Premiership Weekend Preview: Nathan Catt’s chance to put Exeter under pressure


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The Independent Online

Bath v Exeter Today, 3.15pm

Bath spent last weekend pushing the Wasps pack from one side of Buckinghamshire to the other, so the decision to stick with Nathan Catt at loose-head prop ahead of the returning Wales front-rower Paul James makes far more sense than some other selection calls at the Recreation Ground this season. Catt’s career, promising and infuriating in equal measure, may just have turned a corner six days ago. If he delivers a performance of equal stature against stiffer opposition today, who knows where he might end up?

With two quality southern hemisphere internationals – the Argentina wing Horacio Agulla and the exceptional South African flanker Francois Louw – back in the mix, the home side are well capable of preserving their excellent Premiership record against the Devonians. But Exeter are nobody’s fools, and with Luke Arscott’s return at full-back giving the Chiefs more of a cutting edge behind the scrum, this should be one of the more competitive West Country derbies of the campaign.

Newcastle v Harlequins Tomorrow, 2.30pm

If you thought the fake blood affair at Harlequins had finally been consigned to the cesspit of rugby history, think again: Dean Richards, the villain of the piece, will be the centre of attention at Kingston Park tomorrow afternoon as he fronts up against his old club for the first time since the dirty tricks scandal of 2009.

Not that Richards will be reflecting too much on the sins of the past. He has better things to think about – namely, edging his Newcastle side further away from the relegation zone. They are already 11 points clear of Worcester, but the Great Shambling Bear will not feel comfortable until the gap is nearer 20 than 10. Ally Hogg, the most experienced member of the Tyneside pack, makes his 100th appearance for the club, while the Londoners have picked a high-octane unit of Joe Trayfoot, Luke Wallace and Tom Guest in the back row and will not be in the mood to hang about.

London Irish v Wasps Today, 3pm

The big city rivals, neither of whom actually plays in the big city nowadays, are struggling to stay on top of their own injury lists, but the orthopaedic hassles of established players at least give the new faces a chance to impress. Jimmy Stevens, a hooker from Cornwall who worked his way through the Leicester academy before switching clubs, replaces the stricken David Paice in the Exiles’ front row, while Wasps hand the Tongan wing Will Helu a first Premiership start. Helu put a lovely try past Wales at the Millennium Stadium eight days ago. Something similar will improve the mood of David Young, his rugby director at club level, following last weekend’s pitiful showing against Bath.

Saracens v Sale Today, 3pm

For reasons best known to themselves, Saracens are offering free entry to today’s game in Hendon to anyone dressed as Elvis Presley. It is tempting to suggest there is more chance of discovering the real Elvis living in a garden hut just off the North Circular than of Sale beating the league leaders on their own artificial turf – especially as the 2011 champions have found a way of running Alex Goode, Owen Farrell and Charlie Hodgson in the same back division.

Worcester v Northampton Today, 3pm

Northampton look just a little light outside the scrum, thanks to the enforced absences of Ben Foden, Jamie Elliott, James Wilson and Kahn Fotuali’i. There again, they have Dylan Hartley, Samu Manoa and Tom Wood back between the shafts up front. Worcester are winless in the Premiership and it is difficult to see how they might put that to rights this afternoon.