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Harlequins
Gallagher Premiership
May 18, 2024 at 3.05pm UK
 
Harlequins
28-53
Bristol Bears
Cunningham-South (8', 51'), Dombrandt (21'), Northmore (46')
FT
Williamson, Genge (14'), Ibitoye (24'), Thacker (42'), Lahiff (62'), Heward (70'), Oghre (75')

Preview: Harlequins vs. Bristol Bears - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Gallagher Premiership clash between Harlequins and Bristol Bears, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Bristol Bears' destiny in the 2023-24 Gallagher Premiership will be decided on the final day of the regular season when they face off against old rivals Harlequins at The Stoop on Saturday afternoon.

Both sides' playoff dreams took a knock last week, and while the race for the top four is still wide open, these two will not only need to win this crucial matchup but will also require results elsewhere to go in their favour if they are to progress to the knockout round.


Match preview

Harlequins' Louis Lynagh celebrates with teammates after the match with Bristol Bears on June 19, 2021© Reuters

After a hard-fought 38-26 defeat to Toulouse in a thrilling Champions Cup semi-final at the start of the month, Harlequins endured a disappointing 58-26 defeat to Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park last week, dropping them to sixth place in the league standings heading into the final round of the group stage.

Exeter, well aware of the taxing nature of a match against the star-studded Toulouse, waited for Harlequins to tire not just physically but also mentally before they capitalised on their opportunity after half time, dominating the second half with a scoreline of 37-5, taking advantage of Harlequins' defensive collapse.

Quins still remain in contention for a playoff spot, but a victory alone will not suffice for either of these teams as they are banking on Sale Sharks losing against Saracens and Exeter Chiefs failing to secure a win against Leicester. If both Exeter and Harlequins win, the Chiefs will hold the higher rank, having won more matches this season.

Permutations aside, the Londoners enter this fixture as favourites, having suffered only two defeats at home this season in Premiership Rugby, with the first if those coming against the defending champions Saracens in week six and the other to Leicester in week 12 of the competition.

Will Evans has made more tackles than any other player this season (221) and has also won more turnovers (18) than anyone bar teammate Alex Dombrandt (20). In addition, Harlequins have made more carries than any other team in the Premiership this season, an average of 130 per 80 minutes, and have the best scrum success rate in the league (94.9%) and the second-best lineout success rate (93%).

Bristol Bears' Max Malins scores their first try on May 8, 2021© Reuters

After finishing 10th and ninth in the past two seasons, Bristol now sit seventh in the table heading into the final weekend of the regular season, and in the unlikely event that they and Harlequins end up with the same number of league points, the Bears will hold the higher rank.

Bristol shot up the standings in recent weeks after a six-match winning run propelled them into the fourth and final playoff spot with two games to go, but they saw that run end with a 41-20 home defeat to defending champions Saracens last weekend, which resulted in them dropping out of the playoff qualification zone.

Joe Batley and Harry Thacker scored Bristol's tries, with AJ MacGinty contributing two penalties and a conversion. James Williams also added a conversion. However, in their final appearance at Ashton Gate for the 2023-24 season, the Bears missed a vital opportunity to pull clear during a crucial seven-minute period in the second half when Saracens were reduced to 13 men.

Nevertheless, regardless of where they end the campaign, Bristol can be proud of their performances this season. They have delivered standout performances from the likes of Gabriel Ibitoye, who has made more metres (1,237), offloads (28) and beaten more defenders (70) than any other player this season.

Additionally, South African centre Benhard Janse van Rensburg was voted as April's Gallagher Player of the Month, winning 58% of the vote in the public poll ahead of Saracens duo Owen Farrell and Tom Parton and Harlequins full-back Tyrone Green, while Magnus Bradbury leads the competition for tries scored among forward with eight to his name.

In their recent encounters in Premiership Rugby, the last ten matches between these two clubs have resulted in an even split, with each team securing five wins. However, the Bears have emerged victorious in three of their last four visits to Twickenham Stoop against all opponents.

Harlequins Gallagher Premiership form:

  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L


Bristol Bears Gallagher Premiership form:

  • L
  • W
  • L
  • W
  • L
  • W


Team News

Harlequins' late-season aspirations received a significant boost with the return of flanker Jack Kenningham following a seven-month absence due to injury. The back-rower, who was sidelined since sustaining an injury against Bristol last October, made his comeback as he was named on the bench for last Saturday's match against Exeter Chiefs.

After a lengthy tenure with Harlequins, prop Will Collier will depart the club at the conclusion of the season to pursue an opportunity in the French Top 14. While his destination has yet to be officially confirmed, the 33-year-old has been strongly rumoured to be joining Castres Olympique.

Starting fly-half, AJ MacGinty is expected to be sidelined for the trip to The Stoop after failing a head injury assessment in the defeat to Saracens on Saturday. As per league regulations, he is likely to be unavailable for selection for 12 days following the incident as he undergoes the league's Return to Play Protocols.

Thus, Welsh international Callum Sheedy, who is set to join Cardiff Rugby next season after a decade with the club, will likely have one final chapter to script in his Bristol story as he is the obvious candidate to step in for MacGinty in the number nine jersey.


Harlequins predicted starting lineup: 15. Tyrone Green, 14. Louis Lynagh, 13. Oscar Beard, 12. Luke Northmore, 11. Cadan Murley, 10. Marcus Smith, 9. Will Porter, 8. Alex Dombrandt, 7. James Chisholm, 6. Chandler Cunningham-South, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Irne Herbst, 3. Will Collier, 2. Jack Walker, 1. Joe Marler

Replacements: 16. Sam Riley, 17. Fin Baxter, 18. Dillon Lewis, 19. George Hammond, 20. Jack Kenningham, 21. Will Evans, 22. Danny Care, 23. Jarrod Evans

Bristol Bears predicted starting lineup: 15 Max Malins, 14 Siva Naulago, 13 Benhard Janse van Rensburg, 12 James Williams, 11 Gabriel Ibitoye, 10 AJ MacGinty, 9 Harry Randall, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Fitz Harding (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Joe Batley, 4 James Dun, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Gabriel Oghre, 1 Ellis Genge

Replacements: 16 Harry Thacker, 17 Jake Woolmore, 18 Max Lahiff, 19 Josh Caulfield, 20 Jake Heenan, 21 Kieran Marmion, 22 Virimi Vakatawa, 23 Noah Heward


SM words green background

We say: Harlequins 24-18 Bristol Bears

Harlequins came agonisingly close to reaching the European Championship Rugby final and have been very good in the closing stages of this competition. In addition, they have solid home form and we feel they will pull off a victory in this one.

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