After a New Year dominated by Covid cases for professional rugby and the end of winter breaks for the semi-pros, rugby returns to South West London this Saturday.
Not a single game went ahead in the area over the New Year weekend as London Irish, Richmond and Ealing Trailfinders saw their fixtures postponed, all due to cases in respective opposition sides Bath, Coventry and Cornish Pirates.
Harlequins Women have seen their fixture against Worcester Warriors Women this Saturday postponed too, once again after Covid cases in the latter.
With Premiership London Irish having their bye-week this weekend, due to the odd-number of teams in the top flight, and Ealing and Richmond both having a week off due to the Championship’s winter break, they will all have another week away from the pitch.
But they’ll be plenty of rugby for the rest of South-West London’s teams in top four tiers, both home and away, as Harlequins make their return to the Twickenham Stoop and rugby returns across the third and fourth tier at the end of their own winter breaks.
Harlequins vs Exeter Chiefs
The last game between these two sides was at Twickenham in the Premiership Final, as was Harlequins’ last home game as they head back over the A316 to play at the Stoop for the first time in 2022.
Quins beat the Devonians in that 2021 final 40-38, in a game that has been widely considered the greatest Premiership Final of all time.
They come into the game in good form, having powered past play-off contenders Northampton Saints at their annual “Big Game” at Twickenham just after Christmas, and edging fellow high-flyers Gloucester in a tense tussle away from home to open 2022 with victory.
Exeter themselves have had a less than impressive season by their high standards, but will be hoping their gutsy victory in front of a record home crowd against Bristol Bears will give them the confidence to win at Harlequins’ home ground for the second season in a row.
Leeds Tykes vs Rosslyn Park
Away from South West London is an intriguing clash which should be the game of the weekend in National League 1, English rugby’s third tier.
Leeds Tykes host table-toppers Rosslyn Park, returning to their former stadium for one week only, as they hope they can attract a large crowd to the 21,500-seater Headingley.
Park boss Kieran Powers is looking forward to a stern test from the Yorkshiremen, who have won four of their last six games after losing their first six.
He said: “If we concentrate on our game and doing it well, it will give us a good foothold to get into the game and test a much improved Leeds.
“The noise of the stadium the boys enjoy and have experience of playing in front of big crowds.
“All being said the quieter the crowd are the boys then know they are doing a good job.”
Esher vs Dings Crusaders
In National League Two, Esher will look to continue their seven match winning streak against Dings Crusaders at Molesey Road, as their pursuit of promotion and the title continues.
Director of Rugby Peter Winterbottom said: “We have to bring our ‘A’ game to the party virtually every week in this league, every game is difficult.
“We haven’t had a game for four weeks now, but as long as our boys have stuck to the training schedules we set them over the Christmas period we’ll probably have a bit of a march on some of the other teams.
“We’ve got two or three games to really get back in the groove and get our rhythm back and then hopefully carry that on as long as possible.”
Redruth vs Barnes
In the same league Barnes travel to leaders Redruth, hoping to do Esher a favour as they look to extend their unbeaten run stretching back to October.
The run has all-but ended any threat of relegation, with the club avoiding the battles for survival that defined their first two seasons in the division after promotion from London 1 in 2018.
Barnes’ last game was a fourth draw of the season, a league record for one side they have equalled for the second time, with less than half their games played.
In a 17-17 stalemate, Henley Hawks showed superb sportsmanship turning down a match-winning penalty attempt after it became clear they had only been awarded the penalty as a direct result of a Barnes injury.