The Six Nations takes centre stage again this weekend, but there are still plenty of important premiership games to be played in the quest for the play-offs and the fight against relegation. Here are my SuperBru predictions for round 16.
Gloucester v Worcester Warriors
Worcester desperately need a win, having lost their last four in the Premiership. They have gone from mid-table security to nervously looking over the shoulder, and with Sale starting to show some form and London Irish getting a good win against Sarries two weeks ago they are slipping towards trouble. Gloucester lost narrowly against Wasps last week after showing good fighting spirit to haul themselves back into it and grab a bonus point. With Henry Trinder back in the starting line-up and Jonny May and Charlie Sharples outside him, Gloucester have the pace and skill to hurt Worcester if the game opens up. At home and looking to get their fight for a play-off spot back up and running, I think they’ll be too strong for their M5 neighbours.
Prediction: Gloucester by 13
Sale Sharks v Harlequins
Four wins on the bounce is a resurgence by anyone’s standards, and the Sharks are, for the first time this season, looking like a Premiership club. This week, though, they face the league leaders Harlequins in a game that is likely to be one bridge too far for them. Ben Botica has slotted seamlessly into Nick Evans’ boots and was imperious agains Leicester last weekend, while Karl Dickson is a valuable understudy to Danny Care. It is up front, however, where Quins will win the game, with the likes of Johnstone, Robson, Fa’asavalu and Easter providing too much power and experience for the Sale pack to deal with.
Prediction: Harlequins by 12
Exeter Chiefs v London Welsh
Two teams desperate to halt losing slides face off at Sandy Park on Saturday. Exeter are comfortably out of the relegation fight but will be wanting to reassert themselves in the fight for the Heineken Cup spaces, as they have started to fall off the pace. Meanwhile, London Welsh’s early season form has dropped off alarmingly, and last week’s loss to Sale means they are on the precipice of being relegation favourites. They will target this game, against a Chiefs side who are out of form, to get them back on track. At home, however, I would back Exeter to turn their recent bad fortune around.
Prediction: Exeter by 11
Northampton Saints v Bath Rugby
An intriguing match takes place at Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday, where in-form Bath take on a Northampton side who returned to winning ways last weekend against Worcester. Bath have enjoyed a couple of big wins against teams at the lower end of the table, and this will be a much sterner test of their credentials. They will be desperately hoping that Francois Louw is passed fit as he is such an important player for them. As for Northampton, if they are to have any hope of getting into the play-offs this season then they simply have to win. In fact, if Bath win they will leapfrog the Saints in the table (not allowing for bonus-point related permutations). This sense of urgency should spur them on to a home victory, but I expect Bath to get a losing bonus point at least.
Prediction: Northampton by 4
Leicester Tigers v Saracens
Saturday evening sees a titanic tussle in the Midlands as two title hopefuls go head-to-head at Welford Road. This game earlier in the season was a dour 9-9 draw at Wembley, and everyone will be hoping for a better game this time round. The Tigers need to win to keep them in the hunt for a top two finish and home quarter final, while Saracens will be looking to consolidate the exact same thing. Huge responsibility will once again fall on the shoulders of young George Ford, but he knows how to guide the Tigers to a win in this situation having done so in the semi-final last season against the same opposition. As with so many of the top-of-the-table clashes it is incredibly tough to call, and home advantage sways it for me.
Prediction: Tigers by 2
London Irish v London Wasps
What many would have predicted at the beginning of the season to be a mid-table clash is anything but that in reality. High-flying Wasps will be looking to put more breathing space between them in fourth and the rest of the pack chasing that coveted play-off spot, while London Irish are now just a point clear of Sale at the bottom of the table. Neither team is particularly affected by international call-ups, so it has the potential to be a cracking encounter. I think Wasps will win, but not by as much as many people might predict. The Exiles showed impressive backbone to beat Saracens here a couple of weeks ago, and despite rolling over against Bath last weekend are a different beast at home. They could well pick up at least a bonus point.
Prediction: Wasps by 5
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43