Saracens v Harlequins
Barely a day goes by without Saracens finding their way into the headlines, occasionally through the good offices of Brendan Venter – is there a more challenging, provocative, entertaining director of rugby in the Premiership? – and sometimes through an old-fashioned row with another club.
Yesterday, Saracens signed yet another South African, the Springbok prop Deon Carstens, for next season – he fills the substantial gap left by Soane Tonga'uiha, whose recent change of heart led to an almighty row with Northampton – while preparing for their latest trip to Wembley, where the best part of 50,000 supporters are expected to watch them play Harlequins this evening.
Third in the league and close to securing a play-off slot, Sarries prefer Derick Hougaard and Justin Marshall to Glen Jackson and Neil de Kock at half-back.
Worcester v Wasps
Much to Worcester's disappointment, Wasps have plenty of motivation at the moment. They also have Joe Simpson and Danny Cipriani in the decision-making positions, which cannot fill the Midlanders with joy. The home side, badly in need of something tangible from this fixture, welcome back the the big Fijian Netani Talei at No 8, and the return of Sam Tuitupou in midfield strengthens them. But with the best will in the world, it is difficult to see them maintaining their excellent home record against one of the form sides in the tournament.
Bath v Sale
Suddenly awash with new money and dreaming of ways to spend it, Bath may conceivably be caught with their eye off the ball this afternoon. There again, they could have both eyes shut and still beat a Sale side whose performances on the road since Christmas have been a long way short of spectacular. A visiting back division containing Mark Cueto, Mathew Tait, Ben Cohen, Charlie Hodgson and Dwayne Peel should be able to do a bit, but the northerners are terribly fragile up front. A home win for the nouveau riche seems inevitable.
Northampton v Gloucester
Still hurting from their Heineken Cup exit last weekend, Northampton have recalled the grand old Puma lock Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe for his 50th senior appearance. A home Premiership semi-final still beckons and if they can close that deal, they will take a lot of beating. Gloucester, closer to a top-six finish than seemed likely a few weeks ago, have restored two workhorses to their back row: Alasdair Strokosch and Jake Boer.
Newcastle v Leicester
Leicester have not always enjoyed days out on Tyneside, but there are no changes to the side that gave Bath the mother and father of a walloping a fortnight back and they look strong. Newcastle have Carl Hayman back at tight-head prop, which always helps.
London Irish v Leeds
The Exiles have two southern hemisphere internationals, Springbok hooker Danie Coetzee and Samoan loose forward George Stowers, back between the shafts for this one. Leeds? They would be less than human if they did not have one eye on next weekend's relegation scrap with Worcester.Reuse content