returns in the third and fourth levels at the end of their own winter vacation.
Harlequins vs. Exeter Chiefs
The last game between these two teams was at Twickenham in the Premiership Final, as was the Harlequins’ last home game as they return to the A316 to play the Stoop for the first time in 2022.
Quins beat the Devonians in that 2021 40-38 final, in what was widely regarded as the greatest Premiership final of all time.
They enter the game in good form, having propelled former play-off contenders Northampton Saints to their annual ‘Big Game’ at Twickenham just after Christmas, and edging high-level colleagues Gloucester in a tense fight away from home. them to open 2022 with victory.
Exeter themselves have had a less than impressive season by their high standards, but are hopeful that their courageous victory in front of a record-breaking home crowd against the Bristol Bears will give them the confidence to win at the Harlequins for the second consecutive season. .
Leeds Tykes vs. Rosslyn Park
Far from south-west London, an intriguing clash is set to be the weekend’s match in National League 1, the third tier of English rugby.
Leeds Tykes hosts Rosslyn Park are only returning to their old stadium for a week as they hope to draw a large crowd to the 21,500-seat Headingley.
Park boss Kieran Powers is eagerly awaiting a severe test from the Yorkshiremen, who have won four of their last six games after dropping their first six.
He said: “If we focus on our game and do it well, it will give us a good basis to step into the game and test a much improved Leeds.
“The noise of the stadium that boys enjoy and are used to playing in front of large crowds.
“That being said, the quieter the crowd, the more the boys know they are doing a good job.”
Esher vs. the Dings Crusaders
In National League Two, Esher will look to continue their seven-game winning streak against Dings Crusaders at Molesey Road, as their pursuit of promotion and the title continues.
Rugby director Peter Winterbottom said: “We have to bring our ‘A’ game to the party pretty much every week in this league, every game is tough.
“We haven’t had a game for four weeks now, but as long as our boys stick to the training schedules we have set for them over the Christmas season, we’ll probably have a bit of a backseat on some of the other teams.
“We have a couple of games to really get back into the rhythm and get our rhythm back and hopefully keep going for as long as possible.”
Redruth vs. Barnes
In the same league, Barnes visits leaders Redruth, hoping to do Esher a favor as they look to extend their unbeaten streak dating back to October.
The race has virtually ended any threat of relegation, with the club avoiding the battles for survival that defined their first two seasons in the division following promotion from London 1 in 2018.
Barnes’ last game was a fourth draw of the season, a league record for a team they have tied for the second time, with less than half of their games played.
In a 17-17 stalemate, Henley Hawks showed superb sportsmanship as they turned down a winning penalty attempt after it became clear that they only received the penalty as a result of injury by Barnes.