The Aviva Premiership is back into the swing of things and Round 3 is fast approaching. Across the country many teams have points to prove and some are still searching for their first win of the year, all in all it promises to be another cracking round of domestic action.
On Friday Night Gloucester Rugby will host the Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm. After an emotional farewell to James Simpson-Daniel and a dramatic comeback against the Sale Sharks in Round 2, The Shed will be hoping for a slightly more straightforward affair against the Chiefs. Alas this is unlikely as the Exeter Chiefs have proved during the first two rounds that they are a handful for any side and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It will be a game played at a fast pace, Exeter have significantly upped their tempo from last year and Gloucester love to unleash their electric back line on any side visiting Kingsholm. In Gareth Steenson Exeter have the best marksman in the country at the moment, he has a 100% record (10 from 10) and his boot could be the deciding factor in what will be a bitter battle underneath the Friday Night Lights.
Steve Diamond will have not expected his side to be still searching for their first win of the 2014/15 Campaign in Round 3, however that is exactly what his Sale Sharks are doing as they host London Welsh on Saturday afternoon. London Welsh delivered a stronger performance against Bath Rugby last weekend however the fact of the matter is that they have conceded 105 points in 2 matches. Up front Welsh have the man power to match the Sharks with their front three of Ricky Reeves, Nathan Morris and Taione Vea and in attack Seb Jewell, Seb Stegmann and Olly Barkley are getting into their stride and are their most potent threats. The Sharks must not get carried away by their need to gain their first win; instead they must focus on their performance and let the result take care of itself. Their star man Danny Cirprani should showcase his full box of tricks again whilst full-back Luke McLean will be just one of the men that will enjoy any extra space given to them by London Welsh.
In South West London two teams that experienced quite different Round 2 emotions will take on each other as Harlequins welcome Wasps to The Twickenham Stoop. Harlequins’ defeat at the hands of Saracens was one of their darkest days in recent memories whilst Wasps gutsy win over Northampton was one of their best. Wasps know the challenge of facing a team that is ‘on the bounce back’ and especially a team that will want to repay their crowd’s loyalty. Against Northampton Wasps’ defence was colossal; they matched the Saints’ physicality to a man and were extremely proficient at scrum time. The experience of Cittadini shone through and his match up with Joe Marler will be fascinating. Harlequins will have learnt from Friday night and must erase any thought of ‘it could happen again’ from their minds. Now, it is time for their new Captain and their leadership group; Easter, Robshaw, Robson and Care to step up and instil confidence and determination in the squad. Both sides have huge points to prove and at The Stoop it will be a mesmerising game of rugby.
This weekend the Madjeski Stadium hosts Aviva Premiership action for the first time as London Irish’s will welcome Saracens to town. The Exiles showed a steely determination to come away from Kingston Park with a win however Brian Smith knows that they must raise their performance levels significantly if they are to be competitive with the form team of the competition. Mark McCall will not be taking this fixture lightly however rotations in personnel are expected in order to manage bumps and bruises. His side’s game plan will not change, consistency is their middle name and at the Madjeski Stadium they will look to stifle the home side early and unleash their devestating strike runners. It will be an arm wrestle at scrum-time with two dynamic front threes expected to take to the field; Tom Court, David Paice, Halani Aulika against Richard Barrington, Jamie George and Kieran Longbottom. All things considered it points to a tough day at the office for London Irish however they were the last side to beat Saracens in the regular competition back in April 2012.
The final game on Saturday afternoon is at The Rec where Bath Rugby will host the Leicester Tigers, in what has the potential to be one of the clashes of the weekend. Bath were found wanting slightly in defence against London Welsh however such a performance isn’t expected to be replicated against their esteemed opponents. The Tigers’ experience showed as they held their resolve and nerve to Exeter away at Sandy Park and they will relish the prospect of running out against one of the ‘top’ sides this weekend. It will be an absorbing game of rugby, there are key head to heads across the park but none more so than the expected fly half shoot out between George Ford and Freddie Burns. It will certainly give Stuart Lancaster a measure of his two young men and their contributions will be critical to guiding either side to victory. The breakdown will be ferocious and the time that either side spends with the ball in hand will produce lightning moves, how could it now with Niki Goneva, Semesa Rokoduguni, Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Allen and Manu Tuilagi all on the field? A sold out Rec and the 16th Man could prove decisive; however the Leicester Tigers are one of the best in the business at spoiling a party so expect a mighty game at The Rec.
The final game of the weekend is at Kingston Park as the Northampton Saints arrive in town. Dean Richards has already said that it will be a ‘tough day at the office’ for his side however his hope is that they play without fear and see where it takes them. Northampton will arrive smarting following their Round 2 loss to Wasps and will not take this match with a pinch of salt. Selection wise you expect Jim Mallinder to unleash a strong contingent on the Falcons, bar any key injuries, having told them go out and send another message of intent to the rest of the competition. After a day to forget last weekend off the kicking tee Juan Pablo Socino will have spent a fair few hours on the training pitch and his boot firing again will be important for the Falcons to keep their scoreboard ticking, if they are given the chance. With respect to Richards’ Falcons the Saints outclass them and if they don’t secure a bonus point victory on the artificial surface it will be a shock.
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