Sarries braced for rough stuff from Leicester

Title-chasing Saracens make changes as Tigers find the boot is on the other foot


Saracens v Leicester

The last time Saracens spent more than the odd week looking down on Leicester in the Premiership table, Martin Johnson was in the first flush of his captaincy career, Michael Lynagh and Philippe Sella were transforming the nature of club rugby and Nigel Wray, the Watford-based club's unfeasibly generous chairman, was still throwing his second million at the sport, as opposed to his 17th. How things have changed, suddenly. This term, Sarries have grown accustomed to lording it over everyone, the Tigers included.

It took them four months and 11 rounds of league activity to lose a game – at London Irish six days ago – and the way Brendan Venter tells it, that experience will make them stronger rather than weaker. Not that the director of rugby at Vicarage Road is allowing the beaten side to make amends en bloc: the Italian scrummaging specialist Carlos Nieto has been promoted to the front row, with former Leicester lock Tom Ryder reappearing in the second row and the increasingly impressive Andy Saull returning to the open-side flank.

Leicester have made a habit of losing their rags on away-days in Watford: Johnson himself experienced moments when the "goodwill to all men" approach seemed a less satisfying option than giving all men a good thumping. If the Midlanders remain an aggressive bunch, an intriguing aspect of today's set-to will be how their talented youngsters – the scrum-half Ben Youngs and the prop Dan Cole in particular – cope when the fur starts flying.

Northampton v London Irish

Talking of airborne animal coats, the second-versus-third meeting at a sold-out Franklin's Gardens will not be the place for conscientious objectors. True, the Irish flanker Neil Best is not starting for the home side, which will make things a tad calmer than they might have been, but the high energy level common to these clubs means an outbreak of pugilistic fission is all but guaranteed.

Northampton have taken 20 points from six matches since late October – their last defeat was at Leicester, where everyone loses – and they are not lacking for size: the 6ft 7ins Courtney Lawes, who played in the second row for England during the autumn, can be seen on the blind-side flank today. For their part, the Exiles have the current red-rose scrum-half Paul Hodgson back fit, which amounts to a significant plus.

Leeds v Bath

Down at the dark end of the table, there is a macabre fascination about the contest between Premiership newcomers just beginning to find their way and Premiership old-timers in serious danger of losing theirs. The Yorkshire club's unexpected victory at Newcastle confirmed them as something better than no-hopers, although it is asking a lot of the teenage outside-half Joe Ford to prosper at this level, even against a midfield as out-of-kilter as Bath's. The West County pack, on the other hand, is among the strongest in the tournament. Should they go under at Headingley, there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Gloucester v Worcester

Gloucester, those curate's eggs incarnate, have recalled three Pacific Islanders – Lesley Vainikolo, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu and Akapusi Qera – for what amounts to a derby fixture at Kingsholm. Worcester, a side on the slide, have the strong defensive organiser Dale Rasmussen in a starting role today, along with the former Gloucester hooker Chris Fortey.

Wasps v Newcastle

Tomorrow's game at Adams Park is, on the face of it, a middling affair of no immediate concern. But a heavy Wasps victory, allied to results going right elsewhere, could propel them deep into the top four with a game in hand – a position the former champions have come to know quite well.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones