Saracens v Harlequins
No rest for the wicked – or, indeed, the deflated.
A week after their lung-bursting efforts in pursuit of Six Nations glory, which slipped from their grasp in a frenzy of attacking thrust and counter-thrust, the England forwards Chris Robshaw, Joe Marler, Nick Easter and the Vunipola brothers, Mako and Billy, will be among the duellists in front of a record 83,000-plus London derby crowd at Wembley today.
It may be just what the red-rose brigade need: a nice little pick-me-up following the big let-down at Twickenham. Not that there will be much of a drop-off in intensity. Saracens are by no means certain of a top-four finish in the Premiership, let alone a home play-off semi-final, and as they have not been blessed with the most comfortable of run-ins, they need to max out against their struggling rivals from south of the river.
While Quins have much the easier programme over this last tranche of fixtures, they are a fair way off European qualification. If Robshaw and company draw a blank this afternoon and Sale do a job on Gloucester tomorrow, the 2015-16 Champions Cup is likely to be a pastel-free zone.
Leicester v Exeter
Exeter’s rise to Premiership prominence has been something to behold, but they will not consider themselves a genuine power in the land until they find a route into the play-offs. This is their chance. Second in the table but only two points ahead of Leicester in fifth, today’s game offers them a chance to stake their claim under real pressure.
Most of the bright young things from the West Country – Jack Nowell, Sam Hill, Henry Slade – are in the visiting starting line-up, but the most eye-catching figure is Dean Mumm, the Wallaby lock and club captain, who starts this one on the open-side flank. Can he cut it in such an alien position? Probably. On current evidence, there is not a fat lot he can’t do.
Leicester have their England contingent intact: Ben Youngs, brother Tom, Dan Cole and Geoff Parling have been selected, as has Freddie Burns, the forgotten man of red-rose rugby, at outside-half.
London Welsh v Bath
Unless London Welsh record a bonus-point victory the arithmetic will confirm what we have known for almost seven months: relegation is a done deal. There will be no favours from Bath, who have spent all season at the opposite end of the table but must now take full advantage of a decent run-in to nail down a play-off place.
The Exiles are fielding a handy back-row unit, but it is devilishly difficult to see them shutting down the Bath attack, even though George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson are taking a rest ahead of next week’s European business in Dublin.
Sale v Gloucester
If Sale are close to full strength as they continue to pursue European qualification, Gloucester have not given up on that target and will throw the kitchen sink at this one. Billy Twelvetrees returns from England duty to lead the side, while the fine Argentine lock Mariano Galarza is on the bench following long-term injury.
London Irish v Newcastle
The trials and tribulations suffered by London Welsh have saved this from being a relegation match, but even though the fixture means next to nothing, any contest featuring the tackle-breaking Newcastle wing Sinoti Sinoti is worth half a glance.Reuse content