Premiership preview: Saracens trio seek to make England cases in Wasps test

A number of England squad members, including Alex Goode, Brad Barritt and Courtney Lawes, canmake life difficult for Stuart Lancaster this weekend

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The Independent Online

Wasps v Saracens, Sunday, 2pm

It would have been a traditional north London derby had Wasps still been a north London concern, but they are Midlanders now and proud of it. Not that everything has changed. Major Premiership fixtures in the middle of a Six Nations Championship generally expose a raw nerve or two on the England selection front, and this fascinating set-to in Coventry will be no different.

Three Saracens players – the full-back Alex Goode, the centre Brad Barritt and the loose-head prop Mako Vunipola – could, in their different ways, complicate life for the red-rose head coach Stuart Lancaster ahead of next weekend’s Calcutta Cup match, although Goode’s relocation to outside-half is not the most helpful development as he attempts to cling the international No 15 shirt.

There are many who believe Barritt simply has to stand up and make his tackles to be assured of some kind of role against the Scots. Vunipola’s fortunes are also in the ascendant, although his participation on Sunday means he will be unable to train fully with England until the middle of next week.

Brad Barritt will look to impress at the weekend for Saracens

Of course, there is no guarantee that any Saracen will have it all his own way against one of the Premiership’s form sides. Wasps go in a little light through injury but they are scoring heavily in front of big crowds at a new venue they have quickly grown to love. What’s not to like?

Gloucester v Northampton, Saturday, 3.15pm

Billy Twelvetrees is back from England camp to lead the Cherry and Whites against the table-toppers, who are fairly bristling with hostile intent after losing in controversial fashion at Kingsholm last season. Northampton gained a measure of revenge back in September in the opening match of the current campaign, but the place they really want to make their point is in front of the Shed.

All eyes will be on Courtney Lawes

The Scotland scrum-half Greig Laidlaw and the Wales hooker Richard Hibbard are also back in home colours, but the visitors surely start as favourites. Leaving aside their captain Dylan Hartley, wrapped in cotton wool by England, they are at full strength up front for the first time in a while. All eyes will be on the lock Courtney Lawes as he closes in on a Test recall.

Newcastle v Leicester, Saturday, 3pm

Even after all these years, it is hard to think of Dean Richards and John Wells, those great Tiger-striped stalwarts, working against Leicester rather than for them. Whether they have the raw material to make life seriously awkward for their former club on Tyneside is an open question, but Newcastle are playing eye-catching rugby on their plastic pitch.

Harlequins v London Irish, Saturday, 3pm

Harlequins are still seven points ahead of their one-time tenants, but it is the Exiles who feel better about themselves. While the under-performing home side are on the slide, Irish have put their recent coaching upheaval behind them and are asking difficult questions of sides at the other end of the table.

They should prove a handful in the loose, especially with the Scotland breakaway Blair Cowan available for duty, while the tough Canadian forward Jebb Sinclair will add some oomph at close quarters.

Rob Baxter's Exeter are on a hot streak

Exeter v London Welsh, Saturday, 3pm

Exeter are on a hot streak that has propelled them into play-off contention, so they should love this: London Welsh, winless and all but pointless, cannot hope to threaten them down there in the depths of Devon. The visitors’ lamentable campaign has helped to reignite the controversial issue of Premiership  ring-fencing, but that’s another story.