The Aviva Premiership returns after a two week break with everything still up for grabs. Wasps win last time out has put vital ground between themselves and Newcastle at the bottom with just five games remaining, but elsewhere the table is incredibly tight, with the Heineken Cup and play-off spots being fiercely contested.
Sale Sharks v Saracens 19:45
Sale welcome champions Saracens to Edgeley Park looking to instil some consistency in their campaign after an up-and-down run of form that has seen them slip to seventh in the table.
Saracens bounced back from back-to-back defeats with victory over Northampton last time out to steady the ship and keep chasing Leicester at bay.
Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell and the rest of Sarries England contingent will be available for selection and may go straight into the starting line up as the visitors look to be only the second team to win at Edgeley Park since October.
Sale have won just once against Saracens in the last seven clashes, and need victory to keep their slim play-off hopes alive. The strength of Sarries returning internationals should be enough to see of Sale and keep the pressure on Harlequins at the top of the table. Saracens by 5.
Worcester Warriors v Newcastle Falcons 19:45
Many predicted that this fixture could be a deciding clash at the bottom of the table, and – if Wasps pull off a shock defeat at Northampton – it could be the game that seals the Falcons’ fate.
Worcester have ensured that they are not involved in the relegation dogfight this season with a number of assured performances. Three defeats in the last four doesn’t read well for the Warriors, but last month’s defeat of champions Saracens was huge, not just for their position in the table, but psychologically as well.
The Falcons will be without hooker Rob Vickers and prop James Hall after the pair received one week bans for incidents during the draw with Harlequins last time out.
A win for Newcastle would close the gap to Worcester to eight points, but it would be a case of too little too late for the Falcons, Worcester have looked strong at Sixways all season, and Newcastle have struggled away all season. This should be the game Worcester officially secure Premiership rugby for next season. Warriors by 7.
Harlequins v Bath Rugby 14:15
League leaders Harlequins welcome Bath to the Stoop looking for a first win in three games after defeat to Gloucester and a draw against Newcastle in recent weeks.
Aside from their painful defeat to rivals Gloucester, Bath have been playing well of late, although they will be hurting following their narrow defeat to Leicester in the LV= Cup semi-final. The play-offs are not beyond the West Countrymen’s grasp, but realistically their aim will be to secure a Heineken Cup spot in the final five games.
A trip to the Stoop would not be top of Sir Ian McGeechan’s wish-list, for all Quins bad results of late, they have looked strong at home. Bath have struggled for consistency this season, their wins against Exeter and Worcester last time out was the first time they have managed back-to-back victories all season, and consistency is something they need to address if they are to move forwards.
Quins welcome captain Chris Robshaw back to the fold, and although they look good for a home play-off, Robshaw will need to marshal his men and ensure they put together a good run of results to end the season with some momentum as they head to the knock-out stages. Quins by 7.
Gloucester Rugby v Exeter Chiefs 15:00
Fifth travels to sixth at Kingsholm on Saturday as both sides look to keep the pressure on the sides above them in the play-offs.
Gloucester’s heavy defeat against Leicester last time out brought to end a run of three wins in a row, but the West Country side are undefeated in six at home. Exeter’s away record is almost as good as their hosts’ home record, with six wins in their last seven games on the road. After their incredible first season the Chiefs have surpassed expectations again, and sit just two points behind Northampton in the play-offs.
Kingsholm is as tough a place as any to get a result from – just ask Quins fans – and Exeter will face their toughest away challenge in recent weeks as they go in search of a seventh win in eight away games. Gloucester will still be hurting from their humbling by Leicester, and the Chiefs could feel the full wrath of a Gloucester side looking to make amends. Gloucester by 10.
Northampton Saints v London Wasps 19:45
Wasps travel to Northampton fresh from their first win in ten games after beating London Irish at the start of the month to move themselves eight points clear of Newcastle at the foot of the table.
The Saints’ defeat last time out to Saracens will have dented their title challenge, but they still occupy fourth spot in the table, within striking distance of Leicester.
Northampton welcome back their England internationals to strengthen their squad for the final run in, but Calum Clark could be playing his last game of the season pending the outcome of Monday’s hearing into the well-publicised incident with Leicester hooker Rob Hawkins.
Wasps are not so lucky with returning internationals. The one Wasps player to go on international duty, Rob Webber has been ruled out for the rest of the season to add to the lengthy list of absent Wasps players.
The London club played well to defeat Irish last time out, but anything from a visit to Franklins Gardens will be too much to ask of the under strength side, especially against a Saints side smarting from losing the LV= Cup final last weekend. Saints by 10.
London Irish v Leicester Tigers 15:00
London Irish face the difficult task of defeating an in-form Leicester as they look to avoid losing five games in a row in Sunday’s match.
Their defeat to Northampton last time out at the Madejski Stadium was their first defeat at home in four games, but a return to winning ways against a full-strength Leicester squad will be quite an ask of a side on a downward slope.
After putting his faith in his youngsters for the Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign, Richard Cockerill could be forgiven for fielding a second-string side again given their run of form, however with the business end of the season approaching and their position in the play-offs far from secure, there are likely to be a number of changes to the side that defeated Northampton last weekend. Leicester by 5.