Gloucester v Leicester
Graham Rowntree, the former Leicester prop and current England forwards coach, will be at Kingsholm, not in an act of mourning for his old club, but to run the rule over two back-row challengers for red rose duty next month: the Gloucester open-side flanker Matt Kvesic and his colleague, the No 8 Ben Morgan.
Rowntree may also be interested in the performance of another member of the home pack, Nick Wood, who returns from injury just as every other loose-head prop in the country is limping in the opposite direction. Wood should add value to the Gloucester scrum, who claimed a penalty try at London Welsh the last time they crouched together in earnest.
Leicester are still riddled with injury up front, but the World Cup-winning All Black lock Brad Thorn will make his debut at age 39.
London Irish v Northampton
Flanker Tom Wood is still missing from the Saints side – a matter of some concern to the England selectors – and there will be no sign of Test hooker Dylan Hartley, who has been granted a rest. But the champions still travel in strength, with Courtney Lawes back in the second row and Ben Foden, George North, Luther Burrell and Lee Dickson outside the scrum.
Not that Irish look like anyone’s pushovers. Tomas O’Leary, in at scrum-half for the injured Scott Steele, is the only change to the side which won at Leicester last weekend and while David Paice, the in-form hooker, will be frustrated by Hartley’s absence, he still has a chance to shine ahead of Stuart Lancaster’s next England squad announcement.
Harlequins v London Welsh
Quins may take the field with ear muffs after the hollering and shouting that followed their desperate performance at Exeter six days ago. They will certainly run out with changes in their ranks: Matt Hopper and Tom Casson at centre, Nick Evans at outside-half, Joe Gray at hooker.
Mind you, not even a Quins side in their cups are likely to lose to the Premiership’s bottom-feeders, who took a significant step forward against Gloucester in the last round of matches yet still managed to concede the best part of 50 points. The Exiles will have a new loan signing on the bench in the shape of Chris Hala’ufia, the scary Tongan No 8. This should make for a noisy afternoon.
Sale v Wasps
David Young, the Wasps coach, has been ringing the changes all season, so it is no great surprise to see a reshaped team heading north for this one. Some quality players are missing – no Tom Varndell or Joe Simpson, no Joe Launchbury or James Haskell – but there will be a good deal of interest in the performances of Christian Wade on the right wing and Nathan Hughes at No 8.
Sale, still without their influential captain Daniel Braid, have Marc Jones back at hooker.
Newcastle v Exeter
Newcastle are slowly piecing together something resembling their optimum starting XV, but Exeter will travel as warm favourites following their big win over Harlequins. Not for the first time this season, there will be a heavy focus on two of the Devonians’ form players: the centre Henry Slade and the flanker Dave Ewers.Reuse content