Wasps v Leicester
If Wasps know what is good for them, they will play tomorrow's game with the champions come hell or – more to the point, perhaps – high water.
Their late refusal to engage in last Friday night's match at Sale because of wet conditions at Edgeley Park has caused a serious stink, to the extent that a Premier Rugby panel will meet on Monday to consider the incident, cheered on by some very unhappy bigwigs at Twickenham. Postponement this weekend is therefore not an option, even if the two sides have to take the field wearing snorkels.
Injury hassles have accounted for a number of front-line Wasps players, including the outside-half Danny Cipriani and the flanker Joe Worsley, but with the tricky little Samoan wing David Lemi back in the Londoners' match-day squad after a spell of international duty, they at least have the capacity to hurt their visitors off the bench.
Much interest will surround the performance of another wing, Tom Varndell, as he faces his old club for the first time. The fastest player in the country scored 45 tries in 81 Premiership appearances for Leicester, yet was deemed surplus to requirements at Welford Road for much of last season. For the sake of his own sanity, as well as his chances of recovering lost ground on the international front, he needed to leave.
"I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this," he said during the week. "It will be the game that finally tells me Leicester is gone, finished. It's closure. To score in any match is fantastic, but if I can manage it against my former club it will be even better."
Varndell has a decent chance. Five tries in six league starts for Wasps is good going in anyone's language: only Sailosi Tagicakibau, of London Irish, has been more prolific this term.
Northampton v Bath
Bath, stumbling from one minor calamity to another, have dropped Ryan Davis from their midfield for today's horribly difficult trip to Franklin's Gardens. Nicky Little, the 31-year-old Fijian outside-half who has been around the block more times than the fledgling Davis has had hot dinners, is back in the pivotal role as the West Countrymen search desperately for a reliable kicking game. Andy Beattie also returns at blind-side flanker, as does Michael Stephenson on the right wing.
The Saints are far more settled: there is just one change from the handsome victory at Newcastle last time out, Euan Murray taking over from Santiago Bonorino at tight-head prop. This will not exactly weaken the Northampton scrum. Murray is regarded by many as the most destructive set-piece operator in the Premiership.
Saracens v Sale
Mark Cueto's bad back has deprived Sale of their most dependable finisher – Oriol Ripol, the Spaniard, replaces him at Vicarage Road, where Saracens have proved untouchable thus far. The northerners are nowhere near as fragile on the road as some believe: they have won at Leeds, should have done likewise at Worcester, drawn with Newcastle on Tyneside and pushed Northampton hard at Franklin's Gardens. But this is a big ask against well-drilled, close-knit opponents boasting some of the most exciting young English talent around.
Gloucester v Newcastle
Gloucester scored three tries at Harlequins last weekend and still lost – proof positive that when a team is in the doldrums, the sporting gods conspire to keep them there. Things just might be looking up for the Cherry and Whites, however: a big international contingent – Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, Nicky Robinson, Rory Lawson and Akapusi Qera among them – are back in the starting line-up, while the gifted No 8 Luke Narraway appears on the bench for the first time this season after recovering from surgery on a bulging disc in his back.
London Irish v Worcester
London Irish, back to winning ways and blessed with solid personnel options in most positions, could go top if something odd happens at Saracens. Certainly, they are expected to deliver their side of the bargain by beating Worcester – especially as Seilala Mapusua, that wrecking ball of a Samoan centre, is back in midfield. The visitors will be competitive up front, but Irish have the reinforcements to subdue them.Reuse content