Leicester v Bath
Stuart Lancaster names his new England squad on Thursday, which gives him just enough time to take an informed view on one of the most intriguing head-to-heads of the season thus far. Bath’s decision to shift their impressive young full-back Anthony Watson to the right wing brings the teenager face to face with Miles Benjamin of Leicester at Welford Road tomorrow and the outcome of this little tête-à-tête could be very significant indeed.
It may well be that the red-rose coach has had a quiet word in West Country ears, for there is no doubt that he sees Watson as a potential World Cup starter on the wing when the tournament is held here 20 months from now. Given that Benjamin sees himself as a live candidate for the global shindig, it is equally clear that, for the former Worcester man, the selectorial lobbying starts now.
Both sides look strong on the team sheet, although Leicester are so far up a gum tree in midfield that their captain Toby Flood has been asked to do a turn in the No 12 position. However, their forthright rugby director, Richard Cockerill, looked a little weaker than usual yesterday in issuing a “clarification” of his off-at-the-deep-end remarks in the aftermath of last week’s victory over Sale.
He contextualised at some length, but the upshot was this: there was “no intention to question the integrity of either the match referee or my opposite number, Steve Diamond”. So that’s clear. Sort of.
London Irish v Worcester
Supporters of the two bottom feeders are advised to take some medication along to the Madejski Stadium today, for this will be as neurotic a game as we have seen for some time. The Exiles have yet to shake off their winless opponents and, as much of the rugby they played in defeat against Gloucester last time out was shambolic in the extreme, it is no surprise Brian Smith has made changes. Sailosi Tagicakibau’s return to the back three and Shane Geraghty’s promotion to the No 10 role are the most intriguing of them. Worcester? They believe they are growing more competitive by the game and, with the experienced Paul Warwick restored to outside-half, they see this contest as a genuine opportunity.
Gloucester v Saracens
Freddie Burns, the subject of much discussion for reasons he would prefer not to dwell upon, returns to the Cherry-and-White starting line-up for what promises to be a difficult afternoon against the table-topping act from north London. A half-decent performance today against Owen Farrell, whose England spot he covets, would do him the power of good, not least in the eyes of a red-rose coaching team worried that transfer distractions may have blunted the sharpest attacking edge in the domestic game. Quite how the Kingsholm scrummagers plan to cope with Mako Vunipola and James Johnston is anyone’s guess, but if they fail, the consequences will be painful.
Wasps v Exeter
An outstanding Premiership programme even has one of the more fascinating mid-table contests to recommend it. The Londoners are still being smashed around on the orthopaedic front, the back-rowers James Haskell and Sam Jones being the latest victims, so there will be an unfamiliar look to their loose unit tomorrow, but they will not be short of pace with Joe Simpson back at scrum-half. Level on points but one place ahead in the table on win count, the Devonians go in with a fresh half-back pairing of Dave Lewis and Henry Slade.
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