There’s a brilliant couple of months in store for rugby fans that began last weekend with the Heineken Cup drama, and will finish in July at the end of the Lions tour.
Over the next two weekends, the Guinness Premiership reaches its climax as four teams remain to battle it out for the trophy.
Leicester v Bath, 3pm Saturday
Heineken Cup finalists Leicester face Bath tomorrow at the Walkers Stadium, with the westcountrymen desperate to add another Premiership title to their last triumph in 1996. The former giants of English rugby have endured a relatively barren spell in the silverware stakes, and have enjoyed success this season by playing an entertaining brand of rugby.
These two teams used to go head-to-head so often at the top of the table, and this season has seen that rivalry brought to life once more with some thrilling matches – none more so than the Tigers’ last-gasp win in the Heineken Cup quarter final.
Leicester appear to have the upper hand at the moment, and with Bath missing Butch James and Michael Lipman, two key players, the Tigers are favourites to reach the final. The home side have their own injury concerns with Toby Flood recently ruled out for six months, but that means that Leicester’s Players’ Player of the Year, Sam Vesty, will start at fly-half with Aaron Mauger outside him – many have argued that this is the optimum lineup for them anyway.
Bath will be relying on fatigue and perhaps a lack of focus given the Tigers’ European exploits, but for me, this is clutching at straws to some extent. Rumour has it that nobody needs to fire up the Tigers in their dressing room when Bath are next door – they’ll be full of determination, and I believe that will be enough to carry them through.
Harlequins v London Irish, 5.30pm Saturday
Later on Saturday, attention will turn to the Stoop and the London derby between two of this season’s outstanding teams. Players such as Nick Easter, Nick Kennedy and Delon Armitage may be looking to prove a point about their omission from the Lions squad, and this game should be a cracker.
Quins are marginal favourites going into the game, and after their heroic efforts against Leinster that brought them so close to the semis, the Irish defence will be concerned. With Danny Care and Nick Evans forming a lethal partnership, and the back row in impressive form, they’ll look to take control of the game from the outset.
Irish will be targeting the lineout as one of the key battle areas in an effort to starve Evans of possession. If their pack can gain the upper hand, they can certainly give Quins a run for their money by unleashing Seilala Mapusua and Armitage in the backs.
I’m predicting a Leicester versus Harlequins final next week, but the margins will be tight and the games should be enthralling.
What do you think? Could it be Bath v London Irish?