Aviva Premiership preview: Excess all areas as confident Bath prepare to hit Saints hard

AVIVA CHAMPIONSHIP

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The Independent Online

Top of the table Bath travel to third place Northampton Saints for what should be a real battle up front, while Wasps will look to kick-start their season at home to Newcastle on Sunday

Northampton v Bath

(Saturday 3.15pm)

Bath may be on their uppers in the back-row department – they will have an academy lad, Charlie Ewels, on the bench for this mighty set-to at Franklin’s Gardens – but with a 45-0 shellacking of Leicester behind them, they are hardly short of confidence. Recent visits here have not always been a whole lot of fun, but this time they feel they can stand toe-to-toe with Saints in virtually every department.

Scrummaging connoisseurs will relish the prospect of Alex Corbisiero and David Wilson squeezing the pips out of each other, while for those who enjoy the sight of really big men in really big match-ups, the contest between Courtney Lawes and Dave Attwood is a gift, Luther Burrell versus Kyle Eastmond at inside centre compelling, George North against English-qualified Fijian hotshot Semesa Rokoduguni a full metal jacket job.

Leicester v London Irish

(Saturday 3pm)

Those Leicester supporters who have spent the season wondering when they will see a front-line player back from injury will be overjoyed to see Miles Benjamin strutting his stuff on the left wing at Welford Road. Benjamin has been of interest to various England selectors since breaking through at Worcester eight years ago, but his physical frailties have limited him to a mere handful of games since moving across the Midlands in 2012.

The Tigers still look horribly weak – they are missing three international centres and an entire tight-forward unit – so the Exiles may just fancy their chances of taking something from the game. The Samoan flanker Ofisa Treviranus will be missing from their back row but, with Shane Geraghty pulling opponents inside out in midfield, they will surely pose a threat.

Saracens v Sale

(Saturday 3pm)

Brad Barritt, operating at his peak defensively and pushing hard for a Test recall, leads last season’s runners-up on the plastic pitch in Hendon and must be looking forward to cramping Danny Cipriani’s style in open field. Saracens look formidably strong, although the news that the England outside-half Owen Farrell is suffering from a leg injury that will incapacitate him for “a few weeks” will not be welcomed by club or country.

Sale are still without their most influential forward,  the All Black flanker Daniel Braid, but with the experienced Magnus Lund fitting in well after his sojourn in France, they will be anything but uncompetitive in the back row.

Exeter v Harlequins

(Sunday 2pm)

Jack Nowell, the wing who performed so resourcefully for England in last season’s Six Nations, returns to the Exeter starting line-up, where he will immediately find himself being compared with one of his fiercest rivals for Test preferment, Marland Yarde. Happily for Nowell, the Devonians have made a solid start to the campaign, with the blind-side flanker Dave Ewers chucking his weight around to considerable effect and Henry Slade giving long-range goals from all points of the compass and generally looking like a million dollars.

The Londoners travel with the starting line-up that squeezed out a much-needed victory against Wasps, so Ben Botica continues in the No 10 role in preference to the All Black playmaker Nick Evans.

Wasps v Newcastle

(Sunday 2pm)

There are changes aplenty in the Wasps side, with attention focused on the much talked about Samoan midfielder Alapati Leiua and the fast-developing young English prop Jake Cooper-Woolley, who made significant progress last season. Newcastle travel with a strengthened back division boasting Alex Tait and Sinoti Sinoti on the wings and Gonzalo Tiesi at centre.

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