Harlequins v Leicester Tigers
This is unquestionably the game of the round. There is so much riding on it. Tigers need to win to keep the pace with Saints, who are at home to London Irish and should win, in the hunt for a home semi-final, but also to stave off the threat of Bath – also with an easy home fixture against Newcastle – from challenging them for third (no-one will want to travel to Allianz Park in the semis). And for Quins, they must win to keep their play-off hopes alive given that their main rivals Bath could well score a five-pointer this weekend. Intrigue all round, and both teams are in good form. Quins name the same starting line-up for the third week on the bounce, while the Tigers give a first start for some time to Toby Flood.
It is an old sporting cliché but this one really could go either way. At this stage of the season, however, you bet against the Tigers at your peril. Tigers by 2.
*No teamsheets have been released for the following games*
Bath Rugby v Worcester Warriors
After the slugfest that was the West Country derby last weekend, Bath will be itching to give the ball a bit of space against Worcester. The visitors, however, have not lost by more than five points since February and have taken six match points in their last two games. Desperation will cause them to scrap harder than they might otherwise, but Bath will still be targeting this one as a five-pointer – a result that could see them leapfrog the Tigers in the table. They will not be lacking for motivation either.
Worcester will put up a valiant fight but I’d expect Bath to flex their muscles in the last twenty minutes and pull away. Bath by 15.
Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks
Form points firmly at a Sale win here. The Sharks have won their last four on the road while the Chiefs have won just twice at home since before Christmas. The hosts have had injury troubles, but looked back to somewhere near their best – in attack at least – against Worcester in the last round. Their defence was porous, however, and that will not have gone unnoticed by the Sharks. Sale are still just about in the hunt for a play-off spot, while the Chiefs know a loss will seriously harm their chances of taking the European play-off spot.
The form book points firmly to a Sale win, despite them losing some momentum against Harlequins last weekend. I still think they’ll come out on top in this one though. Sale by 3.
London Wasps v Gloucester Rugby
This could be a hugely entertaining game. At Twickenham on a wide, fast pitch, with the likes of Charlie Sharples, Henry Trinder, Jonny May, Tom Varndell, Elliot Daly and Joe Simpson all set to feature, we could be in for quite a game. Wasps won the corresponding fixture in the Amlin Challenge Cup a few weeks back but are not in good form in the league, with just two wins since the turn of the year. Gloucester’s form has been typically up and down, good wins against Harlequins and Exeter offset by a smashing from the Saints and that ugly brawl against Bath last weekend. The fact that both are still battling for seventh place and the European play-off spot adds further intrigue.
It is technically a home fixture for Wasps, although Twickenham makes it essentially a neutral venue. Wasps played plenty of good rugby against the Tigers last weekend – do that again, and they will be too strong for Gloucester. Wasps by 6.
Northampton Saints v London Irish
London Irish steamrolled Newcastle last weekend, but it is difficult to read too much into that given how poor the Falcons were. Northampton have lost their last three in the league and will be desperate to get back to winning ways and stave off the ever-encroaching threat of the Tigers. Last weekend’s comeback to claim a losing bonus point at Allianz Park shows the fight has not left them yet, and they will be targeting this one, against an Exiles side that has nothing left to play for, as an opportunity to gain maximum points.
The hosts will be too strong at Franklin’s Gardens. Saints by 18.
Newcastle Falcons v Saracens
With top spot all but wrapped up and a Heineken Cup semi-final next weekend, Saracens may well choose to rest some front line players for this one. Even so, Newcastle’s last win came at the end of October, and they look to have decided that they are safe regardless of how they perform in the weeks leading into the end of the season. It is a risky strategy and although Worcester would need a minor miracle to win two of their last three fixtures, it is still a mathematical possibilty – Newcastle would do well to pay that some heed.
No real contest here – Sarries will win this comfortably. Saracens by 20.
What do you think? How do you see the weekend unfolding?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images