Weekend Premiership preview: Extra spice added as Sarries meet Quins in tasty top of table encounter

 

It is fair to say that Harlequins, the reigning English champions, did not perform cartwheels of joy when Saracens, their immediate predecessors and chief rivals for this year’s title, secured the services of the Samoan prop James Johnston for next season.

Quins have some mighty contributors – Chris Robshaw, the national captain, for starters – but Johnston’s stabilisation of a dodgy scrum has been at the heart of their surge up the domestic rankings. The Londoners did not want to lose him, least of all to a team from the wrong side of the Thames.

Saturday’s first-versus-second rumble at Allianz Park, the new Saracens stadium in the northern reaches of the capital, was always going to be a heavyweight bout. With Johnston facing the fast-improving red rose prop Mako Vunipola in the darkened recesses, the weight is now off the scale. The two giants may well meet again before the formal joining of forces at season’s end – perhaps in the Premiership final at Twickenham in May – but this confrontation will be no less gripping for that. Send for the full metal jacket.

All of those who found themselves overwhelmed by the Welsh rebellion in Cardiff last weekend are present and correct: Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell and Vunipola for the home side; Mike Brown, Danny Care, Joe Marler and Robshaw for Quins.

Interestingly, Leicester are also throwing their England contingent – the half-backs Toby Flood and Ben Youngs, the forwards Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Geoff Parling and Tom Croft – straight back into the fray at Exeter this evening, even though one or two of them seemed wearied by the intensity of the Six Nations campaign. There is no rest for the wicked, or indeed for anyone else.

If the collision between the top two has been the main subject of discussion in Premiership circles this week, there are a couple of significant matches at the other end of the table. London Welsh, still wondering exactly where they stand on the disciplinary front after Thursday night’s inconclusive appeal hearing against a five-point penalty for breaching eligibility regulations, will do well to take anything out of Gloucester at Kingsholm, especially as the West Countrymen have Freddie Burns and Billy Twelvetrees pulling the strings in midfield.

London Irish, on the other hand, could take a big step towards addressing their own relegation issues by beating Worcester, hardly the greatest travellers in the world, in the St Patrick’s Day-linked jamboree in Reading. The Exiles will be led by the former Wasps and Leicester lock George Skivington, who yesterday applied his thumbprint to a contract keeping him at the club until the end of the 2015-16 season.

Wasps, meanwhile, will run another member of the Vunipola family, the No 8 Billy, in a tidy-looking loose combination against Northampton this afternoon. Stuart Lancaster, the England coach, is desperate to give the youngster an early taste of international rugby. Today, we may discover why.

Table and weekend fixtures

* Friday

Sale v Bath

* Saturday (3pm unless stated)

Gloucester v London Welsh

London Irish  v  Worcester

Wasps  v  Northampton (3.15) [Sky Sports 1]  

Exeter  v  Leicester (5) [ESPN] 

* Sunday

Saracens  v  Harlequins (2) [ESPN]

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders