Sale v Gloucester, Fri 12th April 19.45
Sale go into this knowing that one more win will probably guarantee security, which will provide them with massive motivation. Gloucester, on the other hand, are chasing the play-offs and with two tough games against Sarries and Exeter to come, they will be targeting this one as a must-win. Last weekend’s loss at home to Biarritz involved a battering up front, but more surprisingly a pasting out wide too. This weekend, the giant Shane Monahan comes in for Charlie Sharples, indicating they will perhaps play a narrower, more power-based game. South sea island duo Qera and Kalamafoni continue in the back row, and are more than enough to keep any defence busy. For Sale, Nick MacLeod continues at fly-half with Danny Cipriani still on bench duty.
With both teams having plenty to play for it could be a tight, cagey affair – Gloucester have more quality, however, and should secure a win.
Prediction: Gloucester by 7
Harlequins v Bath, Sat 13th April 14.15
Both of these teams lost at home in European competitions last weekend, and Harlequins’ form is spiralling worryingly as we come to the end of the season. They have lost their last four in all competitions, including three in the league. With two home games to come they will be confident of securing a play-off spot, although a home semi final is looking increasingly out of their grasp. Robshaw and Easter need to be significantly more visible than they were last week against Munster, while the Care-Evans axis needs to re-find the form that made Quins such a dangerous prospect at the beginning of the season. For Bath, this is the beginning of a horrifically difficult run-in which sees them also visiting Saracens and hosting the Tigers – the only two teams above Quins in the league. They have named a lightening quick back-line, featuring Eastmond and Rokodoguni in the centres and Olly Woodburn on the wing.
As always, though, it will be about whether the Bath pack can gain at least parity with their opposition. Despite Quins being dismantled up front by Munster, they will be too strong for Bath.
Prediction: Quins by 10
Exeter Chiefs v London Irish, Sat 13th April 15.00
Exeter are still firmly in the hunt for a Heineken Cup spot next season, and with London Irish safe from relegation and having little to play for, the Chiefs will target this one as a full five-pointer. Haydn Thomas and Gareth Steenson are building a fine partnership at half-back and will steer the Exeter ship superbly, while giant Aussie Dean Mumm has been making a nuisance of himself in recent weeks, even crossing the line in their most recent game against Worcester. London Irish will play for their pride but little else, and while they have had a resurgence at home, their away form has not been great. They have plenty of attacking threat out wide in Tagicakibau and Ojo, with Yarde to bring off the bench, but it is really a question of how much ball they will see.
Exeter are the only team with anything riding on this game, and at Sandy Park should win comfortably.
Prediction: Exeter by 15
London Welsh v Northampton Saints, Sat 13th April 15.00
Desperation is settling in for London Welsh. They know they need to win at least two of their three remaining games while hoping Sale slip up at the same time. In fact, by the time this game comes around they could be all but relegated. They may not have a league win since December 1st, but they will throw everything into it and shouldn’t be written off. Seven losing bonus points shows they have remained competitive in plenty of games. The Saints are hunting the play-offs, and with Sale to come at home after this game they will be hoping to have qualification sewn up by the final weekend when they travel to Quins. They have picked a bruising centre partnership in Burrell and George Pisi; they will hope to occupy defenders to give the likes of brother Ken Pisi and Ben Foden space to run in. That said, their pack has been where they have been winning games (the Tigers shaming aside), and that will be their focus again this week.
London Welsh will put up a valiant fight and could well bag a bonus point, but the Saints’ forward power will shine through in the end.
Prediction: Saints by 6
Saracens v Worcester Warriors, Sat 13th April 15.00
This is not one of the more difficult games to call this weekend. Sarries are easily the form team in the Premiership, while Worcester secured their Premiership place for next season a while ago and now have little left to play for. Sarries rest most of their England stars, who have played a lot of rugby over the past few months, but can still call on the likes of Hodgson, Gill, Smit and Strettle to produce the goods. It is also great to see Jacques Burger back in the team after a lengthy injury lay-off. Worcester play for little more than pride, and will hope to keep it to within a cricket score.
Prediction: Saracens by 20
Leicester Tigers v London Wasps, Sun 14th April 15.00
The Tigers cannot afford to dwell on the disappointment of being knocked out of Europe for long, with a home semi-final still to secure. They have named the same team and squad as for the past three weeks, apart from Mulipola coming in for the injured Ayerza. Balmain takes his place on the bench. Toby Flood continues as captain, having excelled in the role in recent weeks. It is a very strong line-up, and one that recently tore through the Saints 36-8, but will fatigue have a role to play? Wasps make several changes ahead of their run-in, with coach Dai Young claiming several players ‘aren’t quite right’ – more likely they are focusing on next week’s crunch game against Exeter at Adam’s Park. Even so, they still have plenty of finishing ability with Wade, Daly and Varndell in the back three, while Nicky Robinson will play things on the gain-line.
The Tigers will look to grind Wasps down up front before releasing their backs, and should have too much for Wasps at home.
Prediction: Tigers by 10
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43