Worcester Warriors v London Wasps
Worcester are desperate for a win, with the window in which they can catch Newcastle getting increasingly close to slamming shut. Neither side is winning, but at the moment the difference is that Newcastle don’t have to. Wasps have slipped to a disappointing seventh after starting the season brightly, a host of injuries to key personnel not helping their cause. This will, in all likelihood, end up being a close game – before the break Worcester were perilously close to getting a win on a couple of occasions, but you just wonder if they might have lost a bit of momentum.
Winning is a habit – one that Worcester just aren’t in. That should continue here. Wasps by 5.
Sale Sharks v Northampton Saints
Northampton welcome back the majority of their international contingent, with Luther Burrell, George North, Lee Dickson, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood all starting. If the returning internationals might take a bit of time to bed back in for the Saints, Sale have no such issues, naming a team that has a very settled feel to it. If they can take advantage of any rustiness early on, they might have a chance to shock the Saints here.
That said, I’d still expect the league leaders to be too strong, even away from home. Saints by 10.
Gloucester Rugby v Newcastle Falcons
Neither of these sides have been hugely impressive this season, with Gloucester not living up to the pre-season hype that surrounded them, and Newcastle fading away after a reasonably good start. They have now not won since the end of October. Gloucester name England duo Jonny May and Ben Morgan on the bench, while Billy Twelvetrees is afforded a rest. Freddie Burns continues on the bench, deputising to Ryan Mills. Newcastle give a first Premiership start to exciting young winger Zack Kirbridge, the scorer of that scintillating try against Wales U20s recently.
Gloucester have too much quality not to win this one, and Newcastle do not have the pack to strangle them up front. Gloucester by 12.
Saracens v Harlequins
There is plenty riding on this one. Saracens need to consolidate their spot in the top two, while Harlequins desperately need a win to get them back in contention for the top 4. With Bath and Leicester currently four points ahead of them and facing (on paper) more winnable fixtures this weekend, a win for the Quins is imperative – but their last three margins of victory have been 1, 4 and 1. That said, many of their England men are rested, with only Joe Marler, who missed the final game in Italy, featuring in the matchday 23. Saracens name the returning Owen Farrell and Mako Vunipola in their starting line-up.
Playing this game at Wembley takes away a lot of the home advantage Saracens enjoy at Allianz Park, but even so Quins are underdogs here. Saracens by 9.
London Irish v Bath Rugby
This could be an incredibly exciting game. With back threes of James O’Connor, Topsy Ojo and Marland Yarde for London Irish, and Nick Abendanon, Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni for Bath, there is a huge amount of potential for an open game. Bath have been hugely impressive this season and welcome David Wilson, Paul James and George Ford back into their line-up. London Irish had begun to string a good run of form together in the new year, before losses to the Tigers and Exeter derailed them somewhat.
They will have to be back at their best if they are to stand a chance against Bath. I can’t see it happening. Bath by 7.
Leicester Tigers v Exeter Chiefs
The Tigers have been poor this season, and yet there they sit, in the play-off spots and on equal points with Bath. Their attacking game seemed to have wilted but has improved since the elevation of Owen Williams to first choice fly-half, but of course the biggest news around their selection is that Manu Tuilagi starts again in the midfield. Tom Youngs also goes back into the front row. Exeter, fresh from their LV= Cup triumph, welcome back England stars Jack Nowell and Tom Johnson, into the starting line-up and onto the bench respectively.
Exeter will bring confidence into this one but the Tigers, somehow, haven’t lost since before Christmas in the league and should continue that form here. Tigers by 10.
How do you see the weekend playing out?
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images