Weekend preview: Sarries' spirit faces test after Heineken exit

All games kick off today at 2.30pm

Saracens (1st) v Bath (7th)

The London side guaranteed themselves a home semi-final last month and will finish top with another victory on their artificial pitch, although it will hardly be the end of the world if they slip up against a side still chasing, albeit in fanciful fashion, a Heineken Cup qualifying slot. What is of concern is the spirit in the camp following last weekend’s crushing disappointment at the hands of Jonny Whatsisname. The European title was their principal target this term, and they came up short. The pain must be acute.

All three Sarries anointed by the Lions selectors – the outside-half Owen Farrell, the loose-head prop Mako Vunipola and the tight-head operator Matt Stevens – start this one, although Farrell plays at centre. There will also be a rare appearance from the Newcastle-bound flanker Andy Saull, a one-time England contender who slipped behind Will Fraser in the pecking order and has decided to cut his losses.

Bath will also be saying some fond farewells, most notably to a Lion of their own in Simon Taylor, the Scottish forward. Taylor is heading homewards with one eye on a career in law. Two of his fellow pack members, the prop David Wilson and the lock Dave Attwood, have more of a future than a past in rugby terms and will put themselves in good positions for England honours in Argentina with strong performances today.

Exeter (6th) v Gloucester (5th)

After 16 years of unstinting graft and a late flowering of success, the fine Exeter No 8 Rich Baxter plays his final game this afternoon. Given the emotional surge behind him, it will be surprising indeed if he does not lead the Devonians to victory and secure Heineken Cup rugby for a second successive season.

Not that Gloucester are treating this game lightly. They have already qualified for the elite European tournament and have nothing worth chasing Premiership-wise, but they have named their most vibrant combination nonetheless. The presence of Jonny May, Billy Twelvetrees and Freddie Burns in the back-line and a rejuvenated No 8 in Ben Morgan would probably have attracted a sell-out crowd to Sandy Park. With Baxter bowing out, tickets have become seriously scarce.

H’quins (3rd) v N’ampton (4th)

No Chris Robshaw for the Lions … or for Quins either. The England captain – what a curse that position has become when British Isles selection is up for grabs – is struggling for fitness and makes way for Luke Wallace, one of the many eye-catching graduates of their academy.

Dylan Hartley, fresh from a good-news experience on the Lions front, will lead a Northampton side looking suspiciously like a full-strength unit, positively brimming with attitude. The winning side will finish third, the losers fourth.

Leicester (2nd) v L Irish (9th)

The Tigers are looking extremely threatening: all six of their Lions are in the squad, the scary Fijian wing Vereniki Goneva is back in the mix and almost 24,000 tickets had been sold by close of play yesterday. Under the circumstances, the Exiles might be forgiven for not looking forward to this one with any great relish. There again, so many players are in last hurrah territory – Jonathan Joseph, Alex Corbisiero, Scott Lawson, Matt Garvey and Jamie Gibson are all leaving – there may be an emotional uprising of sorts.

London Welsh (12th) v Worcester (10th)

Welsh are awaiting confirmation of relegation, have lost their principal source of cash and are in the throes of a mass player exodus, which will make their position a little awkward if Newcastle mess up in the Second Division play-offs, Bedford win the title and, having failed the promotion criteria, condemn the Exiles to another season in the top flight.

Sale (11th) v Wasps (8th)

The home side start as favourites: weird, given the traumatic nature of their campaign, but not ridiculous, thanks to Wasps’ freefall in recent weeks. Danny Cipriani will not be facing his old club, for well-known reasons to do with public transport, but the Londoners travel with all their bright young things, including the free-scoring Christian Wade.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue