Aviva Premiership preview: Saints have to improve before problems come home to roost

 

Rugby Union Correspondent

Northampton v London Irish

(Sunday, 2pm) 

Strange as it may seem, Northampton have been off their game since Luther Burrell, Lee Dickson, Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Tom Wood ended their England stint and reappeared at Franklin’s Gardens. They cannot afford to stay off it for much longer. Victory over the Exiles is a minimum requirement if Jim Mallinder’s charges are to nail down a home Premiership semi-final.

Hartley is injured and Dickson is playing second fiddle to Kahn Fotuali’i on this occasion, but the other Test players are present and correct. As for Sam Dickinson, much talked about at the start of the season but less widely discussed now, he has a chance to jump-start himself at No 8.

The visitors are certain to stay in the Premiership and can therefore play with freedom. Shane Geraghty will lead them from No 10 on his old stamping ground.

Bath v Worcester

(Saturday, 3pm)

The West Countrymen have the chance to hold Northampton’s feet to the fire when they meet the relegation favourites at The Rec, although Worcester will fight for every scrap of possession and inch of territory.

Rob Webber returns to the Bath pack after injury, while the exciting Anthony Watson returns to the right wing. The Midlanders will give 6ft 5in centre Andy Symons a first Premiership start and are ready to give their hosts a hurry-up. “There’s only one thing in our lives,” says rugby director Dean Ryan of the fight against the drop, “so the focus is very clear.”

Newcastle v Saracens

(Sunday, 2pm)

If Worcester draw a blank and Newcastle win, the relegation debate will end. It is, however, a mighty big “if”. The Tynesiders were pitiful at London Irish last time out, while Saracens played some terrific stuff in beating Northampton, although they tried hard to mess things up for themselves late on.

The leaders are resting plenty ahead of the Heineken Cup semi-final with Clermont Auvergne next weekend – only two automatic first-choicers will feature at Kingston Park, and one of those, the full-back Alex Goode, needs game time after injury – but it is a measure of their hosts’ poverty that they still start as favourites.

Wasps v Gloucester

(Saturday, 3.15pm)

Gloucester have endured a rough few days, beginning with European defeat at Wasps and continuing with a late reverse against Bath, with all its attendant disciplinary hassle. Things are unlikely to get any easier at Twickenham, for their hosts have players as influential as the wing Tom Varndell and flanker Ashley Johnson available after injury and can call on the full-back Andrea Masi, scrum-half Joe Simpson, prop Jake Cooper-Woolley and lock Kearnan Myall, all of whom missed last week’s trip to Leicester.

Exeter v Sale

(Saturday, 3pm)

It may be that the Sale bubble burst with a home-field hiding by Quins eight days ago. If so, Exeter are handily placed to take advantage and move into pole position for a European play-off spot. The northerners have never won at Sandy Park, but this might be a decent time to start, given that victory would guarantee them elite Euro rugby next season.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada