Moody returns with point to prove for Tests

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The Independent Online

Harlequins v Bath

Matches between these two had an extra something about them long before the clubs went to the bad in a miasma of fake blood, "recreational" drugs and pub brawls, but it is only in the last 18 months that their rivalry has come to be seen as the Premiership's answer to the Corleone-Barzini conflict in The Godfather.

Might Lewis Moody, the Bath flanker, wake up tomorrow morning to find a horse's head in his bed? If he does, he may not notice, given the state of his left retina.

Moody's comeback from the grisly eye injury he suffered during the derby defeat by Gloucester earlier this month is of serious interest to the England manager, Martin Johnson, who wants him to lead the national team against New Zealand next weekend.

But there are others on show tomorrow who will hope to seize the moment, including Joe Marler, the highly rated young Quins prop who was given a taste of red-rose training on Monday, and the Bath wing Matt Banahan, who will move to outside centre for this game. The England attack coach, Brian Smith, thinks he has the potential to play Test rugby at 13. We shall see.

Leeds v Wasps

Wasps need all the help they can get, so the late availability of the flanker Joe Worsley, released from England's training camp yesterday, is a blessing. Worsley was a part of the pack ritually slaughtered by Northampton at Adams Park six days ago, so he may consider the prospect of a Sunday dog-fight with the Premiership's bottom side deep in the northern wastes of union territory to be less than thrilling.

There again, he rarely sets foot on a pitch without contributing important tackles by the gross. If the Londoners have to go to Yorkshire, which they do, they would far rather have him on the bus.

Mark van Gisbergen will be pressed into service at outside-half in the absence of the stricken David Walder, with Ben Jacobs filling in at full-back. Leeds, meanwhile, have lost Steve Thompson and Hendre Fourie to England, so there are starts for Andy Titterrell at hooker and Rhys Oakley in the back row. Last time out, they were beaten 6-3 by Sale. What with current form and Wasps' subterranean confidence levels, this could be every bit as free-scoring.

Gloucester v Leicester

Gloucester have been building a feel-good spirit over recent weeks but, of all teams in the tournament, Leicester are the ones best equipped to make them feel bad about themselves again. Unusually, the champions have lost precious few forwards to the England set-up; Tom Croft and Dan Cole are the only absentees and Cole has been playing second fiddle to Martin Castrogiovanni. If Leicester are seriously short, it is at half-back, where James Grindal and Billy Twelvetrees are not obviously the equivalents of Ben Youngs and Toby Flood.

Happily for the West Countrymen, the England coaches have given Paul Doran-Jones permission to play at tight-head prop. But Mike Tindall is still under lock and key, and his absence cranks up pressure on the rookie centres, Johnny May and Henry Trinder.

Saracens v Exeter

This is a significant moment for Exeter, who, for the first time, must travel off the back of a home Premiership defeat. They will set off without their prime goal-kicker, too, for Gareth Steenson suffered a knee injury against London Irish last weekend. Saracens have no plans to utilise Gavin Henson, although his tan might come in handy should the floodlights fail.

London Irish v Sale

The Exiles, top of the log by a point, must make the most of this home game, for their influential Samoan contingent will be on international duty when the next two rounds are played. Not that they are bereft of talent: Tom Homer and Jonathan Joseph, two high-calibre outside backs, will start tomorrow in place of the Test-bound Delon Armitage and the injured Sailosi Tagicakibau. Sale travel south with Dave Seymour back in harness at flanker.

Northampton v Newcastle

No Dylan Hartley, no Courtney Lawes, no Chris Ashton, no Ben Foden. Does this leave the Midlanders vulnerable? If they were playing Saracens, yes. But they're not.