Worcester Warriors v Harlequins
Both Worcester and Quins could really do with a win here. The home team suffered a crushing blow to their survival chances last weekend in losing to London Irish at home, and they desperately need to bounce back to avoid making it three losses from three. Josh Matavesi has looked dangerous in fits and spurts so far, as has Mieres inside him – if they can combine they have the flair to cause Quins problems. Mieres needs to sort his kicking out, however, otherwise Worcester’s already uphill struggle will become insurmountable. Quins have been hit with unwelcome injury issues, and already their cover in some areas is looking thin. Nick Easter moves into the second row to fill the hole left by Nick Kennedy, with Tom Guest – an excellent player in his own right – filling in at no.8. Jordan Turner-Hall’s injury means Tom Casson has the opportunity to stamp his authority on the inside centre shirt – expect a big performance from him.
Worcester will never make it easy at Sixways, where their excellent crowd make it a hostile place to play. That said, Quins have too much firepower and should triumph. Quins by 8.
Sale Sharks v London Wasps
The big question surrounding this fixture is: which Sale team will turn up? If it is the one that turned over Gloucester at Kingsholm, they could well surprise the Wasps, but if it is the one that lost at home to Newcastle, the men from Wycombe should have no problems. Rob Miller comes onto the wing to form a back three partnership with Tom Arscott and Tom Brady that brims with pace and power, but the continued absence of Jonny Leota inside them leaves a lack of penetration in the midfield. Wasps’ flyer Christian Wade will need to be locked down when he gets the ball, but his defensive errors at Exeter last weekend will not have escaped the attention of Steve Diamond – expect plenty of ball to be run his way. Intriguingly, Danny Cipriani is back on the Sale bench – it would be quite a story if he came on to seal a win against his old club. With the way Nick Macleod kicked last weekend, it is far from out of the question.
This is a very difficult one to call. Without Leota in their midfield Sale look to lack something in their backs, and with the forward battle likely to be quite even, Goode and co. should sneak a narrow victory. Wasps by 3.
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons
The Tigers have rotated heavily for the visit of the Falcons following their loss to Bath last weekend. American international Blaine Scully gets his first start at fullback, while Lions Manu Tuilagi and Ben Youngs, as well as captain Toby Flood, all make their first appearances of the season. There is no sign of Anthony Allen or Ryan Lamb, the former presumably rested, the latter perhaps dropped. Up front Neal Briggs gets his first start at hooker, as does Jamie Gibson at openside. He has a huge job to fill Salvi’s boots, and Newcastle will look to get into him at the breakdown. The Tigers will need to be more disciplined this week, having been awarded two yellow cards against Bath which ultimately lost them the game. The Falcons hand Rory Clegg his first start at fly-half – a baptism of fire if ever there was one. Phil Godman was steady last week to kick them to victory over Sale, and if Newcastle are to have any chance of points here you sense Clegg will also have to be dead-eye. Former Tiger Kieran Brookes will be fired up to get one over his old club – he starts at tighthead.
Even with a heavily rotated squad the Tigers will be too strong for Newcastle. Some rustiness early on from returning players might see it tight at half time, but in the second half they will pull away. Tigers by 17.
London Irish v Exeter Chiefs
Irish showed superb resilience to win at Worcester, and they will need plenty of the same as they welcome a Chiefs side that dispatched Wasps from Sandy Park with ease. The home side’s try-scoring hopes appear to rest squarely with Marland Yarde, who already has three to his name this season – there is firepower on the bench as well, however, with Sailosi Tagicakibau ready to unleash his pace and power. Tom James stole the show for the Chiefs last weekend with a brilliant brace brimming with agression – intriguingly he lines up opposite Yarde, which is surely one of the match-ups of the season so far.
This is a tough one to call as well – Irish have started a lot more brightly than many had predicted, while the Chiefs have blown hot and cold. A close one no doubt, but the visitors to sneak it. Chiefs by 3.
Gloucester v Northampton Saints
Oh how Gloucester need a win. Bottom of the table is not where many saw them after two rounds. They backs possess pace and flair in abundance, their back-row has tenacity and power in spades, but their front five simply do not match up to the best. Which is a shame, because their visitors this week undoubtedly possess one of the best. There is no Corbisiero, presumably being rested, but on paper Northampton’s looks significantly more powerful than its Cherry and White equivalent. Ben Morgan is, intriguingly, left on the bench again, doing his chances of an England spot this Autumn no help – it does mean he will be raring to go when he does finally come on, however. For the Saints Kahn Fotuali’i showed glimpses of his brilliance in the rain at Quins – given a hard pitch and some nice weather he could be devastating, and Jimmy Cowan will need all his experience to keep him shackled.
Gloucester, even with 14 men, were significantly better last weekend at Sarries and back at Kingsholm they will step it up another notch. The Saints have impressed so far – but with a rotated squad, and facing a side so desperate for a win, they could come unstuck for the first time this season. Gloucester by 3.
Saracens v Bath
Sunday’s game could have been an intriguing one, but it seems Bath have rotated their way to a likely loss. The team is virtually unrecognisable to the one that took apart the Tigers last weekend, while much attention will be trained on Gavin Henson, who faces his old club. It was an ill-fated stint at Sarries, and they have poked fun at him by claiming they will refund all Bath supporters’ tickets if he scores. So if the game is out of sight after 10 minutes and Bath have a kickable penalty, will they give it to Henson? For the home team Alex Goode returns at fullback (Chris Wyles shifting to 13 to cover the injured Tomkins), and he needs to hit the ground running, with Mike Brown and Ben Foden both impressing in the first couple of weeks, if he is to keep challenging for an England place.
Bath fans would no doubt prefer the win but as that is unlikely to happen, they will probably settle for their money back – the most they are likely to get out of this game, sadly. Saracens by 15.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images