Weekend preview: Saints ban their own man Clark for alleged assault
Northampton v Wasps
It is a moot point whether Calum Clark, an uncapped member of the England squad, would have made Northampton's starting line-up for this evening's intriguing game with a Wasps side scrapping for their Premiership lives: after all, a loose trio of Phil Dowson, Tom Wood and Roger Wilson covers most bases at club level. As it happens, Clark is banned anyway – not by the Rugby Football Union as yet, but by Saints officials who carried out an internal investigation into their player's alleged assault on the Leicester hooker Rob Hawkins in last weekend's LV Cup final at Worcester.
Hawkins, who found himself entangled with Clark at a ruck, was left with a fractured elbow and will not play again this season, but the problems did not end there: in the clubhouse, there was a good deal of arguing. Clark is due to appear at an RFU disciplinary panel next week, charged with committing "an act contrary to good sportsmanship".
Northampton, already without their captain, Dylan Hartley, pending Tuesday's hearing into an allegation of biting in last weekend's England-Ireland match, have included the Six Nations regulars Ben Foden, Chris Ashton and Lee Dickson. Wasps will be led from full-back by Hugo Southwell.
London Irish v Leicester
The return of the former England attack coach Brian Smith to Irish duty after three and a half years adds a good deal of interest to tomorrow's contest at the Madejski Stadium. The Exiles are in something of a slump, but if Smith can work the oracle over the next few months, their long-term prospects are sound – especially as they have some of the brightest young talent in the country on their books.
The full-back Tom Homer, the wing Marland Yarde and the centre Jonathan Joseph are all included in the backs while the pack, bolstered by the England loose-head Alex Corbisiero, features the exciting Jamie Gibson at No 8. Leicester combine Toby Flood, Billy Twelvetrees and Manu Tuilagi in a midfield of vast potential.
Harlequins v Bath
Even with the England captain Chris Robshaw sunning himself in Abu Dhabi, the Premiership pacesetters gear up for the run-in with a strong international presence, from Mike Brown at full-back to Nick Easter at No 8. Bath include the highly-regarded young prop Nathan Catt, whose performance will be measured against that of Joe Marler, one of the men ahead of him in the red-rose pecking order.
Gloucester v Exeter
This West Country set-to will go a long way towards shaping the English entry in next season's Heineken Cup. Exeter, in fifth, could bust the qualification race wide openby winning, but face a home side with an attack of Jonny May, Charlie Sharples, Eliota Fuimaono-Sapolu, Freddie Burns, Akapusi Qera and Luke Narraway.
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