This weekend sees the first Premiership game with fans allowed back into stadiums, with around 3,500 travelling to the Twickenham Stoop tomorrow afternoon to see Harlequins host Bath. Social distancing and temperature checks will still be in place, but what can those fans expect from the game? We have looked at each side’s lineups, and, in this preview, we have used statistics to make some general predictions for this game.
We will first take a look at the confirmed lineups of both Harlequins and Bath.
The home side have a virtually full strength side, with the front row unchanged from last weekend’s win against Northampton Saints. Captain Chris Robshaw and young star Will Evans continue their partnership at flanker, with Alex Dombrandt, arguably one of the best players in the Premiership this season, starting at Number 8. Danny Care is partnered in the middle by Brett Herron, with Marcus Smith rested completely for this game. Nathan Earle and Chris Ashton continue on the wings, having both started last weekend as well, but there is a return to the team for centre Ben Tapuai, who replaces Paul Lasike, with the USA international on the bench.
Bath also name a strong squad, with Beno Obano, Tom Dunn and Will Stuart continuing their front row partnership, having all started in the loss to Wasps last weekend. There are changes at flanker though, with Sam Underhill and Zach Mercer being rested; in come Josh Bayliss and Miles Reid, with the latter making his first start for the team since September last year, following an ACL injury. Wales international Taulupe Faletau completes the forwards. At the back, there are just two changes, with centre Josh Matavesi moved to the bench and winger Gabriel Hamer-Webb rested. In come Jonathan Joseph and Semesa Rokoduguni to take their places. Anthony Watson continues at full-back.
This lineup has given us some interesting thoughts to consider with regards to both sides’ possible tactics, and, in this analysis, we have made some comparisons of opposite numbers, looking to see what fans can expect from each team. This will make up the remainder of the article.
Firstly, we will look at both sides’ props, and their concession of defensive penalties. This might be a strange thing to analyse, but, by looking at these, we can see how many breakdowns we might get, and who will maybe gain more penalties, and therefore more possession.
The chart shows that Joe Marler has conceded the most penalties, whilst the other Quins prop, Simon Kerrod, has the second highest number, but the same number as Will Stuart. Beno Obano brings up the rear, but this is likely to be because he has played fewer games this season than the others. However, what this shows is that Harlequins are more likely to concede penalties, and so we can expect this will be the case when they meet Bath this weekend. That is not to say that Bath will concede no penalties; we can see that they give away their own fair share, but they may find that they have more of an opportunity to get the ball going forward, because Quins will give them the ball more.
If we now move on to look at both sides’ flankers, this is where things get really interesting.
The chart above shows the number of tackles each of them has made, and their overall tackle success rate for this season (the orange line). We can see how Harlequins’ pair have made the most combined tackles, with Chris Robshaw making 142, the most of the four, but the main thing is that Josh Bayliss has made more than Quins’ other flanker, Will Evans; 128 and 78 respectively. Miles Reid, who has only made two appearances this season, has made 11 tackles, and this low number is probably why he has a 100% tackle success rate. The other three are in the same area when it comes to their success rates, with Evans and Bayliss having 93%, whilst Robshaw is just behind with 92%. Therefore, whilst the former England captain makes more tackles, it doesn’t mean he is more successful with them.
What we can take from these figures, therefore, is that the flankers are all relatively evenly matched. However, we can expect that Robshaw and Evans will make more tackles, which may mean that Bath don’t have as much momentum in the game, and that may be one of the things that decides the game.
The Number 8s
The most eye-catching match up that we can see from the lineups is at Number 8, with Wales’ Taulupe Faletau and star forward Alex Dombrandt going against each other in this position. Dombrandt has been one of the best players in the Premiership this season, mainly because he is quick and likes to have the ball. This is reflected in his statistics.
