Sale v Leicester 3.15pm, today
The arithmetic tells us that Sale, the most surprising element in a Premiership campaign shot through with unpredictability, are still in with a shout of semi-final qualification. Logic tells us something different, but the northerners can still make life profoundly uncomfortable for the reigning champions by raising hell this afternoon.
Unfortunately, the All Black flanker Dan Braid is off- limits to the home side through injury, and it has to be said that the Sale back row looks a lot less threatening in his absence – especially as Leicester can arm themselves with the know-how of the Australian breakaway Julian Salvi and the fast-developing skills of the blind-side specialist Jamie Gibson.
Still, it will be intriguing to see how Danny Cipriani, flavour of the month once again, shapes up against Owen Williams, the young Welshman who has performed so strongly at outside-half for the Midlanders this term.
Saracens v Worcester 3pm, today
How’s this for a tall order? Worcester, favourites for relegation for so much of the season, must beat the Heineken Cup finalists and domestic title favourites on London soil to keep themselves alive for another week. Only victory will be enough to save them – and even if they manage to pull of one of the shock results of this or any other campaign, they will still be prey to a Newcastle uprising at Wasps.
It is not as if Saracens are prepared to make life easy for them: despite the rush of major fixtures heading their way, they have selected a full-strength back division to go with a pack boasting half a dozen full internationals and two uncapped flankers, Jackson Wray and Will Fraser, who can count themselves among the brightest young back-rowers in the country. Best of luck, Worcester.
Exeter v Harlequins 2pm, tomorrow
Quins, currently occupying fifth in the table, had both eyes fixed on last night’s Bath-Northampton game at the Recreation Ground. Exeter, meanwhile, were peering into their own collective soul in search of a way to halt their recent decline. The Devonians suffered humiliation on the grand scale in leaking a half-century of points to Sale on their last home appearance and they have been beating themselves up ever since.
Luke Cowan-Dickie, a compelling talent at hooker, replaces Jack Yeandle in the middle of the front row, and there is also a starting place for the tight-head prop Hoani Tui, who will leave for France at the end of the season after agreeing terms with newly-promoted Lyon.
Wasps v Newcastle 3pm, today
Wasps can all but secure a European Rugby Champions Cup play-off place by doing a proper job on the struggling Tynesiders, and there should be no lack of motivation: as things stand, the prize is a two-legged thrash with the Parisian glamour pusses of Stade Français, which would surely put some bums on seats, even at desolate Adams Park. With the captain Chris Bell suffering from concussion, Charlie Hayter starts alongside Elliot Daly in midfield.
Gloucester v London Irish 3pm, today
Gloucester officials have decided to issue the Kings–holm crowd with a gentle reminder about the “spirit of rugby” after the lively conclusion to the derby with Bath, but there should be nothing reticent about the Cherry and Whites’ home farewell after a disappointing season. Billy Twelvetrees leads the side from inside centre, with the departing Freddie Burns given the chance to make a valedictory statement from outside-half.