Top travel to bottom on Friday night as Harlequins take on Newcastle, there is an all-London clash at Adams Park where Wasps take on London Irish, and Sunday sees third-placed Northampton visiting second-placed Saracens, who are looking to bounce back after suffering back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.
Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins 20:00
Recent form might suggest that it won’t be a standard top-v-bottom clash at Kingston Park on Friday night when the Falcons welcome leaders Harlequins.
Quins still remain atop the Premiership table, largely thanks to Saracens failure to capitalise on their slump. The leaders have won just three of their last six games since their unbeaten start to the season was halted. More worryingly, the London side have lost their last four games away from home in all competitions.
In contrast, despite footing up the table and being on the receiving end of some hammerings on the road, Newcastle have now won their last three home games, but have just one win to their name in their last six outings in the league.
Harlequins welcome back England trio Mike Brown, Joe Marler and Jordan Turner-Hall for Friday’s match to strengthen their squad as they look to extend their lead over Saracens at the top of the table. Friday’s game will represent the toughest challenge Kingston Park has seen in 2012, and it hard to see Newcastle holding back the Harlequins attack for 80 minutes. Quins by 7.
Bath Rugby v Worcester Warriors 14:15
Bath go into Saturday’s clash with Worcester still looking to put together back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
Both sides find themselves at the wrong end of the table, although with relegation fears behind them, Worcester will be the far happier side. Bath’s defeat to Gloucester all-but killed off their slim chances of reaching the end of season play-offs, but last weekend’s victory at Exeter leaves the West Countrymen with a realistic chance of Heineken Cup rugby next season, if they can finish the season strongly.
Worcester sit just three points behind their hosts following on of their most memorable victories in recent years over champions Saracens. Andy Goode will again be a threat for the Warriors, who have never won at the Rec, but defeat to Gloucester aside, Bath have looked a much-improved outfit since the turn of the year, and Worcester will do well to come away with anything from the Rec. Bath by 7.
Exeter Chiefs v Sale Sharks 15:00
Sixth host seventh at Sandy Park with both Exeter and Sale tied on 40 points in the middle of the table.
For both sides, the play-offs are just 5 points away and the prospect is nowhere near as far-fetched as it may have sounded at the start of the season. Exeter have struggled at home lately, with three defeats in their last five games at Sandy Park (two of those at the hands of Bath), but in the two seasons that the Chiefs have been in the Premiership, Sale are yet to defeat them.
Sale have won three of their last four in all competitions, but haven’t won on the road in the Premiership since December. Chiefs by 5.
London Wasps v London Irish 15:00
The two most out-of-form teams clash at Adams Park on Saturday; London Irish will be looking for a second win in eight games in all competitions, while defeat for Wasps would make it ten on the bounce in the league.
A Wasps defeat would also mean six defeats in a row in all competitions, their worst run of form since 2001. Wasps can take some comfort in the fact that Irish haven’t won away in the league since September, but with Newcastle facing a tough fixture this weekend, they must get a result to ease the growing relegation fears. Wasps by 3.
Leicester Tigers v Gloucester Rugby 13:00
Gloucester head to Welford Road on Sunday looking for a first win at Leicester since 2007.
Coming away with victory will be as tough as ever – Leicester have lost just once since the end of the World Cup and in their last two games they have turned over the champions in their own backyard, and inflicted a heavy defeat on Newcastle last time out at Welford Road.
Gloucester themselves are in fine form. A solitary defeat in their last six games has left them just four adrift of their hosts, just outside of the play-offs.
Leicester will be strengthened with the release of their half-back pairing of Ben Youngs and Toby Flood from the England squad, but will be without powerful centre Manu Tuilagi in the midfield.
The Tigers have the best attack in the league, and while only Newcastle have a worse defensive record, at home Leicester have been strong in defence. Although Gloucester won on their last away outing, Leicester are undefeated in ten matches at Welford Road, and will be favourites to stretch it to eleven on Sunday. Tigers by 10.
Saracens v Northampton Saints 15:30
Saracens shock defeat to Worcester at Sixways last weekend has allowed Sunday’s visitors to Vicarage Road to narrow the gap to second place to just four points. Northampton are currently the form side in the league, with five wins in the last six including the thriller at the Madejski against London Irish last week.
Had it not been for Geordan Murphy’s last gasp drop-goal, and last weekend’s reversal against Worcester, Sarries would be tied with Harlequins at the top of the table, but as it is, Northampton are within striking distance of that all-important home semi-final.
The Saints were victorious in the reverse fixture earlier in the season, comfortably so with a 30-8 win, but away from home they have won just three of their eight matches, and haven’t won at Vicarage Road since 2004.
Northampton welcome four internationals released by Stuart Lancaster, while Saracens will have Charlie Hodgson available if he recovers from his finger injury in time.
Home advantage should be enough to see Saracens home to extend their advantage over Northampton in second place, but if the Saints can recreate the electric running rugby on display at London Irish last weekend, then it promises to be a thriller. Saracens by 5.