Gloucester face fight to avoid three of a kind

A look ahead to Saturday's Aviva Premiership action

Gloucester v Northampton

Gloucester are one of Premiership rugby’s ever-presents – along with their great rivals Bath and a small handful of others, they have never been anywhere south of the top flight – and no one seriously expects a side blessed with so exhilarating a back division to risk their status this time round. But facts are facts: the Cherry and Whites are 80 minutes away from their worst start to a season since the last revamping of the domestic game 16 years ago.

Northampton, by contrast, know exactly what it feels like to drop down a level, but they were good enough to reach last season’s grand final and are now in a position to push even harder for the title, having bought big – physically, as well as reputationally – during the summer. Should the Midlanders win at Kingsholm today, they will maintain a 100 per cent record while  condemning their hosts to an  unprecedented third defeat in three.

Without Nick Wood, predictably suspended for a chunk of time after his head-rucking antics at Saracens, Gloucester have installed Dan Murphy at loose-head prop and will give the England Under-20 lock Elliott Stooke a first Premiership start. Jimmy Cowan, the All Black scrum-half, replaces Tavis Knoyle at the heels of an underpowered pack.

Saracens v Bath

Bath have won both of their opening fixtures, as have Saracens, so this is seen as a significant fixture. Yet the question has to be asked: do the West Countrymen genuinely believe they can win on the artificial turf up there on the northern edge of the capital? By demoting three of their most  influential forwards – the prop Paul James, the lock Dave Attwood and the flanker Matt Garvey will all be both be shining the pine tomorrow – they are not making much in the way of a statement of intent.

George Ford, the much talked-about newcomer at No 10, is also among the replacements, and while Tom Heathcote is nobody’s mug as an outside-half, the selection seems just a little peculiar. Saracens, meanwhile, are in full warpaint, with Mako Vunipola and Schalk Brits  returning to the front row and the England full-back Alex Goode making a first appearance of the season in the No 15 shirt.

Alex Goode will make his first appearance of the season after recovering from injury Alex Goode will make his first appearance of the season after recovering from injury  

London Irish v Exeter

London Irish have been widely dismissed as relegation fodder and it is undeniably true that their squad, stripped bare by Bath with a little help from Leicester and Northampton, looks on the anaemic side of weak. Yet they landed a solid blow by winning at Worcester seven days ago,  albeit in the last minute with a little help from the referee, and they are not completely ignorant of what it takes to beat the Devonians, having won four of the last half-dozen league contests between the teams.

Exeter have made two changes, one of them positional, to the side that saw off Wasps last time out, Tom Johnson shifting across the back row for the injured Dave Ewers at No 8 and Ben White filling the hole on the blind-side flank. The Exiles, who yesterday signed the unusually substantial lock Ian Nimmo on loan from Newport Gwent Dragons as cover for the incapacitated George Skivington and Kieran Low, have been forced into a couple of reshuffles, but their principal attacking threat, the new England wing Marland Yarde, is present and correct.

Marland Yarde will once again be London Irish's main threat when they meet Exeter Marland Yarde will once again be London Irish's main threat when they meet Exeter  

Leicester v Newcastle

Newcastle’s second-string side beat Leicester’s “stiffs” 20-13 earlier this week, but the notion that their rugby director Dean Richards, a revered Tiger of old, will be celebrating a similar result at Welford Road today is surely for the birds. The champions have the Prime Minister’s new best friend, Manu “Bunny Ears” Tuilagi, back in midfield and restored another of the summer’s Lions, the scrum-half Ben Youngs, to active duty. And should they find themselves in  unexpected trouble, they can always bring Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling and the masterly Julian Salvi off the bench.

Manu Tuilagi has had an eventful week, but will return to the pitch to face Newcastle Manu Tuilagi has had an eventful week, but will return to the pitch to face Newcastle  

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
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

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on