Premiership preview: Freddie Burns can let his talents do the talking in tasty duel with Toby Flood
Despite a media silence, Gloucester's precocious fly-half has the swagger to tame the Tigers today
Gloucester were so concerned about a "Freddie Burns versus Toby Flood for England" storyline building up through the week, they put Burns in purdah. Two points here: for one thing, the Test-shirt-at-stake issue was never a runner, given that only Flood had a place in the national squad; for another, if the richly talented Burns is not equipped to deal with the pressure of the written word, how in the name of God will he ever handle the close attentions of Richie McCaw or David Pocock?
Burns has the swagger, the deep-rooted confidence in his own ability, to prosper at the top level and it would be just like him to prove as much this afternoon. The outside-half has Jimmy Cowan, an All Black scrum-half, on one side of him and the exciting centre Billy Twelvetrees on the other – not that he is obviously in need of security guards – and if a pack featuring the fast-developing young lock Tom Savage do not wilt in the heat generated by the Leicester forwards, we could be in for a minor classic.
The Tigers, buoyed by their Heineken Cup victory over Ospreys last weekend, are still without Julian Salvi, their ultra-effective open-side flanker. But Louis Deacon, the hard-working international lock, is back between the shafts, while Geordan Murphy resumes as captain following injury.
Northampton v Saracens
Hardly the friendliest of near-neighbours, these two have engaged in a series of compelling struggles over recent seasons. They do not see eye to eye on much, least of all selection policy: while the Saints like to stick with the tried and tested – the only time they rotate is when they wheel a scrum – Sarries have no time for the status quo. Hence the benching of Charlie Hodgson, one of the players of the campaign to date, in favour of Owen Farrell, who desperately needs a big game at No 10 if he is to stand a chance of starting for England against Fiji in a fortnight.
If Northampton lead the table after six rounds, it is not by much: their opponents today are one of three sides within a couple of points. While the England selectors will concentrate their attention on the 10 members of the Test squad on view, they would do well to make a study of the young visiting flanker Will Fraser while they're at it. He is beginning to look the part.
Bath v Exeter
Some would argue that Exeter have just played the two strongest sides in Europe – they lost narrowly to the Heineken Cup champions Leinster in Dublin a fortnight ago before being spanked by Clermont Auvergne seven days later – and those exertions could tell on them at the Recreation Ground today. There again, Bath are patently not one of the northern hemisphere's stronger sides, no matter what their bank balance says.
The Devonians re-introduce Gonzalo Camacho to their back division following the Argentine wing's long spell of Puma duty, and pair the Wallaby lock Dean Mumm with James Hanks at the expense of the captain Tommy Hayes – an arrangement that worked perfectly for them in the big win over Harlequins recently. Bath, meanwhile, welcome the hard-hitting Carl Fearns back into the loose forward equation.
London Irish v Harlequins
The Exiles are a lot happier with life as a result of their eyebrow-raising victory over Northampton in the last round of matches and with the centre Guy Armitage joining a back division full of pace and attacking ability, they will half-fancy their chances of doing a job on their former landlords. The champions are without the England centre Jordan Turner-Hall, who had 120mls of blood drained from his left knee before last weekend's Heineken Cup outing in Connacht and has been granted a week off, not unreasonably. Tom Casson replaces him.
Wasps v London Welsh
Tom Voyce, once of Wasps (and lots of other clubs) makes his first start for London Welsh at full-back against previous employers who are slowly regaining their faculties after years of trauma. The freshly-reconfigured Wasps back row of Ashley Johnson, James Haskell and Billy Vunipola looks particularly interesting, especially as they will be chasing one Gavin Henson around the paddock.
Aviva Premiership: Weekend fixtures
Bath v Exeter (2.30pm, Sky Sports 1) Northampton v Saracens (3pm)
Gloucester v Leicester (4.45pm, Sky Sports 1)
London Irish v Harlequins (2.15pm, ESPN)
Wasps v London Welsh (3pm)
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