2013 promises much for rugby fans, and it all starts this weekend with round 13 of the Premiership. With 10 games of the regular season left, the table has a familiar look to it at the top while two teams with high expectations at the beginning of the season find themselves bogged down in the mire of a relegation battle. Much remains to be decided though. Can the mid-table sides put together a good run and threaten the established order? Are Gloucester the real deal this season? Did London Welsh play their hand too early and will they end up being dragged down into the relegation tussle? With plenty to play for, here are my Superbru predictions for round 13.
On Friday night the Tigers travel to Sixways to take on Worcester. The Warriors went down to Sale last weekend to give them only their second victory of the year, and they will be keen to prove that was just a blip and reward their faithful home supporters. The Tigers have rung the changes but show their strength in depth with the likes of Dan Bowden and Martin Castrogiovanni getting rare starts. The disruption to their lineup, and key players such as Manu Tuilagi and Julien Salvi being rested should mean the Warriors remain competitive, but I think there is still too much quality in the Tigers’ lineup for them to lose.
Saturday’s action sees the Saints travelling down to Devon to face Exeter, while Gloucester and London Irish renew their familiar rivalry after having faced off in the Amlin Cup recently. The Chiefs and the Saints were both involved in very tight games last weekend, and the Midlanders’ dip in form has seen them drop to 6th in the table. Victory here could see them climb back into the playoff spots, but lose and they will be leapfrogged by their opponents. It will be a close one, but I think at home the Chiefs will win. The Exiles are desperate for a win to halt an alarming slide that has seen them embroiled in the relegation dogfight. Kingsholm would have been pretty high up the list of places they didn’t want to have to go to right now, and I expect Gloucester to record a comfortable victory. Freddie Burns struggled slightly in dire conditions last weekend, and it will be interesting to see how he goes if the weather repeats itself.
The three games on Sunday include teams from all parts of the table. Wasps have been quietly impressive this season, and find themselves up in fifth and pushing for the playoffs, a position they haven’t been in for a while. They take on a Bath side that showed a lot of determination and composure to snatch a last minute draw last weekend, in a game that they must win if they are realistic about sitting at the Premiership top table once again. With the young talent of Wade, Simpson and Vunipola starting to blend well with the experience of the likes of Jones and Masi, I think they will do so fairly comfortably. Elsewhere, Quins take on a London Welsh side that is experiencing the harsh reality of the demands of a Premiership season, and need a win. They are unlikely to get one against the champions who, although they aren’t scoring as freely as last season, have found a way to win even when not playing well. Finally, two teams with vastly differing fortunes face off in the final Premiership game to be played at Vicarage Road, a ground where Sale haven’t won for 7 years. Saracens are flying high while the Sharks, despite doubling their tally of wins last week, are in the doldrums at the foot of the table and have the turmoil of all their back room drama to deal with. Sarries should record a comfortable victory to get their new year off to a solid start.
LEICESTER TIGERS to beat Worcester Warriors by 10
EXETER CHIEFS to beat Northampton Saints by 6
GLOUCESTER RUGBY to beat London Irish by 15
LONDON WASPS to beat Bath by 9
HARLEQUINS to beat London Welsh by 14
SARACENS to beat Sale Sharks by 15
How do you see the first round of 2013 going?