Worcester Warriors v Bath Rugby
Worcester have only ever beaten Bath twice in the league, and they do not look like adding to that tally this weekend. Sadly from their point of view, most of Bath’s England contingent have returned to the fold and play this weekend. Kyle Eastmond can dazzle in the midfield, while Rob Webber has been the epitome of solid so far this season. Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokodoguni have flair and pace that Worcester simply cannot match. Their biggest selection news is that veteran Kiwi Paul Warwick starts at fly-half in place of the out-of-form Ignacio Mieres. Oh how Worcester miss Andy Goode.
Bath’s away form has not been great this season, but I expect them to comfortably win at Worcester. Bath by 10.
Sale Sharks v Exeter Chiefs
Sale have won just one of their last six against Exeter. With neither side greatly affected by international call-ups, this could well be a very good game. Exeter are in brilliant form, with plenty of their club stalwarts shining. Dean Mumm, Dave Ewers, Ben White and Gareth Steenson have all been particularly impressive, but in the midfield young Sam Hill has been stealing the show, carrying on his excellent form from the JWC. Sale name a strong backline, with Jonny Leota and Sam Tuitupou forming the centre partnership and Danny Cipriani partnering Dwayne Peel at half pack. Their forwards are less impressive, although Dan Braid is one of the unheralded stars of this side, getting through a mountain of work every week.
It will not be a big win, but the Chiefs are in such sparkling form they should get the result they want. Exeter by 4.
Gloucester v Wasps
At first glance Gloucester seem precariously positioned, one off the bottom of the Premiership table with just two wins to their name, but the reality is not that serious. They are eight points off last place, and only five behind Quins in sixth. That said, they have a serious problem in the pack. Their front five has not exerted any kind of dominance over anyone this season, and its failures have meant quality players like Matt Kvesic, Ben Morgan and Freddie Burns have been made to look very average. Wasps do not possess the biggest pack in the land, but they went toe to toe with Leicester last weekend which will give them plenty of confidence coming into this one. Matt Mullan has been quietly impressing in Wasps colours, while there is nothing quiet about James Haskell, who returns from a long injury lay-off on the openside. For Gloucester, Freddie Burns will have to do better in the battle of wits with Andy Goode than Owen Williams did last weekend – he cannot afford a bad game if he is to further his England career this season. Henry Trinder and Jonny May will both also be looking to impress the national selectors.
A tricky one to call. If the Wasps pack gets on top and Goode manages the game as he did last week, Wasps could well win, but I’ve just got a feeling that the Gloucester unit will do enough to give their exciting backs some room to move. Gloucester by 6.
Leicester Tigers v Harlequins
Injuries, injuries, injuries. Both sides are plagued with them, although there are several players making their returns this weekend. Scott Hamilton takes Blaine Scully’s place on the Tigers wing – the American international has worked hard but hasn’t really blown anyone away thus far in his Premiership career. Graham Kitchener is back in the engine room, while Steve Mafi and Matt Smith return on the bench. The half-back pairing of David Melé and Owen Williams will have to work a lot better than last weekend to get the better of Danny Care and Ben Botica. Charlie Walker gets his first Quins start in the league, while a niggle to Tom Williams sees Nick Evans start at fullback. Charlie Matthews and Tom Casson return from injury on the bench.
Quins will rarely have a better chance to win at Welford Road (although they actually did just that last season), but their own injury issues make matters more complicated. Could well be a stilted affair, with the home team just scraping it. Leicester by 5.
London Irish v Northampton Saints
A certain Australian fullback dominates the build-up to this one. James O’Connor is parachuted straight into the London Irish team, starting in the 15 shirt and joining Topsy Ojo and Sailosi Tagicakibau in what could be a devastating combo. The rest of the Irish line-up is less impressive, however, and how they deal with having such a global superstar around – and indeed, how he deals with being the undisputed biggest name at the club – could be telling. The Saints’ team, despite losing further players to England duty, is still hugely impressive. Samu Manoa was a man possessed last week, and he forms part of a tight five that should steamroll their way over Irish. In the backs Luther Burrell and George Pisi continue their superb partnership, while Kahn Fotuali’i has a chance to put some form together and prove why everyone was just so excited about his arrival in the Premiership.
O’Connor will produce a moment of magic along the way, but the Saints’ general excellence will see them to a comfortable win. Northampton by 13.
Saracens v Newcastle Falcons
Sarries will be smarting from such a humbling at the hands of the Saints last weekend. Their team is significantly weakened by international call-ups, but crucially Charlie Hodgson returns from injury to lead the backs from fly-half. His calming presence inside new recruit Marcelo Bosch will be vital. Jamie George, after so impressing in the opening couple of rounds, returns at hooker for Brits, who drops to the bench. Newcastle have scored just three tries this season, and yet they still sit in eighth with a 50% win rate – classic Dean Richards. They have a settled team and look to be building well towards avoiding relegation, but a trip to Allianz Park and first outing on the plastic pitch will be a bridge too far for them.
The home side should canter to a win and score some points in the process. Saracens by 20.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images