It’s day six of the snow-induced chaos and already two Aviva Premiership games have fallen victim to the artic conditions. Both Friday night fixtures have been called off meaning Bath’s trip to Newcastle and Gloucester’s trip to Sale will have to be rescheduled.
Here are my previews and predictions for the games that have survived the snowy weather at the time of going to press.
Leeds Carnegie v Northampton Saints
The Saints are in for a frosty welcome when they take on Leeds at Headingley this Sunday. Rock bottom Carnegie are still searching for their first league win of the season and have only claimed three bonus points from the first nine rounds. Aviva Premiership leaders Northampton will welcome back their international contingent after their young guns turned in an impressive performance against London Irish last Friday to take them eight points clear at the top of the table.
Leeds coaching duo Neil Back and Andy Key came in for harsh criticism in the run up to last weekend’s clash with Harlequins. Back slammed claims made in the Daily Mail that he and Key would be for the chopping block if they lost to Quins – the 51-18 defeat was the worst at the Stoop in Leeds’ history. On current form this game looks set to go one way and one way only – in Northampton’s favour. Flanker Hendre Fourie and hooker Steve Thompson are back from England duty and will bolster the Leeds squad but I fear the outlook for Carnegie is as bleak as the weather. Northampton have only lost one game in any competition this season, whereas Leeds only have one Amlin Cup win under their belts.
My prediction: Headingley is still under a layer of snow but hell will have to freeze over if Leeds are to win this game. Saying that, as a Leeds fan I’d love to be proved wrong. Northampton by 21.
London Irish v Leicester Tigers
London Irish are having something of a mid-season wobble at the moment. The Reading-based club has lost four consecutive games in all competitions since their league win over Sale a month ago. However, the Exiles’ home form in the league has been 100%, claiming four wins from four at the Madejski. The fact that Leicester, reigning champions and hot on Irish’s heels in third, have failed to win any of their away games this season will not have gone unnoticed.
In this fixture last year, Irish ran out 18-12 winners, so home form and recent history looks to favour Toby Booth’s men. Saying that, the Exiles were outclassed in all areas against Northampton on a chilly night last Friday. Defensively they looked frail and a rampaging Soane Tonga’uiha destroyed them at scrum time and in the loose. I’m sure the Leicester pack will be salivating at the prospect of taking on a team following such a demoralizing defeat, even without key man Tom Croft who is ruled out with a shoulder injury.
My prediction: I’m tipping Leicester to start firing during the cold snap. Tigers to win by 12.
Saracens v Harlequins
This week the news from the Saracens camp all been focused on the departure of their controversial director of rugby, Brendan Venter. The former Springbok centre is set to return to South Africa, but moving into a newly-created technical director role and is replaced by first-team coach Mark McCall. Whether this has damaged preparations for this weekend’s game or not remains to be seen, but I think it must have created at least some form of distraction.
Saracens’ form has dipped slightly in the past month. The men in black have only claimed one win in their last three games which has seen them fall to fifth in the table. However, Sarries have won their last two games against Harlequins who arrive at Vicarage Road on the back of an emphatic 51-18 win over Leeds. The result was only the second time Quins have ever clocked up a half century in a league game – the other was the 60-14 hammering of Worcester in April last year. A win for Conor O’Shea’s Quins would be their first away from home in the Premiership since their trip to Leeds 12 months ago.
My prediction: Despite the off field shufflings at Saracens, I think they will edge this game. Sarries by 9.
London Wasps v Exeter Chiefs
Exeter are currently seventh in the league after a brilliant start to their first season in the top flight. Whisper it quietly, but a top six finish and Heineken Cup place must surely have crossed the mind of head coach Rob Baxter. If the Chiefs are to end the season in the top half of the table they need to beat teams like Premiership and European rugby stalwarts, Wasps. The two sides have already met this year in the LV= Cup, when Exeter ran out 29-6 winners at Sandy Park.
However, after an unsteady start to their league campaign, Wasps have notched up three straight wins and have risen to sixth place. The Londoners’ only league defeat at home came at the hands of leaders Northampton on 24 October. Can Exeter pull another shock out of the bag? Quite possibly. The newly promoted side are unbeaten in their last five games in all competitions, and have not lost on their travels since the trip to title favourites Northampton on 2 October.
My prediction: This is the most difficult game for me to call this week. Exeter have been brilliant so far but Wasps are slowly coming to the boil. I’m going to go with home advantage and say Wasps to win by 5.