With some fringe players back from international duty and squads suitably bolstered, round 17 of the Aviva Premiership is set to be a good one. Here’re my SuperBru predictions.
Bath v Gloucester
The west country derby is one of the fiercest in the league, and with Bath-born Freddie Burns back in the Gloucester line-up there will be no shortage of spark in this one. Should Bath win, and win well, they will be in a real shout of challenging for those play-off spots – Gloucester are the team currently in fourth and, bonus points allowing, Bath could find themselves just two points behind them come the end of the weekend. In derbies such as this it is very difficult to pick a winner, as heart plays just as much of a role as the head. Bath’s team looks, for once, reasonably settled, and the centre partnership of Eastmond and Banahan are the perfect foil for each other. Stringer at scrum half provides experience, while young Scot Tom Heathcote at fly-half is looking composed. Home advantage could make the difference.
Prediction: Bath by 6
Worcester Warriors v London Wasps
Worcester’s last-gasp loss at Gloucester in the previous round was down to a thoroughly dubious decision, and they will be seething that they didn’t come away with a win that would have been impressive and important in equal measures. They are being sucked into the relegation mire, but have named a strong team with the likes of Euan Murray, Matt Kvesic and Jon Clarke all starting. Andy Goode will be as punishing as ever with the boot. Wasps have made several changes from the side that was downed last week against London Irish, with the lightening-quick feet of Christian Wade conspicuous by their absence. Mind you his replacement, Elliot Daly, is no slouch. Billy Vunipola will also be a massive loss for Wasps, and with Stephen Jones on the bench their line-up looks slightly undercooked. Worcester are a hard nut to crack at Sixways, and could record a narrow win.
Prediction: Worcester by 4
Leicester Tigers v Sale Sharks
The Tigers will be bitterly disappointed with their performance against Saracens last weekend, allowing their fellow title-contenders to storm back into the match and in the end win it. Sale have looked somewhat resurgent of late, although they would have loved to snatch a bonus point last weekend against Harlequins. However, Welford Road will be baying on Saturday and the Tigers will be determined to right a wrong. They say there is never a good time to play the men from Leicester at Welford Road – this could just be one of the worst. It will be a (huge) step too far for Sale.
Prediction: Tigers by 14
Northampton Saints v London Irish
The Exiles will arrive in Northampton buoyed by their impressive win against Wasps last weekend. They have, however, only won once on the road this season, and despite Franklin’s Gardens losing some of it’s aura recently (the Saints have won just two of their last five there) it will surely be too big an ask of them to win there. Marland Yarde, who is in fine form, will have to be shackled, but other than that the Saints should be on top in most areas. I expect them to continue their decent form and if the Wasps and Gloucester results goes the way I’ve predicted (a massive if), they could jump back up into the play-off spots.
Prediction: Northampton by 11
Harlequins v Exeter Chiefs
Exeter’s comprehensive win against London Welsh last weekend reversed a losing slide that has seen them slip down the table and possibly out of the running for a Heineken Cup spot next year. This will be a grave disappointment for them after such an impressive season in last year’s tournament. One place they would not want to have to go is the Stoop, where Harlequins have only lost twice this season – although one of those was only last month. The Chiefs are also one of only four teams in the league to have beaten Quins this season, in the 42-28 victory back in October, but they have not won on the road since November. Everything is pointing towards a reasonably comfortable home victory.
Prediction: Harlequins by 15
Saracens v London Welsh
What a week it has been for London Welsh. Smashed by Exeter last weekend, the last thing they needed was the hammer-blow that came midweek when they found out they were facing disciplinary action for fielding an ineligible player – scrum-half Tyson Keats. And to top it all off, they face a trip to second-placed Saracens, who will still be riding the euphoria of a dramatic win at Welford Road in the last round. London Welsh’s last and only league win against Saracens came in their first ever fixture, back in 1987 in league division 2 – a completely irrelevant stat, but quite interesting nonetheless. Their bad week is set to continue, I feel, and Saracens shouldn’t have any problems beating them at their new home.
Prediction: Saracens by 20
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43