Sale v Saracens
London Irish shocked the rugby world by beating Saracens at Allianz Park last weekend, and they now face a tough trip to the AJ Bell Stadium on Friday night to prove that was merely a blip. England’s Alex Goode and Brad Barritt are back in their starting line-up, as are Scotland internationals Duncan Taylor and Kelly Brown. Sale’s good form is going quietly under the radar – they are still very much in with a chance of finishing in the play-off spots, just two points behind fourth-placed Quins.
Sale, with Danny Cipriani pulling the strings, are a tough nut to crack at home, but after last weekend’s embarrassment Saracens will be out to right some wrongs, and should be too strong for the hosts. Saracens by 5.
Harlequins v Newcastle Falcons
Dean Richards returns to the Stoop with Newcastle, knowing the ins and outs of the team he is facing this weekend. They still struggle to score tries, however, having racked up just six in 13 games this season, while Harlequins have the best defensive record of the league. Luke Wallace against Andy Saull is the pick of the individual battles, both opensides brilliant at the breakdown and whoever wins that battle will be crucial to which team is on top.
Quins were a bit rubbish against Wasps last weekend, but will step it up a notch tomorrow and should win comfortably against the Falcons. Harlequins by 15.
London Wasps v London Irish
There is a huge amount of pace and flair in this game – take your pick from James O’Connor, Elliot Daly, Will Helu and James Short, with Topsy Ojo to come off the bench. It should be a close encounter between two teams that arguably deserve to be better placed than they both are currently – intriguingly, there are 11 losing bonus points between these two this season, proving how close they have been to victories at times.
There may well be another one on Saturday, and as they are so closely matched home advantage just about sways it for now. Wasps by 3.
Northampton Saints v Worcester Warriors
Worcester were much improved last weekend against the Tigers, but sadly still not good enough to get a win. If only everyone could raise their game to the level of the exemplary Chris Pennell, they’d be fine. As it is, even he won’t be able to get them a win at fortress Franklin’s Gardens, where the Saints are unbeaten in the league this season.
Even shorn of their England players, the hosts will be too strong for basement club Worcester. Saints by 18.
Exeter Chiefs v Bath Rugby
This is the biggest game of the weekend, and also the most difficult to call. When these two met in round nine it was a brilliant game of rugby, with Bath emerging victorious by a narrow margin of just five points. Northampton sneaked a win at Sandy Park last weekend, but they have been mixing it in the upper echelons of the Premiership for some time now, and know how to win these tough away games. Bath, for all their brilliance this season, are not quite there yet and despite naming a strong line-up, could come unstuck in Devon.
The hosts will avenge their loss at the Rec in front of the Sandy Park faithful. Exeter by 5.
Leicester Tigers v Gloucester Rugby
The final game of the round is a simple one to call, on paper. The Tigers have not lost in their last three, and barring the aberration at Allianz Park are unbeaten in the league since November. That said, they have been pretty woeful recently, especially last week at Worcester. They name a strong team again, but need to play with much greater fluency if they are to beat Gloucester, who have match winners in their line-up. One such player, Freddie Burns, has been heavily linked with a move to the Tigers, and interestingly is not in the starting line-up at Welford Road – make of that what you will.
The Tigers have not been playing well, so the margin of victory might be smaller than expected, but the power of their pack should still see them triumph. Tigers by 7.
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