Bath hope imperious recent form can clinch trip to Welford Road

Guinness Premiership
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bath v Leeds

The arithmetic is quite simple, which makes a welcome change from the migraine-inducing calculus often associated with the back end of major rugby tournaments.

If Bath do a job on Leeds at the Recreation Ground this afternoon, they will beat Wasps to a semi-final place, just as they beat them – with lots to spare – at Twickenham a fortnight ago. The reward, a trip to Leicester next weekend, is not especially gratifying. Still, better that than no trip at all.

Steve Meehan's side have lost only once in the league since early December, having spent the first three months of the season losing to everyone. They are in prime form and go into this at full strength, with Shontayne Hape beating the unlucky Matt Carraro to the outside centre spot.

But Leeds have made a habit of winning unwinnable games this term, beating both Wasps and London Irish on the road. Cleverly set up by Andy Key and Neil Back, they are almost as well equipped to stop the West Countrymen running riot as they are ill-equipped to run riot themselves. With the impending exit of Erik Lund, their wholehearted lock, they will arrive with a strong emotional charge.

Newcastle v Wasps

Fresh from their latest internal upheaval, the Tynesiders have a little more to inspire them today than might otherwise have been the case: Alan Tait, the Scot who has succeeded Steve Bates as the main man at Kingston Park, would love to bed himself in with a victory. Wasps, meanwhile, are still chasing a semi-final slot, if only just. They could win by 50 points today and not overhaul Bath.

Carl Hayman, one of the world game's finest front-row forwards, plays his last game for Newcastle before heading for Toulon, where money really talks. Mark Sorenson, also on the move, has a seat on the bench, but three more of the "out of here" brigade – the No 8 Adam Balding, the outside-half Rob Miller and the wing Tom Biggs – are not involved.

Neither Simon Shaw nor Joe Worsley are fit, so Wasps travel a little light. Danny Cipriani is back in the starting line-up, however: he plays at full-back in what is likely to be his last game for the club.

Leicester v Saracens

Saracens, who can argue with Bath over the feelgood-club-of-the- moment honours, continue to chase a home semi-final, although there might have been easier places to chase it than Welford Road. The brilliant Alex Goode is nursing a busted thumb, but the back-row combination of Jacques Burger, Andy Saull and Ernst Joubert has a decent look to it.

Leicester, just a little annoyed that they should have finished top of the log without the rest of the country bowing down, look as formidable as ever up front – so formidable, indeed, that the England tight-head prop Dan Cole finds himself on bench duty.

London Irish v Northampton

The Saints have business to attend to at the Madejski Stadium, for this is not a good time to throw away the advantage of a home semi-final. It explains their decision to travel at full strength, with players as potent as Shane Geraghty and Courtney Lawes among the replacements. The Exiles, bitterly disappointed at their recent slide down the ratings, will bring the elder statesman Mike Catt off the bench for a last hurrah, which should be worth watching.

Worcester v Gloucester

Worcester are down, unless something very odd happens with the promotion criteria. Chris Latham, the Wallaby full-back, leads them in his last game at Sixways, and there will be a welcome reappearance from the flanker Tom Wood, just in time for him to prove his fitness to Northampton, his employers next season.

Harlequins v Sale

The musical chairs are tuneful down Twickenham way, where the England wing David Strettle and the Samoan hooker Tani Fuga make their final appearances for Quins, whose season has been blissfully anonymous by comparison with the scandal-soaked 2008-9 campaign.