Northampton Saints v Harlequins
There are some tantalising match-ups in this game; the raw promise of Walker against the proven brilliance of North, the control of Myler against the flair of Evans, the experience of Easter against the pure power of Manoa… and of course the brotherly battle between Lee and Karl Dickson. They are also two of the form teams in the league, with just one loss between them since round five. Both teams come into the game off the back of imposing wins, of which the Saints’ second half demolition of Bath was particularly impressive. Their line-up is brimming with power, while the duo of Elliot and North are scoring tries for fun at the moment. One weak link Quins might look to exploit is Tom Collins at fullback, but he actually looked very comfortable filling in there last weekend against Bath.
The Saints are on a roll and have made Franklin’s Gardens into somewhat of a fortress – I expect them to have too much for Quins. Saints by 10.
Newcastle Falcons v Sale Sharks
Sale have proved many people wrong this season, showing a backbone and resilience that was glaringly lacking in their last Premiership campaign. Last week at the Tigers they rallied valiantly to gain a bonus point, when they could quite easily have capitulated. Danny Cipriani returns to their line-up to inject some flair into the backline, while Mark Cueto, who continued to defy his years with a fine display at Welford Road, shifts to the wing to accommodate Johnny Leota. The Falcons nearly doubled their try count for the season in scoring two last weekend, and will need more of that if they are to get their first win since round six.
Sale showed last weekend that they are a different team this season, and should avenge their earlier home loss to the Falcons – even in the difficult arena of Kingston Park. Sale by 5.
London Irish v Worcester Warriors
It is make or break time for Worcester. The bottom two clubs face off at the Madejski on Saturday and Worcester simply have to get a win. Should they fail to do so, and Newcastle also triumph, they would find themselves (at least) 14 points adrift. They have injury issues, too, with captain Jonathan Thomas crucially missing. Neither side has won since round five so, despite the attacking flair of the likes of James O’Connor and Topsy Ojo being on show, do not be surprised if this is an edgy affair, with both sides aware of how crucial four points would be.
London Irish need this win almost as badly as Worcester do – I expect them to get it. London Irish by 7.
Gloucester v Saracens
Freddie Burns returns to the Gloucester line-up for the visit of Saracens, with Billy Twelvetrees switching back to his preferred role at twelve. Intriguingly this game sees almost a battle of the ‘safe’ vs ‘adventurous’ England combos, with Burns and Twelvetrees taking on Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt, who makes his first start since September. Saracens may not have a great record at Kingsholm, but they have been on rampaging form this season, with a loss away at Northampton the only blot on their copybook. With ten tries in their last two games, they bring some fine form to Gloucester, who themselves have won their last two to halt an alarming slump in form.
Saracens simply look too powerful for Gloucester, and should triumph at Kingsholm. Saracens by 12.
Leicester Tigers v Bath
One of rugby’s oldest rivalries renews this weekend, and there is plenty to suggest it should be another brilliant game in a fixture that has seen some great clashes in recent years. Again, the 10-12 combinations make for a mouthwatering contest. At fly-half there are the young pretenders who both have bright futures as Owen Williams, so impressive last week, takes on George Ford, who will have a point to prove after leaving Leicester last season. Toby Flood starts at inside centre after Dan Bowden’s injury, and he faces the mercurial Kyle Eastmond. Elsewhere the battle between Miles Benjamin and Anthony Watson on the wing could be an audition for England recognition in the Spring, while at openside two of the Southern Hemisphere’s best go head to head as Julian Salvi lines up opposite François Louw.
The Tigers have been far from impressive in recent weeks but have still been picking up wins, and while Bath will run them close I’d still expect them to get a win in front of the Welford Road faithful. Tigers by 3.
London Wasps v Exeter Chiefs
This weekend’s final game sees sixth take on seventh, as Wasps welcome Exeter to High Wycombe. Wasps’ home form has been good, while the Chiefs have also impressed on their travels, all of which means we should be in for a top game at Adams Park. Destructive number eight Rory Pitman starts for Wasps, while for Exeter promising young talent Henry Slade starts at fly-half and continues to keep Gareth Steenson out of the team. Jack Nowell lines up on the wing opposite Tom Varndell in a duel that will showcase plenty of pace and power, and could tell us a lot about the young Chiefs winger’s England credentials.
The closeness of the two sides in the table should be reflected on the pitch, where home advantage could just swing it Wasps’ way. Wasps by 3.
How do you see this weekend’s games going?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images