Weekend preview: Wasps' fate rests in hands of their back-row tyros

 

Wasps v Newcastle

Southern hemisphere types have never understood the British obsession with relegation – very much a product of the football culture that dominates in these parts. But not even a visitor from the Planet Zog would fail to recognise the importance of today's contest. Should the Tynesiders fail to register the bonus-point win they need to survive, it will be another nail in the coffin of professional union in the North. If the Londoners lose heavily and emerge with nothing, their very existence will be in peril.

Wasps field a back-row unit of extreme youth: Joe Launchbury has just turned 21; Sam Jones is 20; Billy Vunipola is in his teens. If they can compensate for their inexperience, a fast back division should do the rest. But Jimmy Gopperth, the outside-half from New Zealand who scores such a high percentage of the visitors' points, is a danger. The kids at Nos 6, 7 and 8 will have to deal with him.

Sale v Harlequins

Sale, a league point shy of guaranteeing a Heineken Cup place next season, field an unfamiliar side, full of English-qualified talent. Could this be something to do with maximising their income from the Rugby Football Union, which dispenses a proportion of its funding on the basis of national allegiance? Perish the thought. Saracens, well placed to take advantage of any slip-up by the leaders in the race for a home semi-final, are not performing handstands at the thought of the northerners competing without Sam Tuitupou, Johnny Leota, Andrei Ostrikov and a variety of internationals. There again, a full-strength Quins are good enough to win in Stockport, whatever the opposing teamsheet might say.

Leicester v Bath

Bath might have had a better shot at Heineken Cup qualification had Sam Vesty not suffered such a pratfall in failing to put a bonus-point try past Wasps last time out, but they would still have needed to win at Welford Road to pip Sale to the last European place. To judge by the way Leicester have been going, there is more chance of Finland beating the All Blacks. This game marks the departure of Sir Ian McGeechan as the West Country club's rugby director, and of Martin Haag as forwards coach. The Tigers? They look settled, secure and threatening.

Saracens v Exeter

Saracens would love a home semi-final, despite their desperation to find a home away from Watford. They are still struggling with back-row injuries but, with Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt in midfield, they should have too much for an Exeter who played, and lost, their personal cup final with Northampton 13 days ago.

Northampton v Worcester

It is difficult to imagine Northampton messing this up. A win of any sort against a side who have won only once on the road this season will be enough to secure a semi-final slot and, to that end, the Saints will field every big gun available to them.

London Irish v Gloucester

A dead game. Bob Casey, the grand old lock from Co Kildare, leads the Exiles in his retirement match, while Gloucester bid farewell to Mike Tindall and Alasdair Strokosch.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
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

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot