Preview: Premiership, Round Six
After suffering their first taste of defeat this season against Toulon Saracens will be looking for an easy win over Leeds in the Guinness Premiership this weekend – rugby365 previews all the action ahead in England’s top flight.
English sides enjoyed mixed fortunes in continental competition over the last fortnight and while some will be brimming with confidence others could have their heads down and be struggling… it’s always interesting to see.
The match of the weekend seems a pretty obvious choice in Round Six. London Irish welcome Leicester Tigers to the Madejski Stadium on Saturday with both sides looking secure a big win over one of their potential championship rivals.
Elsewhere Gloucester and Wasps offer an interesting clash while Northampton should simply to too strong for Sale at Franklin’s Gardens.
Saturday, 24 October
Bath v Falcons (15.15) (14.15 GMT) – The Recreation Ground –
Bath poor run of form followed them into Europe over the last couple of weeks and while the performances of a couple of their big names players such as Matt Banahan have been pleasing, the team as a whole continues to struggle.
Their only previous Guinness Premiership win of the season came in round three against Sale and in round five, despite looking set to record another away win at Quins, they had it snatched away from them right at the death.
Some recent good news for the club saw coach Steve Meehan agree a new two year contract while, from the start of November, their resources will be boosted by the arrival of Springbok flank Luke Watson.
Falcons too have struggled domestically so far this season. Still without a Guinness Premiership win since the start of the season, the Falcons did storm to form with two victories in the Amlin Challenge Cup over the last fortnight.
Steve Bates’ rebuild side have played some fantastic rugby and yet unbelievably, from their five matches so far, have three ticks in the draw column and not one in the win.
rugby365 Prediction: One almost has to back Bath to win at home but do not be surprised if the Falcons win this one. Good odds on a fourth Falcons draw anyone? Bath, but by less than five.
Northampton v Sale (15.00) (14.00 GMT) – Franklin’s Gardens –
Third team from the top hosts third team from the bottom at Franklin’s Gardens this weekend.
Following their victory over the Cardiff Blues in the Heineken Cup last weekend the spirits will be high in Kingsley Jones squad – and rightly so. But this week offered an entirely different challenge for them.
Northampton, while dealing with some nasty disciplinary issues off the field, have already proven this season that they are set to be a force to be reckoned with.
In fact the last side to arrive at Franklin’s Gardens was a little Irish side named Munster… and even they were unable to secure a win at the home of the Saints.
In-form playmaker Shane Geraghty particularly will be looking to make the most of his last chance to impress Martin Johnson ahead of his final EPS squad announcement on Monday. The former London Irish star has been in fine form this season so far and his battle with Charlie Hodgson this weekend will certainly be key.
rugby365 Prediction: A confident Sale side is always a tough team to beat but so too are the Saints at home. Northampton by 10-12 points.
Worcester v Harlequins (15.00) (14.00 GMT) – Sixways –
Much of the pre-season talk this year had Worcester as possible strugglers but, while it is still early in the season, Mike Ruddock’s side don’t seem to have believed any it.
Having won both of their home games so far this season the Warriors find themselves in sixth place on the log and brimming with confidence. In contrast, Harlequins are struggling down in 10th spot and have just a last minute win at home to Bath to show for all their effort.
Of course the Harlequins tale is a particularly complicated one. With the effects of ‘bloodgate’ continuing to be felt, the club are desperate to give their fans something to cheer about and would have targeted an away win at Worcester as such an opportunity.
rugby365 Prediction: On paper the edge remains with Harlequins but the home record of Worcester is an important factor. Matt Powell, speaking to us last month, made no secret about the emphasis they have put on performing at Sixways and we expect them to do just that. Warriors by six.
Gloucester v Wasps (17.35) (16.35 GMT) – Kingsholm –
Both Gloucester and Wasps have exciting lineups full of attacking potential but, in truth, it has only been the London side so far which has made proper use of it.
Gloucester have well documented injury problems. Former captain Jake Boer, at the tender age of 34, has even returned to the club to lend a hand but it remains a serious issue.
Wasps are still without a handful of big names, including English trio Simon Shaw, Danny Cipriani and Tom Rees, but are enjoying a return to full fitness for Paul Sackey and are inspired by the form of the evergreen Serge Betsen.
Playing in the Amlin Challenge Cup, Wasps had two pretty straight forward weeks, picking up a couple victories over Racing Metro and Rugby Roma while Gloucester had mixed fortunes in the Heineken Cup, beating the Dragons before being soundly hammered by Biarritz.
rugby365 Prediction: With four wins from five domestically the form guide points to a win away from home for London Wasps. Who are we to argue with the mighty guide? Wasps by eight.
London Irish v Leicester Tigers (15.15) (14.15 GMT) – Madejski Stadium –
Toby Booth’s men suffered a surprising defeat at the hands of the Scarlets in their second Heineken Cup clash. The result took a lot of the shine off their victory the week before over Leinster at the RDS but the confidence from that result will still no doubt be felt in the Irish camp.
Leicester meanwhile has a tough opening encounter with the Ospreys but showed great courage and determination to come back from the brink of defeat to earn a draw before, a week later, smashing Viadana in Italy.
The Tigers’ injury problems continue to hound them but they will not be looking to that as an excuse.
While they may only have lost one match domestically this season the Tigers have come in for an awful lot of criticism. Struggling to find their best attacking form, Richard Cockerill’s must surely click sometime soon?
Long-term injury concerns Toby Flood and Sam Vesty are expected to return to action in the next couple of weeks but are not going to be fit in time to take on the Irish.
rugby365 Prediction: A titanic battle in prospect, the flair of the Irish versus the machine like brilliance of the Tigers. The Exiles have often been unpredictable in the past but not this weekend. London Irish by five.
Sunday, 25 October
Saracens v Leeds Carnegie (15:00) (15:00 GMT) – Headingley –
Saracens remain the team to beat at the top of the domestic table despite their European disappointment last weekend and should be up to full strength this weekend when they take on Leeds Carnegie.
The Premiership strugglers recorded just their first win of the season last weekend in the Amlin Challenge Cup and will head to Saracens expecting to take very little from the match.
Saracens have ground out most of their wins so far this season but Saturday’s clash should give them a chance to express themselves.
Leeds in contrast will need to take a very defensive approach to the match at Vicarage Road. Having conceded considerably more points than any other team in the league so far this season, Neil Back and Andy Key will be looking for some determined work on defence before anything else this weekend.
rugby365 Prediction: Should be a straight forward return to winning ways for the Guinness Premiership log leaders. Saracens by 15 or more.