Premiership previews: In-form James Haskell will pile more pressure on Chris Robshaw

A look ahead to this weekend's games

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The Independent Online

Harlequins v Wasps  (Saturday 3pm)

There are so many things going down at both clubs, it will be difficult to know where to look at The Stoop this afternoon. Chris Robshaw, an England captain under pressure, faces a stern test from the rejuvenated James Haskell, although the Wasps breakaway unit does not look quite as dangerous in the absence of that blue-sky thinker of a flanker Ashley Johnson. We can also throw in the return of Christian Wade to the visitors’ back division; a Premiership debut for his direct opponent, the Fijian wing Asaeli Tikoirotuma; and the presence of another South Sea islander, the brilliant Samoan centre Alapati Leiua, in the Wasps squad. Fascinating.

Bath v Leicester  (Saturday 3.15pm)

While Robshaw is grappling with Haskell, the Bath outside-half George Ford will be attempting to outwit Freddie Burns, his principal rival for a place on the England bench against New Zealand in November (although if Danny Cipriani continues to hit the heights at Sale, there will be a three-way fight for the seat). Neither side has tasted defeat so far this season, so something will give. Leicester travel without some top-notch forwards – Marcos Ayerza and Ed Slater, to name but two – but as the Lions Test flanker Tom Croft is back on the beat after long-term injury, the West Countrymen will still be pushed to establish supremacy up front.

Sale v London Welsh  (Saturday 2pm)

Two outings, two 50-point thumpings. London Welsh are not having much fun on their return to the Premiership, but they have to start putting the misery behind them because this opening tranche of fixtures gives them their best chance – perhaps their only chance – of winning a game before Christmas. The Exiles, desperate to take advantage of the absence of two key Sale forwards in Nathan Hines and Daniel Braid, have revamped their pack with five changes.

London Irish v Saracens (Saturday 3pm)

Any pleasure London Irish took in last Sunday’s important win at Newcastle will have been tempered by footage of Saracens’ magnificent performance at Harlequins, and although the visitors have demoted some of their most impressive performers to the bench – the centre Duncan Taylor, the outside-half Charlie Hodgson, the loose-head prop Richard Barrington – they will still start as heavy favourites. Luke Narraway, once an England No 8 of rich promise, makes his first start in the home pack.

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Touchdown: Hat-trick man David Strettle, of Saracens, dives over to claim his second try against Wasps at Twickenham

 

Newcastle v Northampton (Sunday 2pm)

Champions Northampton will not travel to Tyneside in the best of humours, having lost at Wasps last weekend. Some sort of backlash is likely, especially as a group of promoted players, including the full-back Ben Foden, the scrum-half Kahn Fotuali’i and the prop Alex Waller, will be keen to justify their selection for the Saints.

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