Check out all the weekend teams here.
Sale Sharks v Worcester Warriors
Neither of these sides are unduly troubled by international call-ups, although there are a few front line players missing still. Both were tipped to scrap for relegation this season, but only one is living up to that billing – Worcester are deep in the mire, with just two losing bonus points to their name in the league and only one win in all competitions. They have conceded six more tries than anyone else, and while Sale haven’t exactly been running them in at will, the defence of their own try-line has been exemplary. Danny Cipriani and Dwayne Peel continue their impressive partnership for the hosts, while opposite for the visitors Ignacio Mieres needs to find some form, and fast, after briefly being displaced by 32-year old Australian journeyman Paul Warwick.
Before the season began this looked like a relegation scrap – now, it should be an easy win for a mid-table team over one wallowing at the bottom. Sale by 11.
Exeter Chiefs v Saracens
This is an intriguing match up. Exeter are very tough to get past at home in front of the Sandy Park faithful, but Saracens possess such power throughout their team that, on a given day, they can beat anyone, anywhere. Several of their England contingent return, with Chris Ashton and Alex Goode in the back three, and Billy Vunipola at no.8. Argentine Marcelo Bosch continues in the centres, while next to him Tim Streather makes his Premiership debut. Exeter include two highly promising young Englishmen in their back-line, Sam Hill at 12 and Jack Nowell on the wing, with another, Henry Slade, to come off the bench. Charlie Hodgson against Gareth Steenson is a duel to savour at fly-half, and whoever comes out on top in the battle of their boots (both territorially and from the tee) could come out on top.
This should be a brilliant game and it’s an incredibly tough one to call – but Saracens’ power and doggedness should see them over the line. Saracens by 2.
Harlequins v Gloucester Rugby
Neither of these sides started the season well, but Quins have at least seen a slight turn around in fortunes recently. Their victory in the last round at Welford Road will have done wonders for the confidence of an injury-plagued squad, packed full of promising but inexperienced youngsters. Joe Trayfoot was a wrecking ball that day, and alongside Wallace and Guest forms a highly competent back-row. With Robshaw rested, Wallace gets a chance to take on Matt Kvesic, a player who he could battle for the England 7 shirt in years to come. Gloucester are way down in tenth, and need to find a performance from their front five. For all the brilliance of Burns, May et al, if they cannot get a platform they will not be in with a chance of winning these matches.
It is becoming a bit of a cliché, but Gloucester’s forward troubles will ultimately see them fail again here. Harlequins by 7.
Leicester Tigers v London Irish
Irish may be second from bottom, but they are nine points clear of Worcester and only seven behind Leicester – who sit in sixth. Having lost their last two on the bounce, and with trips to Kingsholm and Allianz Park in the next couple of rounds, this is as close to must-win as it gets for the Tigers. Three England stars – Toby Flood, Ben and Tom Youngs – return to the starting line-up, while Dan Cole is on the bench. Flood links up with Bowden in the midfield, giving the Tigers a superb distribution platform that Niall Morris and Miles Benjamin, making his home Premiership debut, will look to exploit. They will, however, have to be on their guard in defence, too, up against the devilishly exciting trio of James O’Connor, Marland Yarde and Topsy Ojo. There could be fireworks if those three successfully combine in space.
The Tigers desperately need this, and at home with their England stars returning, they should win. Do not be surprised if Irish are competitive, however. Tigers by 6.
Northampton Saints v Newcastle Falcons
The league’s top try scorers, with twenty-two, against the team with the fewest to their name – a meagre three. This is one of the easier ones to call of the weekend, as the Saints welcome back the likes of Ben Foden, Lee Dickson and Courtney Lawes from England duty to bolster their side. Newcastle’s side looks reasonably settled – the only talking point perhaps being Phil Godman’s start at fly-half ahead of Rory Clegg – but do not possess anything like the strength of the Saints.
Even shorn of titanic figures Corbisiero, Manoa and North, the Saints will be much too good for Newcastle. Saints by 26.
London Wasps v Bath Rugby
This is another tough one to call. Wasps have been competitive in every game they have played so far this season, with three wins and four losing bonus points from seven games. Bath, however, have shown they mean business this campaign, with a new-found bite about their pack and the backs to blow any team away. Wasps are hampered by injuries to their try-scoring dream team Christian Wade and Tom Varndell, so inexperienced youngsters Josh Bassett and Jonah Holmes join Elliot Daly in the back three. For Bath, everything comes down to George Ford’s performance. If he can keep his composure and kick his goals, Bath have a chance. If not, you can bet Andy Goode will do both of those things and point Wasps towards a victory.
Both these teams look far more accomplished than last season, but shorn of the individual brilliance of Wade, Wasps’ teamsheet just looks to be lacking something. If Ford commands the game, Bath will win. Bath by 3.
Check out all the weekend teams here.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images