As the Premiership races towards the business end of the season, the battle for the last two play-off places hots up with as many as six sides still in contention below top two Harlequins and Saracens. Saracens travel to Sixways looking to bounce back from their narrow defeat to title rivals Leicester Tigers, and close the gap on leaders Harlequins, who face a tough visit to Kingsholm as they take on Gloucester.
Worcester Warriors v Saracens 19:45
Sarries travel to Worcester on the back of their first defeat in twelve games as they look to make it six away wins on the bounce on Friday.
The Warriors won’t make it easy; last season’s promoted side have won five of their last six games at Sixways, and have been unlucky not to come away with a win in their last two outings after two narrow losses, one of which against leaders Quins at the Stoop.
Worcester welcome veteran fly-half Andy Goode back into the fold, along with Aleki Lutui, Chris Jones and South African full-back Errie Claassens.
Among the Saracens ranks all eyes will be on rugby league convert Joel Tomkins who makes his first Premiership start for the champions at outside centre. Tomkins is joined by Michael Tagicakibau, Ernst Joubert and Hugh Vyvan who all return to the Saracens starting XV.
The Warriors will be boosted by Goode’s return, but even without their international players Saracens have enough quality throughout the side to see off Worcester’s challenge. Saracens by 7.
Sale Sharks v London Wasps 19:45
Sale will target a decimated Wasps side as they look to reignite their play-off push following three defeats in their last four matches.
Wasps have been hit by more injury woes with the news that centre Riki Flutey will be out for a lengthy period with an ankle injury. After last weekend’s defeat to Exeter and Newcastle’s victory over London Irish, relegation fears are heightening around Adams Park, with Wasps run of defeats stretching to eight consecutive games.
The Sharks will benefit from Andy Powell being overlooked by Warren Gatland, and he is available for selection alongside the returning Kearnan Myall and Vadim Cobilas in the pack.
Joe Launchbury, Jack Wallace and Tim Payne all return to give Wasps a boost, and James Cannon starts for the first time in the second row. Sale by 10.
Leicester Tigers v Newcastle Falcons 15:00
Both sides head into Saturday’s clash at Welford Road on a high after Geordan Murphy’s last minute drop-goal gave the Tigers a sensational victory over Saracens, and Newcastle ended a run of four games without a win with victory over London Irish.
After their shaky start to the season, Leicester have restored Welford Road’s reputation as being impenetrable, with seven wins on the bounce at home. Conversely, Newcastle’s only win on the road since last March was against Italian minnows Petrarca Padova back in November.
Leicester lose Manu Tuilagi and Toby Flood almost as soon as they welcomed them back from injury, with the pair returning to the England squad, but against the leakiest defence in the league, they should see off a Falcons side that overall is weaker across the board. Tigers by 10.
Gloucester Rugby v Harlequins 18:00
In the biggest game of the weekend, leaders Harlequins travel to Kingsholm to take on a Gloucester side that has won their last five games at home in all competitions.
Gloucester have failed to build upon the success of last season, but six losing bonus-points in their seven defeats shows how they are perhaps unfortunate not to be higher in the table. Last week’s defeat of local rivals Bath was not only a massive confidence boost, but also kept their play-off hopes very much alive, as they sit just three points off fourth place in sixth.
Quins laboured to victory over Worcester last weekend, but despite a loss of steam as they have been unable to replicate their early-season performances, they still have a comfortable hold on a home play-off with seven games remaining.
Harlequins have been hit harder than most by international call-ups as a result of the performances they have been putting in, and although they haven’t struggled too badly without their big names, they come up against a strong Gloucester side on Saturday. Added to that is the fact that you have to go back to 1999 to find the last Quins victory in the league at Kingsholm, and it will have to be quite a performance from the Quins second string to keep their lead at the top. Gloucester by 3.
Exeter Chiefs v Bath Rugby 18:00
Bath make the short journey south-west to the ground where they played their last away game at the start of the month, looking to make amends for their defeat to Gloucester last weekend.
The 31-3 defeat against Bath was Exeter’s only defeat in the last seven games, and the Chiefs have notched up league wins in a row as their dream of making the play-off remains very much alive.
Bath have been hit with the news that captain Stuart Hooper will be out for up to six weeks after injuring himself in Saturday’s match against Gloucester – his first appearance following fracturing his eye-socket in January. Francois Louw – whose performances as captain in Hooper’s absence were nothing short of superb – will again step in to lead Bath as they themselves look to keep their slim play-off and Heineken Cup hopes alive. Exeter by 3.
London Irish v Northampton Saints 13:15
London Irish play their first league game at the Madejski Stadium since the start of January, and will hope a return to home – where they have lost just once all season – will usher in a return to form after just one win in their last five matches.
Northampton lead the charge behind the top two, just edging Leicester and Exeter in third place, and have won four of their last five league matches. Their away form hasn’t been as impressive, without a win on the road in the last two games, but after Stephen Myler impressed last time out ahead of Ryan Lamb, Saints fans will hope he can guide them to glory in Reading on Sunday.
The Exiles are still in with an outside chance of the play-offs – a win could close the gap to Sunday’s opponents to three points – and with four of their final seven games at home, Irish will need to make home advantage count at every opportunity. Northampton by 3.
Source – Claire Red Hat Photo