Tempers sure to flare as top two battle for bragging rights



Leicester v Saracens


Barely a Leicester-Saracens game goes by without a rumpus, and while most of the recent amusement has been generated by one man in particular, the fact that Brendan Venter does most of his Premiership work from a safe distance these days – not even the Rugby Football Union's disciplinary class consider South Africa to be too close for comfort – hardly guarantees 80 minutes of sweetness and light when these two meet on top-of-the-table business.

Venter flew back to the republic on Thursday night, having given Sarries some hands-on time in his new role of technical specialist earlier in the week. It will be down to his replacement as director of rugby, Mark McCall, and the ever-resourceful captain Steve Borthwick to figure a way of repeating last season's victory at Welford Road today and threatening the Tigers' leadership of the table.

Leicester have the lock George Skivington back from England training, and his return allows Tom Croft to revert to his favoured role on the blind-side flank. Saracens find space for Kelly Brown – the Scottish back-rower missed last weekend's win at Wasps because of Six Nations commitments – and if Hugh Vyvyan gets a run off the bench, he will set a new record of 233 Premiership appearances.

Gloucester v Bath

Both sides see this as a must-win game: partly because the scrap for play-off places is now extremely intense and partly because they have excellent unbeaten runs to protect. The Kingsholmites have not lost a Premiership fixture since messing up at Leeds over the new year weekend – a stretch that includes victories at Northampton and Wasps – while their nearest and dearest have won five straight. Indeed, Bath have not been beaten in the league since late November.

Paul Doran-Jones, who spent most of the week not training with his club because his country suddenly decided it needed him, will start in the Gloucester front row today, while Matt Banahan, equally absent but for more obvious reasons, being a regular in the Test squad these days, has been included in the Bath back division. Third place in the table is at stake.

Leeds v London Irish

Leeds, on the other hand, are 12th and last, and judging by their performances over the last couple of weeks, they are lucky to be that high in the rankings. As expected, their two Test forwards – the hooker Steve Thompson and the flanker Hendre Fourie – return to the pack for the second of four winnable games. Having lost the first of these to Newcastle six days ago, there can be no foul-ups tomorrow.

The Exiles may have won two of their last three Premiership contests, but the memory of that long losing streak either side of Christmas has not been entirely erased and they still look vulnerable. On paper, they have a big advantage over the Yorkshiremen, especially with youngsters like Tom Homer, Jonathan Joseph and James Gibson looking increasingly comfortable in Premiership surroundings, but desperation does funny things to teams. As Leeds are now as desperate emotionally as they are form-wise, the visitors must take care.

Exeter v Northampton

What the hell happened to Northampton? Actually, we know what happened to them. They lost five players to the Six Nations, another three or four to injury and, understandably enough, failed to cope. Although one of the orthopaedic cases, the brilliant young England lock Courtney Lawes, will be back between the shafts tomorrow, the rest are still missing and collective confidence is low.

That being said, they possess enough heavy artillery up front to ask significant questions of Exeter, who depend so much on their close-quarter game, backed up by Gareth Steenson's kicking. Victory for the Devonians, who have a hotshot of their own in the flanker Tom Johnson, will leave them with a perfectly balanced win-loss ratio more than two-thirds of the way through their first season. Astonishing.

Wasps v Sale

Wasps have just signed Chris Bell from Sale, so it will be interesting to see how the centre goes tomorrow, given that he will be playing for the club he is about to leave against the club he is about to join. Nothing much is happening for either side, apart from the odd sacking. A classic is not anticipated.

Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments