Christmas is coming and while your table groans under all that food, rugby’s finest will serve up their own feast for you, Katie Field writes. Harlequins and Saracens have a top-of-the-table battle to look forward to but there’s plenty to please the palate elsewhere in the Aviva Premiership.
Nicky Robinson can hang onto any Christmas cards he wants to send to his old pals at Gloucester and take them with him when his new club, Wasps, visit Kingsholm on Boxing Day. “I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t looked for that game when the fixtures came out,” he says. “I’ve had a bit of banter with the boys already and with the game being on Boxing Day there’ll be a great crowd. The atmosphere will be brilliant.”
Last time Wasps went to Gloucester, in September 2010, Robinson came off the bench to kick the two penalties that brought Gloucester victory by 22-20. With Gloucester having faltered at home recently, Wasps will be hopeful of nicking a win.
Both clubs were among six teams split by just two Premiership points after eight games and Robinson says: “Everyone is striving for consistency. These next few weeks will have a massive effect on how everyone’s season pans out. If you pick up a couple of wins against teams around you, you move to the top of that pile.”
Leicester have been off the pace this autumn and would love a repeat of last year’s festive rout of Sale, who return to Welford Road on 1 January having lost 54-21 last Christmas. The Tigers delighted the full house of 24,000 with eight tries, including braces for Manu Tuilagi and Scott Hamilton.
Sale had Peter Anglesea at the helm, after sacking Mike Brewer a few days earlier. Much has altered since then – not least for Mathew Tait, who was in Sale colours that day but is now a Tiger.
This month brings tasty derbies in the RaboDirect Pro12, too. Leinster and Munster will be keen to repeat the back-to-back wins they achieved a year ago and maintain their push for the play-offs. Champions Munster end 2011 with two games in four days, hosting Connacht on Boxing Day and then visiting Ulster.
A year ago they beat Connacht 16-12 and Ulster 35-10. They’ll expect to beat the men of Galway at Thomond Park but facing Ulster at Ravenhill so soon afterwards will test Tony McGahan’s men fully.
Leinster put 30 points on Ulster and Connacht this time last year, so they’ll be confident of marking Boxing Day with a home win over Ulster before making it a happy new year on 1 January.
In Wales, the Ospreys will be keen to repeat last year’s Christmas cracker of a win over the Scarlets. They beat Nigel Davies’s men 60-17, but will find it tougher this time without home advantage.
Last season the Ospreys came within a width of an After Eight of making it a festive double before losing 27-25 at Cardiff Blues on New Year’s Eve, so they’ll be out for revenge 364 days later in Swansea.
This article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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