The teams who found themselves fighting relegation last season may be more than ready to look forward to the new season, especially now the Gallagher Premiership fixtures for the 2019/20 season have been announced.
Although finishing in the bottom half of the league is rarely a thing to shout about for fan nor club, the 2018/19 season should not be written off completely as a bad memory. Worcester, Leicester, and Newcastle still played some memorable moments of rugby even between the defeat, disappointment and battle for survival.
To help remind even the most pessimistic of rugby supporters, below are some of their top moments from the Gallagher Premiership last season (in no particular order).
Worcester have teetered around the bottom of the Premiership for the past few seasons. Despite the threat of a second relegation in six years, they were able to create some great sporting moments. Warriors were also able to improve on last season’s finishing position, moving up one place to 10th. They also topped their pool of the Challenge Cup making it to the quarter-finals after failing to make it out of the group stages for the past three seasons. Albeit slow, Warriors are making improvements season on season.
- 97th-minute try: Possibly the most memorable game of recent seasons, was Worcester’s first game of 2019. Bath had all of their front row either sent off or in the sin bin for the remaining minutes of the game. A red card was shown to Ross Batty earlier in the game with Max Lahiff, Lucas Noguera and winger, Aled Brew all being branded yellow-cards once the 80 minutes were up. It left 11 Bath players to battle against Worcester’s 15. Bryce Heem crossed the whitewash for his second try of the game to draw Worcester level in the 97th minute. Duncan Weir held his nerve to slot the conversion and give Worcester their first league win since November, even if it did take them almost an extra twenty minutes to accomplish.
- Premiership security: Worcester secured their Premiership place for a fourth consecutive season with a victory over top three side and derby rivals Gloucester. Weir’s kicked twelve points ultimately while Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees was only successful with one conversion. This memorable day also marked loose-head prop Ethan Waller’s 50th appearance for the club.
- Finishing the season on a high: With the last game of the season, Warriors were able to upset Saracens with a last-minute Weir penalty to snatch the win. Recently crowned European Rugby Champions the week prior, Sarries entered the game confident. However, Worcester came out on top against the second-placed side who also went on to win the Premiership. The Midlands side proved that they are a competitor in the league and can’t be undermined by the top sides.
- Ted Hill’s debut: Ted Hill’s Premiership debut was one to remember. The 19-year-old academy graduate came off the bench to score a brace which included the match-winning try against Leicester Tigers. Weir’s two tries within the opening six minutes helped Worcester to secure a bonus point before half time. However, it was 37-all with three minutes to go after Leicester staged a comeback. The home-grown talent crashed over the line again and Weir slotted over the conversion to conclude the victorious 44-37 scoreline. Hill made 17 more appearances in the Premiership and scored a total of six tries for his team last season.
- Record-breaking win: Worcester’s 52-7 win over Bristol Bears in October was special for several reasons. It was the Warriors first win at Sixways of the season and their largest margin of victory in the Premiership. However, the game wasn’t all plain sailing. Worcester fell behind early on and lost prop, Ryan Bower to a red card. Eventually, they tallied up seven tries, including one when they were down to 14 men to secure the record-breaking win.
Leicester have not finished outside of the top half of the table since the Premiership league system evolved in 1987. Tigers undoubtedly suffered their worst season dropping six places from last year. They looked far from a top three, a position they held for seven seasons between 2008/09 and 2014/15.
- Completing the double over Newcastle: Out of the seven games Leicester won last season, two of them came against Newcastle Falcons. Their first meet saw Tigers claim their first win of the season, 49-33, and secure a bonus point. Their second clash saw Jonny May score his 11th Premiership try of the season, helping his side to a 27-22 victory. May also entered the league’s top 10 all-time try-scorers.
- Premiership survival: Although no fan wants to see their team battling for survival at the bottom of the league, the relief felt when safety is confirmed for another season in the top flight has got to be one of the highlights of an ultimately tough season. It took until the penultimate round of games for it to be confirmed that Leicester would survive the relegation battle. They needed two points from their game against Harlequins to mathematically secure their position in the Gallagher Premiership. However, they suffered a narrow defeat, 23-19. Mike Fitzgerald was able to take them one step closer with a last-gasp try to earn a losing bonus point. The Tigers’ job was made easier for them when Newcastle lost to Gloucester the following day. The battle was over and Falcons were the unfortunate team with Leicester living to see another season.
- Derby Day Honours: Leicester claimed the first bragging rights of the season over rivals Northampton Saints with a 23-15 victory. Their first clash also marked the return of both Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs to help bolster the team. The return of fan favourites and a derby win is always certain to make a season highlight.
- A home win against Harlequins: Leicester ended the 2018 year on a high with a 35-24 bonus-point win over Harlequins. The victorious game signaled a bounce back from eight successive defeats in all competitions. Finally, the fans had something to cheer about and providing a glimmer of hope to the team Leicester once were.
- The biggest win of the season: Tigers started off the new year how they ended the previous one, with a bonus-point victory. This time it was Gloucester who suffered the brunt. The 34-16 scoreline was also Leicester’s biggest win margin of their season.
Newcastle Falcons suffered a fall from grace. Finishing fourth in the previous season, they only managed to pick up six wins from their last Premiership season. There were a few moments that could help heal some of the wounds but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as Newcastle find themselves out of the Gallagher Premiership for the first time in eight years.
- Double over Worcester: Six teams were successful in completing the double over Newcastle last season. However, the Falcons were able to take some pride in completing a double of their own. Worcester fell short to the team who were otherwise being comprehensively beaten. Their first meet marked Newcastle’s first win of the season back in September. Their second clash saw Newcastle record their biggest win margin of the season, 17-6.
- Unbeaten home run: The Falcons were able to honour their fly-half, Toby Flood, who made his 100th appearance for the club in November with a 16-8 win over Bath. The victory was the team’s second of their Gallagher Premiership campaign. It also extended their unbeaten home run to four matches in all competitions.
- First victory at the Ricoh Arena: Brett Connon’s penalty kick with the last play of the game gave Newcastle a one-point victory over Wasps. It was their first-ever win at the Ricoh Arena since Wasps started playing their home game there in 2014.
- Winning streak against Northampton: Mark Wilson’s decisive try gave his side a 16-14 victory against Northampton Saints in December. The last-minute winner made it Newcastle’s sixth consecutive victory over the Saints.
- The winning month: Winning against Worcester, Wasps and Sale made March Newcastle’s most successful month. Sonatane Takulua kicked four penalties against Sale to help make it his side’s third consecutive win.
All three teams will look to have more of these moments to improve on last seasons finishing position. Worcester will hope to get off on the right foot when they face Leicester in the opening game of their 2019/20 Gallagher Premiership season on 19th October. Whereas, Newcastle start their Greene King IPA Championship campaign the week before on 12th October when they travel to London Scottish.
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