Jon Hobbs looks ahead to this weekend’s feast of Premiership rugby – the club games are at risk of being forgotten during the World Cup, but the next few weeks will determine the outcome of many clubs’ seasons.
After last week’s second half demolishing of Leeds Carnegie, Gloucester sit pretty at the top of the Guinness Premiership – a position a fair few pundits expect them to keep until the end of the season. The 5-try performance of Lesley “Volcano” Vainikolo was the talking point of the weekend. Gloucester fans may have felt aggrieved that more of their players didn’t make world cup squads but with their squad close to full capacity they can really steal a march on the chasing pack while the global tournament takes place.
This weekend sees injury-hit Leeds travel to Harlequins, the Londoners on a roll after their bonus point win at Twickenham last week. Leeds are without Alberto Di Bernardo and Hendre Fourie for the next few weeks, Anitele’a Tuilagi was injured at the world cup and centre Chris Jones has had to retire after a shoulder injury. Prediction: Quins win.
Leicester host Bath in a battle of “whose squad is most affected by the world cup”. Both teamsheets retain some quality players, Claassens and Abendanon for Bath, White and Varndell for Leicester but even without their world cup heroes I see Leicester being too strong at home for Bath. Prediction: Leicester win.
Wasps go to Worcester in a tough match to call considering Wasps’ lack of spirit last week and Worcester’s settled squad. Both sides will look to make amends for lacklustre performances last week so expect some intense contact and temper-fraying galore. Prediction: Wasps win.
On Sunday, London Irish play Newcastle, the visiting side missing last week’s man-of-the-match Toby Flood due to his recent England call-up. Regardless, both sides have some exciting runners, Burke scything through for the Falcons and the “camp-as-you-like” running style of Delon Armitage for Irish to wow the crowds. This one could depend on the weather: a cold, rainy day I’d give it to Newcastle, dry conditions I’d go for Irish – they love to give the ball some width! Forecast says 20 degrees and sunny. Prediction: London Irish win.
Another battle of first-round losers sees Bristol travel all the way up to Sale. I reckon this could be Richard Hill’s last season at Bristol before the RFU snap him up, tear all the invention and forward-thinking out of him then give him a load of tired, unmotivated players to work with so he’ll be gunning for some silverware this year. Prediction: Bristol win.
Saracens versus Gloucester looks like the match of the weekend, both teams buoyed by impressive performances last weekend. Can the Volcano erupt again? Will magma spill down from the Vicarage Road stands? Will Fez hats burn when the heat gets too much? In a word, yes. Prediction: Gloucester win.