May 2 2018
And so we reach the final game of the regular season – and for Sarries there is only momentum hanging on it. A home semi-final has already been assured – against Wasps or Newcastle who will be slugging it out for the right to come to Barnet, up at Kingston Park. Glos will have one eye on a trip to Bilbao and the Challenge Cup Final next Friday where they play Cardiff Blues (whose 4th place finish in Conference A, behind Glasgow, Munster and the South Africa side Cheetahs who can’t progress, has already ensured they qualify for the Champions Cup next year). If my reading of the rules is correct, Gloucester have therefore already qualified too, win or lose (correct me if I’m wrong) given that the winner of the Champions Cup (Leinster or Racing) will have qualified by right as will Cardiff Blues so they have only to turn up to secure their place in next year’s Champions Cup.
Glos are not on the best run of form, having won just 2 of their last 7 games although we should not forget they beat Sarries at Castle Grim earlier this season. Glos have never won at Allianz. Sarries on the other hand are on a roll, having scored more than 50 points again last weekend without getting out of 2nd gear. The team have won all their league games convincingly since the return of the Internationals.
With neither team having much to play for apart from not getting injured, it could well be an unusual game and an interesting team selection! The squad have a vital week off before the semi-final so everyone will get a rest and it may be the coaches go for game-time and consistency. Whatever, I’m sure the atmosphere at Allianz will be good. The weather forecast is positive (thank the Lord – I will be at my younger daughter’s wedding so I’m delighted!) I suspect the Club will make a big thing of it being Schalla’s last game and he will start ahead of Jamie George (yes I know technically it isn’t his last game but I’m sure Jamie will start the semi-final) with maybe Tolofua on the bench.
This is the ideal opportunity for Mako to have a rest so I would expect Barrington and Koch to link up beside Brits. In the second row, George Kruis’ dodgy ankle will probably give him the week off so it may be we see Maro and Isiekwe starting (unless Will Skelton is fit), the 2nd row cupboard still being a bit bare. In the back row Mike Rhodes will start but Billy has tweaked a hamstring so Wray may need to play – unless Vialanu is fit – and who plays 7? Maybe Ben Earl gets a start ?
At half-back I assume Faz will play (given Loz’s tweak last week) unless the coaches decide to let Malins have some game time. Toss a coin for Spencer or Wiggy – maybe Wiggy this week? Assuming Superdunc isn’t fit, I suspect we’ll see Bosch at centre, possibly alongside Tompkins? Goodey may return to full-back (unless the coaches want another look at Liam there) and probably Wyles will play on the wing alongside a last appearance for Nathan Earle.
Glos must be tempted to rest a few before the weekend. Shedweb seems to have already given up on this Saturday’s game but they are putting the “confidence” argument (a good performance against Sarries would put the team in good heart for the Final). They are also suggesting that after a pretty poor performance against Bath, their team could do with freshening up a bit. In the front row, Richard Hibbard is fit and could well come in for his 100th appearance for Glos, perhaps alongside fit again Rapava-Ruskin at loose-head and Fraser Balmain at tighthead (it seems John Afoa is to be protected at all costs). The locks could be Thrush and Savage and the back row Pollendri Clarke and Ackermann.
Half back pairing Willie Heinz and Owen Williams are racing to be fit for the Final so we will probably see Billy Burns and maybe Ben Vellacott (who looked so good against us earlier in the season) at half back. Centres could be Trinder and Atkinson (with 36 getting a rest) with Marshall and maybe Sharples on the wings and perhaps Halaifonua at full back.
The team who could benefit most from this match is Benneton. Should Glos finish in 6th and qualify by right, Benneton would have a shot at a home play-off for a place in next year’s Champions Cup.
Craig Maxwell-Keyes is in charge – a young ref who is getting better with every game he plays (but still looks like he’s sitting his GCSE’s – that’s me getting old!)
Enjoy the game everyone – I shall be getting to the church on time!pqs: qs:
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:05:20:20:15:22 by Darraghgirl.