Sale v London Irish
Two teams tipped for relegation at the beginning of the season have had more prosperous campaigns than many imagined, and although London Irish sit in 11th, they are ten points clear of bottom placed Worcester while a lot of the rugby they have played has deserved better results. Sale may have already shipped two losses at home this season, but London Irish’s away form in the league is woeful, having only won once on the road since January this year. Two headline makers – not always for the right reasons – in Danny Cipriani and James O’Connor should provide the game with plenty of talking points, as the old Melbourne Rebels teammates will at the very least bring a great level of flair to proceedings.
Sale are in good nick and should see off London Irish with relative ease. Sale by 10.
Bath v Harlequins
These two sides have remarkably similar points-scoring records so far this season. Each have conceded 128 points and scored 17 tries, while Bath have scored a meagre three points more. Similar records, then, and similar styles of play, too. This should be an open affair, with the emphasis on running rather than kicking. Harlequins have the best return on the road so far this season, having amassed 19 of their 28 points on their travels. With Bath one above them in the table, they know a win will take them into third place. Both sides have named very strong line-ups, and there is almost nothing to choose between the two.
Quins have an excellent away record this season, but Bath are yet to lose at the Rec and I’m backing that to pull them through in what should be a very close game – on the scoreboard, at least. Bath by 2.
Exeter Chiefs v Newcastle Falcons
With all due respect to the Falcons, this is one of the easier games to pick this weekend. Exeter may come off the back of two Heineken Cup defeats, but their level of performance in both games against Toulon will fill them with confidence, as they ran the champions close on both occasions. Newcastle have scored a measly three tries in nine games so far, which, when you think about it, makes it astonishing they are sitting in ninth place.
The Chiefs should have no trouble in seeing off the Falcons at home. Exeter by 25.
London Wasps v Northampton Saints
This is an intriguing fixture. The Saints are having a brilliant season (the aberration against Leinster aside) and are one of the early frontrunners for the title, but Wasps have proved difficult to break down at home and have a team sheet that looks as healthy as it has done for quite some time. The Saints are looking for their ninth straight win over Wasps, but that is a stat that is almost irrelevant given the way both sides have been playing this season. George North continues in the centre for the East Midlanders, re-forming his imposing partnership with Luther Burrell. Ken Pisi is at fullback, where he has not looked altogether comfortable, and with Andy Goode, one of the best tactical kickers around, in their ranks, Wasps will surely look to test his spatial abilities.
It’s another one that will be tight, but the Saints will be full of confidence after their epic win last weekend and should have enough firepower to narrowly overcome Wasps. Northampton by 3.
Saracens v Leicester Tigers
A re-run of two of the previous four Premiership finals, this game screams ‘heavyweight clash’. Although the Tigers might be wallowing just outside the play-off spots (fifth counts as wallowing for a club of their stature and history) they have put a good run of form together recently, winning their last six in all tournaments including home and away to Montpellier. Saracens, however, have lost just once in 14 games at Allianz Park, and name an insatiably strong line-up. When Schalk Brits, Mako Vunpipola and James Johnstone are your front row replacements, you know your strength in depth is pretty decent. The Tigers, on the other hand, continue to be ravaged by injury in the midfield, with key playmakers Toby Flood and Dan Bowden both missing. Ryan Lamb and Matt Smith fill the void. There is a first start of the season for Mat Tait after injury, while highly promising Argentine youngster Pablo Matera gets his first league start for the club.
The Saracens line-up has too much quality throughout to lose this one at home. Saracens by 7.
Gloucester v Worcester
It is rapidly reaching the point of panic for Worcester. They have conceded seven more tries than any other club and are the only team other than Newcastle to be in single figures for tries scored. Dean Ryan returns to face his old club, while Matt Kvesic finds himself in a similar situation only with the clubs reversed. If there’s one thing that will give Worcester hope, it is Gloucester’s home form this season, which has been shocking. They have just one win at Kingsholm in the league this season, against the Saints back in September, and were most recently knocked over by Edinburgh. The Shed’s faithful will be desperate for a victory. Intriguingly, Freddie Burns has been left on the bench as the speculation surrounding his future mounts, so Billy Twelvetrees captains the side from fly-half.
Gloucester desperately need a home win, so the visit of Worcester couldn’t have come at a better time. The Cherry and Whites should get the monkey off their backs here, although it may not prove as easy as you’d expect given that a riled-up Dean Ryan should give Worcester even more motivation than usual. Gloucester by 10.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images