Weekend Preview: days of reckoning as Welsh face Saracens and points penalty


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The Independent Online

Saracens v London Welsh

This could be a brutal few days for London Welsh, whose fight for Premiership survival, more courageous than anyone had a right to expect, is looking shakier than at any time since early September. Tomorrow, they travel to Saracens, who do not look like losing to anyone, let alone a team three points off the bottom of the table. On Tuesday, they could easily be docked those points by the Rugby Football Union when they answer a charge of playing the scrum-half Tyson Keats under a false registration.

Keats, a New Zealander who, unbeknown to himself, played nine games as an English-qualified player at the start of the campaign, is in the starting line-up for this one, as is the celebrity outside-half Gavin Henson. But three key individuals – the centre Gonzalo Tiesi, the hooker Neil Briggs and the back-rower Ed Jackson – are injured. It could be messy.

Northampton v London Irish

Northampton have two of last week’s England pack, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes, available for today’s game and they intend to start both of them – Lawes in the second row, where he looks comfortable, rather than on the blind-side flank, where he looked anything but against the French at Twickenham. The Exiles, running into better form as the surfaces firm up, are dangerous outside the scrum and could hurt their hosts off the bench if the hard-hitting newcomer Setaimata Sa gets a run.

Harlequins v Exeter

The champions start as hot favourites today, despite the Devonians’ heavy-scoring exploits against London Welsh in the previous round of matches. Nick Easter, no great lover of life in the engine room, must put up with it once again as Quins go with Tom Guest at No 8, but at least he has the captaincy to cheer him. Nick Evans’ return at outside-half will make life even more difficult for the visitors, who have lost two Antipodeans of their own, the lock Dean Mumm and the centre Jason Shoemark, to injury.

Leicester v Sale

Tom Croft, slowly piecing his rugby back together after a long injury absence, leads the Midlanders against the bottom club, who will field a decent-looking team despite the absences of two Lions in Mark Cueto and Dwayne Peel and the demotion of Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray to the bench. Richie Vernon, who scored a blinding try for the northerners last weekend, starts at No 8.