It’s a big weekend at the top of the Premiership with 4 of the top 5 teams playing each other. As we enter the latter stages of the Premiership there are realistically 6 teams chasing the 4 play-off places and it is getting interesting with a number of permutations.
On Friday evening Bath who are third will be hosting the Sharks (currently in 5th).
If Bath win it will be very hard for those currently just outside the top 4 to break in – but if Sale manage to beat them at the Rec then it will throw it wide open.
It would make for a very interesting last 4 rounds, but I am putting my money on Bath to continue their rich vein of form and win reasonably comfortably – even a losing bonus point for the Sharks won’t be that much help to them and I don’t think they’ll even come away with that. But it will be exciting to see how current wunderkind George Ford fares opposite the revived Danny Cipriani. I think George will win on points!
The first of Saturday’s 3 pm kick-offs sees Gloucester travelling down the M5 to Exeter. The teams had mixed fortunes last weekend – the Chiefs were blown away by the power of the suddenly awakened Tigers, whilst Gloucester beat the Falcons in a match which entertained the crowd with a total of 73 points.
Gloucester were the better side for the first hour and led by 37 – 7, but then they almost collapsed before finally running out winners by 40 – 33.
Exeter were smashed last week by a Tigers performance that the Welford Road crowd have been waiting for all season – but they will return to form this week and Gloucester will leave with nothing.
Harlequins lost to Saracens at Wembley last Saturday, but will have the big three of Care, Robshaw and Brown back this week for a ‘welcome them home’ party at the Stoop. London Irish will be on the receiving end of a backlash that will give Quins all 4 points and just about keep alive an outside chance of making the play-offs.
Wasps struggled to beat Worcester on the road last Friday night in a game that was pretty dull – by contrast Saracens shook Wembley and the near 84,000 crowd by blowing away Harlequins.
Saracens to take at least 4 points from their visit to Adams Park.
At 3.15 the big one kicks off (possibly literally) at Franklin’s Gardens. The Saints have lost their last two matches – the LV Cup Final to Exeter and last week they went down without a fight up at Sale.
The Tigers will arrive on the back of their best performance of the season and it will be a huge match – lucky for us armchair fans it’s on BT Sport.
I think it will be close – very close, and I’m going to give it to the Saints, but only because of home advantage and the fact that they will have been hurting badly for the last 13 days. There will be a losing bonus point – but that will be little consolation for the losers.
If the Tigers did manage a win then the home semi-final place that has looked to be a shoe-in for Franklin’s almost all season may well be up for grabs.
The last game on Sunday looked a week ago like it might be a real relegation battle, but Worcester who were ahead as the clock turned red, lost in the final seconds. Meanwhile the Falcons staged a serious comeback at Kingsholm and grabbed a try and a losing bonus point. A gap that looked very much like it might only be 6 points was suddenly doubled to 12 in the 80th minute of those matches. It seems very much now that the Warriors have run out of hope. What looked like a possible quest for salvation up at Newcastle will actually be the nail in the coffin for the Warriors. I think they will find it hard to lift themselves for this game. Even if they came away with an unlikely 5 points they will still be adrift by 7 points – with matches away to both Bath and Saracens in their run in.
Sadly there will be a lot of dead rubbers if the relegation issue is settled with several rounds to go.
So my predictions –
Bath over Sale
Exeter return to form against Gloucester
A triumphant ‘Welcome Home Party’ for Quins against London Irish
Wasps thumped by Saracens
Saints to stop the Tigers (but only just)
More woe for Worcester up at Newcastle
We’ll know more about the top of the table by Saturday night – before the break for the Heineken Cup Quarter Finals – to be previewed next week.
If you’re lucky enough to be going to Franklin’s Gardens this Saturday – enjoy, otherwise pull up a chair at your local (one that has BT Sport, obviously).