The two pie charts show how both Number 8s rank compared to each other. Dombrandt has made 15 appearances this season, whilst Faletau has made eight, which is a big reason for Dombrandt having higher stats, but both like to carry the ball and make metres for their team, and are excellent in their position. To put some precise numbers onto these points, Dombrandt has made 107 carries, whilst Faletau has made 63; in metres made, Dombrandt has gained 417, whilst Faletau has only gained 208.
Therefore, we can conclude that, whilst it is true that Dombrandt has made more appearances, he has made just over twice as many metres, which, again, reflects on Harlequins making more tackles, and getting the ball going forwards quickly. In the game tomorrow, it seems that fans can expect Dombrandt to be the more active, and this will give Quins an advantage when in possession in central areas.
We have compared the key statistics of some of the forwards we will see in action; now we will turn our attention to the backs.
Firstly, we can see from the chart above how many tries the four wingers starting the game tomorrow have scored this season. Both teams have one winger who has scored six tries, and one who has scored one. Of the two who have scored six, Chris Ashton signed for Harlequins from Sale Sharks during the break, whilst Ruaridh McConnochie, who was in the England World Cup squad last year, and both are in good form. Therefore, it makes sense that these two have the most of the four.
Nathan Earle has only played three games this season, so one try in three is not a bad return. However, he still carries a threat, and we have seen in previous seasons how he combines with centre Ben Tapuai well, so that side of the pitch could pose a threat to Bath’s defence on Saturday. Finally, Semesa Rokoduguni has made 15 appearances this season, all of them starts. Therefore, one try this season, which came against London Irish back in December, means that he may not carry as much of a threat on Saturday.
What this suggests is that Harlequins will see McConnochie as the greater threat, and may adjust their tactics to suit this. As far as the fans are concerned, Ashton and McConnochie will likely be the players to watch out for, as the stats suggest that they have the greater chance of scoring tries.
Another interesting aspect of the wingers’ play is the number of clean breaks and metres made. The chart above shows these values for the four wingers starting at the Stoop. We can see that Ashton again has the most, with 15, followed, perhaps surprisingly, by Rokoduguni, who has made 12. McConnochie then comes in third with 10, and Earle has made two in his three games to date.
If we turn our attention to the number of metres made, then we can see that Rokoduguni has the most by a long way, with 708 to his name. McConnochie, the next down, has 479, but what this shows is that Bath’s wingers, whilst not making as many clean breaks individually as Ashton, make far more metres than their opponents.
Therefore, what the fans tomorrow can expect is that Bath may score more tries and win the battle on the wings. This would be because they are making more metres, and therefore their team would ensure they receive the ball more. Harlequins start games slowly at the moment, which means there is a potential situation where Bath could make these metres and score tries early on in the match, taking control before Quins have really got going.
The final position of interest is at full-back, where we have two England players going head-to-head.
As we can see in the chart above, Mike Brown makes more metres than Anthony Watson, with 245 compared to 162, but only just makes more kicks from hand (11 compared to 10). The simple fact is, because both players are attacking full-backs who like to run with the ball, as shown by the statistics in the chart, we will not see the ball being kicked from the back so often; instead, both Brown and Watson will run with it and get involved with the play on the ground. This will mean the rugby will be more exciting at the Stoop.
Harlequins against Bath is a huge game in the context of this Premiership season, because it pits a team currently in the play-offs, and in good form, against a team outside them, but looking to crash the party and make their way in before the end of the regular season.
What happens tomorrow is obviously very hard to predict, but, from the statistics we have looked at in this preview, it looks likely that there will be tries scored, and plenty of attacking action for the fans going to enjoy. Whilst Harlequins will likely dominate the game in the central areas, and at the breakdown, with Dombrandt doing what he always does, the wide areas are likely to be Bath’s territory. However, for all Rokoduguni’s speed and ability to gain metres quickly, he has only scored one try all season; this could be the one thing that hinders Bath. However, these are just theories – we shall have to wait and see what happens on the field.