Round 4 of the Aviva Premiership has thrown up some terrifically interesting fixtures, most of which are very difficult to call. Nevertheless, I have attempted to do just that: here are my SuperBru predictions for Round 4.
The Friday night fixture sees rookies London Welsh make their way up to the newest stadium to join the Premiership ranks, the Salford Stadium, to take on Sale. The Exiles got the monkey off their back with a dramatic late win against Exeter last weekend, while Sale are still on the search for their first 4-pointer of the season. Andy Powell returns for the home team and and along with Richie Gray gives them plenty of ball carrying ability in the forwards, as well as plenty of shaggy hair. As Dwayne Peel has said, the time for excuses is over, and Sale will be feeling the pressure to get a result here. I think they will, reasonably comfortably.
Ex-Exiles coach Toby Booth makes his return to the Madejski this weekend, as Bath are the visitors to Reading. No side in history has ever shipped more than 40 points four matches in a row, an unenviable record that London Irish could break this weekend. You have to feel they have more potential than they are showing, without even a point to show for the first 3 rounds, especially with the talented back room setup they have. I don’t think they will concede more than 40 points here, and I don’t think they’ll be pointless come round 5… but I still don’t think they’ll win this weekend. Bath by about a score, with a first point of the season for London Irish.
Saints vs Worcester is one of the easier games to call, especially at Franklin’s Gardens where the home team should register an easy victory. They have an unblemished record so far, showing an impressive variety of performance in the process, keeping it tight in difficult conditions last weekend at the Rec. With Stephen Myler back on form with the boot, I expect him to start and run the show for Saints. Worcester have proved themselves very resilient so far, but lack the quality throughout their side that Northampton have.
An intriguing game takes place at Kingsholm on Saturday afternoon, when Gloucester take on Wasps. Both sides have made solid starts to the season after underachieving last year, which makes for a close game here. There’s plenty of exciting young English talent on show too, with Elliot Daly vs Henry Trinder at outside centre possibly the most interesting battle. Both teams love to play attacking, running rugby, which should make for a cracking spectacle for the neutral also. I think home advantage will mean Gloucester should sneak it.
Undoubtedly the game of the weekend this time around comes from Welford Road, where the Tigers welcome an unbeaten Harlequins outfit. A repeat of last season’s final, it is also probably the most difficult one to call of this round. The Tigers have home advantage, and fortress Welford Road is a notoriously difficult place to win for visiting sides, but Quins have shot out of the blocks this season with 3 bonus point wins. As for the Tigers, they have 12 points from 3 games, which for any other team would be considered an excellent start, but by their unreachably high standards the performances have been far from perfect. I am wary of forecasting it to be a ‘belter’ after predicting last weekend’s snoozefest at Wembley to be just that, but it should provide plenty of intrigue at least. The way Toby Flood reacts to his poor performance in that game will be of paramount importance, particularly against the Premiership’s stand-out performer thus far in Nick Evans. Almost impossible to call, I’m going for Tigers purely because of home advantage.
The final game of the round sees the nomadic Saracens rolling into Sandy Park to take on Exeter. Another tough one to call, a lot will depend on who starts at 10 for Sarries. Owen Farrell had an absolute stinker against the Tigers last weekend, but will the management keep the faith and give him another shot? Or will they reinstate Charlie Hodgson, shifting Farrell either to the centre or the bench? Hodgson has probably been the most impressive English fly half thus far, and with him pulling the strings it is hard to look past the visitors. You write Exeter off at your peril, however, and it is unlikely they will walk away from this fixture with nothing. I expect Sarries to bounce back from their stuttering performance last weekend and get a win here, but, as with so many games this weekend, it will be close.
Sale Sharks vs London Welsh: Sale by 14
London Irish vs Bath: Bath by 5
Northampton Saints vs Worcester Warriors: Saints by 16
Gloucester Rugby vs London Wasps: Gloucester by 5
Leicester Tigers vs Harlequins: Tigers by 3
Exeter Chiefs vs Saracens : Saracens by 6
How do you see the games going this weekend?