Aviva Premiership Round 14 – A Spot of Rugby Love

We head into Round 14 off the back of one of the most emotional and tense rounds that the Premiership has ever seen. By now we are all well aware of the fact that three teams lost by just one point each, the league leaders lost their unbeaten home record and a couple of teams fell into the  ‘could have done better’ category. It may be Valentines weekend but please don’t let this get in the way, instead embrace the rugby love because Round 14 is set to be a huge one.

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Once again they will switch on the Friday Night Lights at the AJ Bell Stadium as the Sale Sharks welcome Saracens to town. After securing a bonus point win last weekend Sale need to take every ounce of that winning momentum into this fixture. Saracens will be absolutely smarting after they were comprehensively beaten last weekend by a team that were 8 places below them in the table. Mark McCall’s men haven’t lost three matches in a row since March 2010 so the pressure is well and truly on! Watch out for the battle of the back rows as it is likely to be a heated affair between two sets of powerhouses… Braid, Seymour, Gaskell against Wray, Burger and Joubert, if both teams stick with their Round 13 selections.

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Once again The Stoop opens its doors to some Premiership action as Harlequins host the Newcastle Falcons on Saturday afternoon. Harlequins haven’t lost at home since January (against Clermont) however they will for all intents and purposes consider last weekend’s performance against Wasps as a defeat. I suspect that Conor O’Shea will select the same match-day 23 (injury permitting) in order to give his men a chance of redemption. Newcastle will be upset that they let Bath get away from them last weekend and the news that Carlo del Fava has been forced to retire with immediate effect will certainly have dampened spirits further, however they need to re-group quickly in order to gain something from Round 14.

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The Northampton Saints versus Worcester Warriors, before last weekend most would have predicted a bonus point home win with confidence however after the outstanding Warriors’ performance on Friday Night I suspect that many are revising their thoughts. Worcester played with intent and purpose in attack whilst being solid in defence and if they replicate that again then sparks might fly at Franklin’s Gardens. However Northampton are the new league leaders; they have not lost at home in the Premiership since 20th March 2013 and have a hugely strong squad. Needless to say Worcester’s task is challenging however I wouldn’t be surprised if they came away with something from the fixture.

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The match between the Exeter Chiefs and Bath Rugby sold out on Monday morning and the Chiefs are likely to need their 16th man as their recent Premiership form has been less than ideal winning just one of their last six. The performance that went with their one point loss to Northampton last weekend was much stronger and with the great British weather intensifying home advantage will certainly help them! Bath’s recent form is outstanding, they have suffered just one defeat in their last eighteen first team matches… yes I did say eighteen! Steenson versus Ford will be a tasty battle against each other and the elements and watch out some bruising hits between the big men on both teams!!

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The final Saturday fixture is a huge one as London Wasps play in their second London derby in as many weeks hosting London Irish. Irish don’t have the best record against their London rivals having won only one of their last five encounters however coming off the back of an outstanding win over Saracens they will fancy their chances more than ever! Wasps suffered heartbreak at The Stoop last weekend; they had all of the territory, all of the chances and lead for 77 minutes but still lost. I’m expecting a colossal response from Dai Young’s men and think that this will be London Derby to remember at Adams Park.

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The final match of the weekend is at Welford Road where the Leicester Tigers take on Gloucester Rugby. Richard Cockerill described Leicester’s performance last Friday as ‘disjointed’ and they are another team who I expect to bounce back in style this weekend. Gloucester don’t have a strong record against the Tigers, they haven’t been victorious at Welford Road since 2007. Gloucester must keep their discipline in check if they are going to be competitive and whilst many have written them off already, we all know that this is the Aviva Premiership and that anything can happen!!
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