Following an exhilarating finale to the European Champions Cup Pool stages last weekend, the Aviva Premiership returns this weekend with six highly anticipated clashes.
Northampton Saints v Wasps (Friday, 19:45)
Having a number of players back available for this weekend’s clash puts the ball back in Wasps court. Saints have simply not been good enough for me this season despite a good win against Scarlets last time out.
It’s impossible to argue that Northampton haven’t been up-and-down in Aviva Premiership Rugby so far – collecting four wins from their first nine games but will take confidence from the fact Wasps have beaten Saints only once in their last 13 attempts.
Wasps brought their three-game losing streak in the league to an end last time out with victory over Worcester Warriors, though they have not been victorious at Franklin’s Gardens since 2005. That run will end this weekend.
RUCK PREDICTS: Wasps by 7
Sale Sharks v London Irish (Saturday, 14:30)
Sale needs to get moving. They need to win. Will the Sharks push on and have a similarly good season to last year or could they be dragged into the relegation battle? This weekend’s clash with the Exiles at the AJ Bell will probably be a decisive moment for Steve Diamond’s men.
I’ve watched Sale enough this season to know that if they click, and Danny Cipriani can be at his best, then they can go on a big run.
I’d not rule London Irish out and this is seemingly the hardest game to call out of the six games this weekend with both sides desperate for points.
RUCK PREDICTS: Sale by 10
Gloucester Rugby v Leicester Tigers (Saturday, 15:00)
This will be a brilliant game. I’ve watched Gloucester and Leicester a lot this season and they both have hard-hitting backs with exciting runners to back them up when they get the ball flowing.
It’s going to be close but I think the Cherry and Whites, who are coming off four back-to-back home win in all competitions, have enough to pull off a somewhat surprise win against the Tigers. There’s not a lot between the two sides at the moment.
RUCK PREDICTS: Gloucester by 8
Saracens v Bath Rugby (Saturday 15:15)
Saracens are still absolutely flying. What a season the reigning champions are having while the defeated finalists from last year are having a harder time of late as they continue to search to rediscover their best form.
Both sides will be without a number of key internationals, however, Saracens will have the ever-impressive Maro Itoje available after he was released to play by England head coach Eddie Jones. Still trying to work out that one.
I know Bath miss George Ford more than Saracens miss Owen Farrell, who have veteran kicker Charlie Hodgson ready to step in at 10, but you can’t rely on one player, and that’s disrespectful to the rest of the troops Mike Ford has at his disposal too.
Overall, though, I think it will be a walk in the park for the league leaders, and out of form, Bath will probably look at this as damage limitation, making sure they do not get a good beating.
RUCK PREDICTS: Saracens by 15
Newcastle Falcons v Harlequins (Sunday, 15:00)
With Harlequins missing many key players to international duty this could be an ideal opportunity for the North East based club to record a crucial win in their battle of relegations.
Quins mind have lost just one of their last seven Aviva Premiership rugby fixtures, however, Newcastle beat Harlequins 37-21 at Kingston Park the last time the teams met and have not obtained back-to-back victories over the Londoners in Premiership Rugby since 2000.
However, the Falcons are huffing and puffing, and sooner or later it might turn around, like it has for London Irish somewhat of late last season. However, if Quins don’t win this, I think it’s a big step backwards for them following an impressive start to the season.
RUCK PREDICTS: Harlequins by 10
Worcester Warriors v Exeter Chiefs (Sunday, 15:00)
We have to start holding our hands up regarding Exeter.
Following their pulsating victory against Ospreys last week, which saw the Chiefs reach the Champions Cup knockout round for the first time in their history, there is a serious chance they could be Premiership contenders, especially since key players Will Chudley, Thomas Waldrom and James Short overlooked by Eddie Jones.
Meanwhile, the Warriors have not gained a victory in Aviva Premiership Rugby since they overcame Newcastle in round four, having thrown away leads what seems like every week.
Exeter has won all six previous Premiership Rugby encounters against the Warriors while Worcester’s most recent victory over the Chiefs in any competition coming way back in March 2004. Should be a routine win for Rob Baxter’s men.