Rugby weekend preview: Nowhere to hide as Northampton and Leicester collide with tour berths at stake


Northampton (4th) v Leicester (2nd)

Ben Youngs calls it "Groundhog Day", and while there was little joy for the specialist groundhogs in the England back row when they went in search of a Grand Slam at the Millennium Stadium a fortnight ago – Steve Walsh, the controversial Antipodean referee, made sure of that – you can see his point. Leicester are the hardy annuals of domestic rugby and when spring comes around, they are always to be found in the thick of the meaningful action.

"It happens every year," said the red-rose half-back ahead of today's East Midlands derby with Northampton at Franklin's Gardens – the kind of fixture better suited to thorns and nettles than to shrinking violets. "We have big game after big game and we have to keep on winning. Every match is like a cup final from here on in."

Youngs can expect a severe test from the Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson: very much the forgotten man of England's No 9 fraternity, he has been awaiting this chance to remind the national coach, Stuart Lancaster, of his existence. But it is another member of the Youngs family, the hooker Tom, who faces the sternest examination. His confrontation with Dylan Hartley could go a long way towards deciding which man makes the Lions cut for this summer's tour of Australia – especially as two of the squad's coaching staff, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell, will be among the sell-out audience.

Wasps (6th) v Saracens (1st)

Saracens, fiendishly difficult to beat, are within whispering distance of a home Premiership semi-final. Having established a clear lead at the top of the log and with two of their last three games at home, Steve Borthwick's deeply resilient team can afford to rest players as important as the England threequarters David Strettle and Brad Barritt while operating a rotation policy in virtually every other area of the side.

They also welcome back the magnificent Namibian back-rower Jacques Burger, perhaps the nearest thing ever seen to a one-man team at international level, after a serious knee injury that incapacitated him for more than a year. Burger starts on the bench.

London Irish (10th) v Sale (11th)

The Exiles, very much a top-of-the-ground outfit, have finally found some form and are equipped to play at an unusually high tempo on Sunday. Only a few weeks ago, they were embroiled in a three-way relegation scrap with Sale and London Welsh, but with recent events going their way both on and off the field they are one good performance away from being able to sleep easy in their beds.

Sale are not out of the mire by any means, so they need to turn up in Reading. The midfield darkness-and-light contest between the hard-hitting visiting duo of Johnny Leota and Sam Tuitupou and the silky-smooth home pairing of Guy Armitage and Shane Geraghty will be well worth watching.

Bath (7th) v L'don Welsh (12th)

Having lost their appeal against a five-point cut for playing the scrum-half Tyson Keats on false papers, the visitors are really up against it. The return of Franck Montanella and Paulica Ion to the front row suggests they will lay solid foundations at the Recreation Ground, but Bath can push their claims for a Heineken Cup qualification spot with a five-point victory and are not losing many at home these days.

Worcester (9th) v Exeter (8th)

Exeter have a decent run-in that gives them a shot at Heineken Cup qualification, but defeat against underachieving opponents who have faded to grey yet again will make life difficult. James Scaysbrook, such an important figure for the Chiefs, returns to the back row in place of Ben White.

*Positions before this evening's matches

Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Neil Warnock
football'New' manager for Crystal Palace
REX/Eye Candy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

From strung out to playing strings

Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

A big fat surprise about nutrition?

The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

On the road to nowhere

A Routemaster trip to remember
Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

Hotel India

Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
10 best pencil cases

Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

Pete Jenson: A Different League

Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
Britain’s superstar ballerina

Britain’s superstar ballerina

Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
Berlin's Furrie invasion

Berlin's Furrie invasion

2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis