Weekend preview: Big spenders Bath look to Europe to save their season


Bath (7th) v Leicester (2nd)

The semi-final arguments are all but done – Harlequins and Northampton have the two remaining play-off places all but nailed down – so the attention this week is on Heineken Cup qualification, which makes a pleasant change. Usually, the focus is on Heineken Cup politics, the running sore of the season.

By their own admission, big-spending Bath have not provided value for Bruce Craig’s money this term, but they can still give themselves a shot at salvaging something with victory over the old enemy at the Recreation Ground today. Not that the West Country faithful are holding their breath.

Wasps (8th) v Exeter (6th)

Bath’s challengers for a European qualifying spot meet at Adams Park tomorrow in what could well be the game of the weekend. The Devonians have generated a good deal of late-season momentum with four victories in their last five league outings and having just subjected London Irish to a thorough spanking, they keep an unchanged side.

Wasps have not enjoyed such a fun time of it lately, but if ever there was a moment for their brilliant youngsters – Elliot Daly, Christian Wade, Joe Simpson, Joe Launchbury and Billy Vunipola – to serve up some fresh pizzazz, this is it. Exeter are taking the game so seriously, they are talking of it as their “cup final”. The Londoners need to be thinking along the same lines.

Northampton (4th) v Sale (10th)

A bonus-point win over opponents who rarely travel well will see Northampton safely into the semi-finals with a match to spare, and there will be plenty of emotion flying around Franklin’s Gardens as they go in search of the needful. Four years after making his way to the  East Midlands from South Africa, the Springbok prop Brian Mujati plays his final home game before heading for a spell of league rugby in France.

Sale’s home form, combined with the many and varied calamities visited upon London Welsh, has steered them clear of relegation, so they have a licence to play today. Danny Cipriani is back at No 10, but some of their most effective players – Sam Tuitupou and Dan Braid among them – are missing.

Gloucester (5th) v Saracens (1st)

Tom Savage, a fast-developing back five forward who has caught the eye more than once this season, leads Gloucester at Kingsholm this afternoon. Victory is a must for the Cherry and Whites – no easy matter against the supremely bloody-minded league leaders – but even if they manage it, they will probably fall short of a semi-final spot. Sarries are resting three current internationals in Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt and Kelly Brown, but restore half a dozen key figures, including Owen Farrell and Steve Borthwick. Thanks a bunch.

Worcester (9th) v H’quins (3rd)

Worcester’s week of upheaval concludes today with a tough game against the champions, for whom Nick Easter makes his 200th appearance and two colleagues – Danny Care and James Johnston – reach the century mark. Nigel Redman, one of the coaches steering the home ship after the abrupt departure of Richard Hill as head coach, has handed the 19-year-old wing Ben Howard a first Premiership start.

L Irish (11th) v L Welsh (12th)

London Welsh have a thankless task: already relegated, they are still suffering from a debilitating casualty list. Irish, on the other hand, have  the England prop Alex Corbisiero back in the front row after a long-term knee injury.