**As another year of thrilling Gallagher Premiership Rugby draws to a close, it’s time to take a look at some of the best moments from 2022.**
The first half of the year made for enthralling viewing, with high-scoring matches aplenty, a dramatic climax to the regular season and an unforgettable Twickenham final, as the league’s most successful club etched their name back onto the trophy after a nine-year wait .
So without a further ado, let us take a look at the run-in to one of Gallagher Premiership Rugby’s greatest ever seasons.
Hope springs eternal in the New Year and that was certainly the case at Leicester Tigers.
The early pacesetters kickstarted their 2022 with a shut-out, beating Newcastle Falcons 31-0 at an expectant Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium.
It was the kind of defensive showing that fans had become accustomed to under Steve Borthwick, as Tigers went on to finish with the best defensive record in the league.
Harlequins had been the comeback kings in 2021 and showed no sign of shaking that habit in the new year, with a last-gasp Marcus Smith conversion handing the holders a win over Exeter Chiefs in a repeat of the previous season’s final.
Meanwhile, Saracens faced a set-back in their pursuit of the title in their first season back in the top flight, going down 25-24 to Gloucester Rugby who were going great guns under George Skivington as they boosted their own top-four hopes.
But the result of the month came at the Recreation Ground, as resurgent Bath Rugby saw off Quins in dramatic fashion under the lights, with two-try Will Muir the toast of the West Country.
Saracens then added to Harlequins’ misery, completing the double over their neighbors at StoneX Stadium to retain bragging rights in the capital.
London Irish had wowed many with their flamboyance and flair and laid down a marker for the rest of the season with bonus-point wins over Bristol Bears and Saracens.
Another side on the up, Sale Sharks, maintained their semi-final push with wins over two of their top-four rivals in Harlequins and Northampton Saints.
The feel-good factor at The Rec showed no sign of waning as spring approached.
Tom de Glanville’s 84th-minute try completed a comeback for the ages, with Bath turning round an early 21-0 deficit to win 29-27 against Bristol Bears.
The battle for top spot rolled on with Saracens avenging their early season defeat to Tigers with a 34-27 victory as Tom Woolstencroft’s late score wrapped up another five points.
And the ‘The Showdown’ went the way of Mark McCall’s team too, with the Bears once again on the wrong side of a tense affair, this one a 27-23 defeat at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Max Malins crossed twice, adding to his personal haul with the wing well on the way to finishing as the season’s top try-scorer.
Quins were back in their stride as the regular season neared its conclusion with center Andre Esterhuizen’s late try inflicting just a fourth defeat of the season on table-topping Tigers in Round 23.
Saints were also kicking into gear at just the right time – they went through April unbeaten to make it five wins on the spin.
James Grayson’s match-winning 48-metre penalty against Quins put Saints six points clear of fifth-placed Exeter Chiefs with just two rounds to play.
Warmer weather arrived and the tension on the pitch reached boiling point in a month that saw all teams fighting to improve their league position.
Bears all-but ended Chiefs semi-final hopes with a 40-33 win at Ashton Gate, while Bath inflicted the same misery on London Irish.
Harlequins booked their top-four spot in the only way they know how, coming from 17 points down to beat Gloucester 28-24 at Twickenham.
And in the final game of Round 25, Saracens booked a home semi-final with a hard-fought 42-38 victory over Northampton Saints.
Saints recovered quickly to seal fourth place, clinching a place in the semi-finals for just the third time since their latest triumph in 2013/14.
While London Irish missed out on the post-season party it was a season of progress for the Exiles as they finished eighth, their highest finish for a decade.
Gloucester, Sharks and Chiefs all narrowly missed out on the top four, but each qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup and finished their seasons with morale-boosting wins while Leicester ensured they finished top with a 20-10 success over Wasps.
The first semi-final showdown took place at the StoneX and it was Saracens, inspired by Gallagher Premiership Player of the Season Ben Earl, who became the first team to register their place in the final.
The England flanker scored a hat-trick as Saracens ran out 34-17 winners over Harlequins, navigating three second-half yellow cards before Earl crossed for this third to ensure victory with a score at the death.
Tigers then overcame East Midlands rivals Saints with George Ford responsible for 22 points in a 27-14 win. It was a particularly emotional day for Tigers fans, who remembered Tiffany Youngs, the wife of former club captain Tom, with a minute’s applause following her death the week before the semi-final fixture.
So it was first against second in the season showpiece and, befitting a season that was full of high drama, this one went down to the wire.
Tigers talisman Ford limped off after just 23 minutes to be replaced by Freddie Burns who would become an unlikely hero, kicking the winning drop goal with just seconds to spare to clinch his side’s 11th Premiership title.
It was a fitting farewell for Tigers captain Ellis Genge and for Ford, who both left for pastures new, while Richard Wigglesworth finished as the oldest final winner, aged 39, against his former club.
But the overriding image from that landmark day is surely Genge hoisting the trophy aloft alongside former skipper Youngs – one that will live long in the memory of all those in attendance at Twickenham.
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