Worcester Warriors v Leicester Tigers
The Tigers may have only two wins on the road this season, but that is two wins more than Worcester have at all. The visitors benefit from England snubs to Toby Flood and Ben Youngs, and name a very strong team at what is usually a time when their squad is decimated by international call-ups. Anthony Allen plays in midfield with Matt Smith, while up front Marcos Ayerza, Logovi’i Mulipola, Ed Slater and Louis Deacon form a front five full of power and menace. For Worcester, the excellent Chris Pennell continues at fullback while Paul Warwick is preferred to the erratic Ignacio Mieres at fly-half. Argentine hooker Agustin Creevy returns at hooker, with compatriot Mariano Galarza, who leaves for Gloucester at the end of the season, in the engine room.
The Tigers’ form hasn’t been great this season, but they’ve named a strong team and Worcester do not look like reversing their losing trend any time soon. Tigers by 15.
Sale Sharks v Gloucester Rugby
Gloucester sit only two places below Sale in the table, but are a full eight points adrift of their opponents this weekend. The Cherry and Whites have been sub-par this season, and while they have recruited heavily and impressively for next year, it is impossible to do a preview of their games without mentioning what has been at times a powder-puff front five. In the cold and gloom of the AJ Bell stadium on a Friday night, they will be up against it. Gloucester are missing Twelvetrees and May, while Sale are shorn of Henry Thomas. Wasps-bound duo James Gaskell and Rob Miller start for the hosts, while Freddie Burns v Danny Cipriani is the battle of England’s two forgotten magicians. That is a mouthwatering personal duel.
Sale have impressed at home this season and should have too much for a Gloucester side that will, sadly, lose the forward battle again. Sale by 7.
Bath v Newcastle Falcons
Bath have England squad members Anthony Watson, George Ford, Rob Webber and Kyle Eastmond back and all are named in the starting line-up to take on the Falcons. The quartet will be keen on sending a message to Stuart Lancaster that they should have been involved this weekend – certainly Watson and Ford have been pushing hard for inclusion. The visitors give Gonzalo Tiesi a debut in what is otherwise a stable line-up.
Bath will be far too good for Newcastle with most of their England contingent playing. Bath by 25.
Saracens v London Irish
Saracens lose lots of players to the international cause, but can still name a team containing the likes of Marcelo Bosch, Dave Strettle, Charlie Hodgson, Jacques Burger and Ernst Joubert. They have a core of experienced Premiership operators, as well as two of the top scoring wingers this season, all directed by wizened old head Hodgson. London Irish name James O’Connor in their line-up, but you have to wonder how much of his heart will be in the rest of the Exiles’ season given his big money but brief move to France next season.
Saracens have Brits, Johnston, Wigglesworth and Tomkins on the bench during an international period, which tells you all you need to know about their strength in depth. They should swot Irish away with little difficulty. Saracens by 20.
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints
This looks like the game of the weekend. The Saints are hit quite hard by international call ups but still look strong, while Exeter’s only real loss is Jack Nowell. Northampton hand Burrell’s 12 shirt to Dom Waldouck who will have a point to prove after spending much of this season on the outside looking in. George North is an obvious loss, but in Jamie Elliot and Ken Pisi they still have plenty of potential to strike on the wings. The sight of Exeter’s engine room duo of Dave Welch and captain Dean Mumm galloping around various Premiership grounds has been one of the joys of this season, and the home side will need them to front up again this weekend against what is still a formidable Saints pack.
Exeter are yet to beat any of the top five at home this season, and will want to put that right. Against a re-jigged Northampton team, they’ve got as good a chance as any. Exeter by 2.
Harlequins v London Wasps
Two Premiership old stagers do battle at the Stoop on Sunday as Nick Evans and Andy Goode go head to head at fly-half. Nick Easter captains a Harlequins side heavily hit by England call-ups, but there is still a mammoth pack named with Tom Guest, Maurie Fa’asavalu and captain Easter forming one of the most formidable back-rows seen for a while. With Luke Wallace on the bench, they have the option of changing things up if the game gets a bit looser. Wasps name Matt Mullan in their team, despite him being on duty as 24th man with England in Edinburgh on Saturday. They have plenty of firepower behind the scrum, with Joe Simpson, Elliot Daly and new wing pairing Will Helu and James Short all more than capable of creating and scoring tries.
This is tends to be the best of the London derbies, and home advantage should make up for Harlequins’ missing men. Quins by 5.
Do you agree? How do you see the weekend playing out?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images