By Rugby World reader Kate Bamber
What do you think will happen?
This weekend sees a break in Six Nations’ action so it’s all eyes back to the Guinness Premiership. Here are my previews and predictions for this weekend’s fixtures:
Sale Sharks v Leeds Carnegie
Friday’s match sees Sale Sharks entertain lowly Leeds Carnegie. Sale are on a run of five successive losses in all competitions, although the Sharks haven’t lost at home in the Guinness Premiership since London Irish visited on 2 October.
Leeds have failed to beat Sale despite 17 attempts. Last weekend a strong display by the Leeds forwards dominated the set piece against league leaders Leicester, but Leeds were unable to edge out their visitors a close game. Leeds have won just one of their last six matches in the Guinness Premiership, but have scored at least one league point in their last four games. With the spectre of relegation looming, Leeds need to target teams like Sale in their quest for survival.
The two teams have already met twice this season with Sale victorious on both occasions in November: 27-3 in the LV= Cup at Edgeley Park and 24-17 at Headingley Carnegie in the Guinness Premiership.
My prediction: Another strong display by Leeds’ forwards, with Carnegie winning by 4.
London Wasps v Saracens
On paper this game will be a cracking London battle. Saracens are second in the Guinness Premiership whilst Wasps are coming to the boil nicely. Wasps have won back to back games at Newcastle in the LV= Cup and at home to Sale in the league, whilst Sarries were victorious in their last two fixtures with Wasps.
Saracens’ away form is good this season and they have won three of their last four games on the road. However the Fez heads’ most recent victory on Wasps soil was 19-15 at Loftus Road in the Premiership on 19 October 1997. Will the early league leaders turn this round and record another away win? I think so.
My prediction: Saracens to win by 5.
Newcastle Falcons v London Irish
Newcastle have slipped to three straight defeats since their 20-3 home victory over Petrarca Padova in the Amlin Challenge Cup on 22 January. The Falcons haven’t won at Kingston Park in the Guinness Premiership since London Irish were the visitors on 22 November.
London Irish aren’t exactly on a winning streak either though. The Exiles are winless in last six matches in all competitions since a 23-19 home victory over Saracens in the Premiership on 27 December.
The Falcons beat Irish 15-11 at Madejski Stadium in the teams’ previous encounter at the end of November, and the north eastern team haven’t completed the double over the Exiles since 2001/02.
London Irish have slipped to fourth in the Premiership after a strong start and will look to reassert their title claims over eighth place Newcastle. Can they do this without their England stars?
My prediction: Newcastle to win by 6.
Leicester Tigers v Gloucester Rugby
Leicester have won their last four games in the Guinness Premiership but struggled last weekend against bottom club Leeds. The absence of Dan Cole and Martin Castrogiavanni in a depleted front row saw the Tigers’ scrum pushed backwards as easily as a sledge on a steep slope. However Leicester’s home form is remarkable as they are unbeaten in their last 27 home games since Wasps won at Welford Road in the Premiership on 26 September 2008.
Gloucester won 12-9 when the two teams met in the Guinness Premiership in round 8, and are going for a first Premiership double over the Tigers since 2003/04.
The West Country boys have won their last five matches in all competitions, whilst their 46-6 thumping of Harlequins on Saturday was their biggest Premiership win in the league phase since May 2002.
My prediction: Weakened team or not, I can’t bet against the Tigers at home. Leicester to win by 6.
Harlequins v Northampton Saints
Northampton is the only team flying the English flag in the Heineken Cup, and their form this season has been remarkable. When these teams last met in the Premiership in November, Saints won 26-17 at Franklin’s Gardens.
Harlequins’ are ninth in the Premiership and their only win in their last nine matches in all competitions was 16-13 at London Irish in the LV= Cup on 31 January. Quins’ have won just once at the Twickenham Stoop since October: 35-29 over Gloucester in the Guinness Premiership on 28 November. Hardly electrifying form.
Northampton have won an impressive 13 victories from their last 14 games including their last six matches in the Guinness Premiership. A win against Quins will tie Northampton’s best ever run in the competition, set in season 1999/2000.
My prediction: The Saints to keep marching on (and on) and win by 9 points.
Bath Rugby v Worcester Warriors
Early relegation candidates Bath have climbed to seventh in the Premiership, although it remains tight at the bottom of the table. Only two points separate Bath with Sale who are down in tenth, whilst Worcester lie in 11th place.
The Warriors have lost on all five previous visits to The Rec so their previous form isn’t looking promising. Worcester’s only victory in their last four fixtures was 19-9 at home to London Irish in the LV= Cup on 6 February. The Warriors remain the only side without an away win in the Guinness Premiership this campaign.
Bath have won their last three games in the Guinness Premiership and have won three of their last four matches at The Rec in all competitions. Hopefully this means they have finally put the dramas of last summer behind them.
My prediction: Bath to win by 7.